I know he’s busy, what with the MLB draft and all, but John Hart has to do something, and I don’t mean by the All-Star break. I mean by game time Tuesday. He has to find bullpen relief, which sounds like an oxymoron but for this team isn’t.
The bullpen, or the lack thereof, is killing the Atlanta Braves. We mentioned last week that this was, going on ERA, the worst relief corps in the majors, and it has gotten only worse. The Braves have blown four saves in six games, 11 all told. (That’s the second-highest total in the majors.) The team had a chance to nose above .500 last Tuesday in Arizona. It’s 27-30 now. It has lost five of six. The only victory in that run saw the Braves override a blown save with the first homer of Christian Bethancourt’s big-league career.
Yet another domino fell Monday on homecoming. Three recently jettisoned Braves returned to Turner Field. Justin Upton went 0-for-4 but drove in a run in the eighth and scored the game-winner after inducing a leadoff walk from Cody Martin in the 11th. Melvin (nee B.J.) Upton Jr. scored the tying run, though only just.
(Inserted as a pinch runner, Bossman Jr. cantered home on Cory Spangenberg’s middle-distance fly to left, and Todd Cunningham hit Andrelton Simmons, whose relay made it scary-close at the plate — largely because Bossman Jr. neglected to slide. Imagine if he’d been thrown out as the tying run to end the game. Would that not have been the classic B.J./Melvin moment?)
The Padres trailed 3-1 with five outs to go. They won 5-3 in 11 cantos. The Braves did nothing against the San Diego bullpen, not even in a bizarre seventh that saw them muster three infield singles and two walks and not score. (A double play and Juan Uribe’s grounder that hit Freddie Freeman quashed the chance.) The Braves wouldn’t have another baserunner.
The Padres, on the other hand, would have five over the final four innings; four of them scored. The first came off Jim Johnson, who yielded a leadoff double to Will Venable in the eighth and saw the margin halved on J. Upton’s groundout. The second came off Jason Grilli, who yielded a leadoff double to Yonder Alonso in the ninth and who tried to pick B.J./Melvin off second but overthrew Simmons. That error led to the tying run, which was unearned but still counted. Blown save for the Braves’ new closer.
After Nick Masset miraculously worked a 1-2-3 10th, Martin walked J. Upton, who was down 1-2 in the count, to start the 11th. Upton stole second. Matt Kemp doubled off the wall to put the Padres ahead. The smallish Alexi Amarista greeted Luis Avilan with a double to make it 5-3, whereupon San Diego summoned …
Who used to pitch for the Braves.
Who doesn’t anymore.
The Braves went down in order against the matchless Kimbrel, Cunningham striking out to end the 200th save of the great one’s career. If you’re scoring at home, that made four blown Braves saves leading to three losses in seven days. (Plus a squandered 4-4 tie that became a 10-8 loss Friday against Pittsburgh.) Sabermetric folks like to say that closers are overrated, but Fredi Gonzalez — who has looked at life from both sides now — has always maintained otherwise. Because nothing, Fredi G. believes, takes the heart from a team faster than lost leads.
(Here we note that Shelby Miller worked another splendid game — seven innings, one run, five hits, one walk, six strikeouts — and took his third no-decision in four starts. He hasn’t won since the almost no-hitter in Miami on May 17.)
The Braves got away with having this motley relief crew for a while because they were scoring runs and playing bad teams, but the schedule has toughened and the Braves have lost nine of 14. Reality would appear to have descended. It’s up to Hart — or John Coppolella, or John Schuerholz, or somebody — to change that reality by finding some help, and by that I don’t mean David Aardsma. (Aardsma, signed to a minor-league contract over the weekend and who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013, was called up Tuesday morning, replacing Martin. This was first reported by Mark Bowman of MLB.com.) I mean an eighth-inning guy who isn’t Jim Johnson. I mean another lefty besides Avilan.
Is that apt to happen? Nah. Because the Braves don’t want to part with any of their prized prospects or spend money on a team that isn’t apt to win anyway. But that’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As this latest game was unraveling, the Braves were taking two teenage pitchers in Round 1 of the draft. Can they get here by 7:10 p.m. Tuesday?
From myajc: Old home week – Kimbrel and the Uptons return.
Further reading: Baseball’s worst bullpen belongs to the Braves.