The Atlanta Braves (13-14) opened the week looking to gain some ground in the muddied National League East. Instead, they lost their footing after going 2-4 against the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies.
There were some bright spots during the week, but the same theme that has haunted Atlanta since spring training once again became a pressing topic by week’s end.
The Good (at the plate)
Ozzie Albies continues to find ways to make an impact from the lead-off spot. In game two versus the Reds, Albies crushed the first pitch he saw into the outfield stands. He accounted for three runs in the series against Cincinnati. Prosperity at the plate continued for the 2018 All-Star, as he accounted for four runs versus Colorado. He also launched two solo home runs in Sunday’s 8-7 win against the Rockies.
The Braves’ model of consistency for the past decade, aka Freddie Freeman, is playing up to his typical standard since the first pitch of the season.
Atlanta’s first baseman came into Sunday’s game against Colorado batting a cool .313 with 4 HR and 16 RBI. Not to be outdone by Albies, Freeman cleared the right-center field wall with a two-run bomb in the first inning. He has now extended his on-base streak, which began on the first day of the season, to 27 games. The streak ties an Atlanta record, shared now by Freeman and J.D. Drew.
(on the mound)
Perhaps the brightest spot for the Braves this week belonged to the youngest pitcher in the league. Mike Soroka nearly replicated his season debut by going for 5 2/3 innings while giving up just one run in the victory against the Reds. It was Soroka’s first win of the season. The 21-year-old now has an ERA of 1.69 through 10 2/3 innings on the year.
The only efficient piece of weaponry coming from the Atlanta bullpen right now comes in the form of Luke Jackson. The innings-eater has struggled to find a role in his five-year career, both with the Texas Rangers and the Braves. If Jackson continues his recent success, he may just solve that dilemma.
His struggles with Atlanta have been well documented, but 2019 has been a different story for Jackson. Since an implosion during the season-opener against Philadelphia, the right-hander has thrown 13 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball. Jackson also has 15 strikeouts and four walks in that stretch.
If you had Luke Jackson following his Opening Day outing with 11 consecutive scoreless appearances (12.1 IP), I'm going to assume you also had UMBC beating Virginia.
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) April 28, 2019
The Ugly (There is no bad, just ugly)
Until further notice, nobody else can be considered a weapon in the bullpen. Not even closer A.J. Minter.
Minter’s number was called upon to protect a 5-4 lead in Saturday’s game versus Colorado. After giving up a double to Rockies’ David Dahl, Minter struck out the next two batters. The closer went on to walk the next two before giving up another double to Charlie Blackmon. He exited with a 6-5 deficit and Dan Winkler added to the dismay of a five-run, three-hit ninth inning. Needless to say, the 9-5 Colorado lead was too much for the Braves to overcome with three outs left.
The bullpen struggles may be rubbing off on the starters. Julio Teheran took a loss for the second time in a week. Although he kept the Braves offense within striking distance (three runs) against the Reds, he has now accumulated a 6.75 ERA the past two games. Teheran has also given up 12 hits and seven walks in those contests.
Kevin Gausman came into Tuesday’s match with the Reds boasting a 2.75 ERA and an opponent batting average of .191. Those numbers will drastically change after his struggles with the Reds and Rockies.
Gausman gave up six runs on eight hits in Cincinnati. On Sunday against the Rockies, he allowed five more runs in just five innings. What looked to be the Braves’ most consistent starting pitcher a week ago, now looks as worrisome as the rest of the misfits.
After much anticipation from fans and media, the Braves finally added a relief piece to their dysfunctional brigade. And much to the chagrin of those persons, his name is not Craig Kimbrel.
The Braves acquired Jerry Blevins from the Oakland Athletics. The 12-year veteran was acquired for cash considerations.
The #Braves today selected the contract of LHP Jerry Blevins from Triple-A Gwinnett after the club acquired the lefty from Oakland yesterday for cash considerations.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 28, 2019
Blevins first appearance of 2019 in the majors came Sunday afternoon. The lefty recorded one out and one walk in 1/3 of an inning against Colorado.
The move to get Blevins could help the bullpen. There aren’t many functional human arms that can’t.
Until Alex Anthopoulos and Liberty Media decide to make some dauntless moves in order to bolster a grim bullpen, the modest gains won’t be enough to overcome the consistent thrashing the Atlanta relievers continue to take.
The Braves have scored six runs or more in 13 games. They are 10-3 in those contests. In games which Atlanta has scored three runs or less, they are 1-7. As of Sunday afternoon, the Braves were giving up a major league-worst .73 runs per ninth inning.
As good as the Atlanta offense has been, the support from the current bullpen won’t be enough balance things out. Instead of choosing half-measures, the Braves’ front office needs to go all the way with addressing needs. That is, of course, if their aspirations are to go the distance on the field as well.