Bullpen blunders holding Braves back

The Atlanta Braves came into the 2015 season with a lot of questions surrounded by an abundance of many moving parts. Early on, many felt that this would be a rebuilding-type season, one that would involve cellar living amidst the division and a time of patience to provide young prospects time to emerge themselves. While seemingly all of these have occurred for a short glimpse of time. The only rebuilding that the Braves have to figure out in the long run is their bullpen.

So far, they have posted the worst ERA in the majors at 4.25. For comparisons sake, this deems even worse than what the Colorado Rockies have in a hitter’s paradise alongside a soaring altitude in Coors Park. Currently, the Atlanta Braves bullpen have been downright terrible when they need it the most, as they have blown 15 games in the late innings. Their meltdowns have been an acculmination of too many walks and allowing the big fly late. For an offense like the Braves, who seem to build leads early, prove to struggle once they hit the later innings in games as most of the time their bullpen can’t hold on.

The offense has done a complete 360 turnaround from where it was last year, the effect of putting the ball in play and not striking out has brought more confidence within the lineup. However, when dealing with such a shaky bullpen the Braves have, mounting comfortable leads can only do so much, as locking down opponents is the biggest deciding factor. When talking about the height of the bullpen’s blunders, putting some blame onto the starting pitchers is acceptable. For the most part, Atlanta’s starters have struggled to go at least seven innings into their starts, which has put an immense toll on their middle to long relievers.

This became heavily apparent during the Braves last road trip after the first game of the Arizona series. When Atlanta won in convincing fashion 8-1, behind a stellar outing from Alex Wood. What later proved to be another bullpen letdown, after starter Shelby Miller endured his worst outing as a Brave, by surrendering four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. The pressure set from the bullpen soon increased after recording five-run sixth inning to regain the lead 6-4. Ultimately, the lead quickly evaporated to the tune of four walks and a walk-off two run homer. To make matters even worse, the next day Atlanta turned a 6-0 lead  into an eventual 9-8 loss. As a result, an almost guaranteed sweep turned into a losing series.

Add on runs have also been a huge issue for the Braves bullpen. Yes, giving up runs is habituated, but limiting the damage to an extent is also a mandatory notion when commencing a bullpen. As of now the Braves offense is not only having to outscore their opponents, but in a sense it has to outscore its own bullpen and that is definitely not a recipe for success. Another stat to digest regarding the 2015 bullpen is it has accounted for 43% of the teams’ losses, whereas last year they only accounted for six losses at the same point in the season. Blaming the manager for any of this because of a problem that should have been cleared up early on is an inexcusable solution to an already abiding complication. This leaves current Braves manager, Fredi González, at a point where he now has to regroup whatever is left of the dependable relievers in the best situations possible.

Despite all of the bullpen issues, Atlanta still sits at 27-30 and just 3.5  games back from the division leading New York Mets. In a broader perspective, addressing the bullpen at the moment will provide a greater chance to exceed all of the prior opinions set out for this franchise, while also keeping themselves in contention amidst a NL East division that is for sure winnable. To help subside the mishaps, it could just take one guy like Williams Perez or the other veteran guys such as Brandon Cuniff to light a fire in this bullpen and be able to get late game outs they so need.

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