We thought the Braves’ bullpen woes were mitigated July 31, when the team reeled in three right-handers who were supposed to turn a weakness into a strength. Instead, the acquisitions have just piled onto the reliever frustrations.
Chris Martin, a veteran rental, has been the epitome of “fine.” He has walked only one in six appearances, so he’s lived up to his control-artist billing.
Mark Melancon, for whom the Braves absorbed $14 million into their 2020 payroll, has become the team’s primary closer. Last weekend’s meltdown in Miami wasn’t totally on Melancon, who was carved by some poor luck. Wednesday’s near-collapse against the Mets required that Melancon leave without recording the final out, giving way to lefty specialist Jerry Blevins.
Then there’s Shane Greene, the most disappointing of them all. An All-Star five weeks ago, Greene hasn’t looked anything close to one in a Braves uniform. In seven appearances, he’s provided one clean outing. He allowed runs in each of his first three games. He’s allowed multiple hits in four of his appearances.
That combination has made the Braves’ new reality all-too similar to their old: The bullpen looks like a shortcoming begging to be exposed on the grand stage. Seeing the Marlins and Mets make pitchers distraught on the mound won’t bolster confidence when imagining matchups with the Cubs and Dodgers.
There are two significant differences from the pre-July 31 unit, however. For one, the Braves feel much better about the group. Truth be told, you likely do, too, simply because it’s easier to conceive those veterans getting it together than it is banking on A.J. Minter, Jeremy Walker and others.
Second, and most important, this is the bullpen the Braves will have in October. There isn’t the fantasy of a trade deadline turning the tide. There aren’t any studs on the horizon in Triple-A (although Ian Anderson …). The names you know and love – Greene, Melancon, Martin, Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb – will comprise the relief core. There are spots up for grabs, but generally speaking, we know the Braves’ options.
They have to make it work with this collection of arms. Half of them may not be on the roster in 2020, but this is the hand they’ve been dealt. The Braves identified a trio of newcomers as difference makers two weeks ago. If they were wrong, there’s no time for remorse. They have to make the most of it.
However the Braves maneuver their postseason rotation, there will be starters shifted to the bullpen. The Braves won’t worry about how to devise their playoff roster until the National League East is locked up, which makes sense, but it’s only natural to start brainstorming now.
It doesn’t matter who’s the designated closer. The Braves need as many reliable arms who can handle high-leverage situations as they can get. They thought they added three at the deadline. In the end, maybe they did. But they have to get those guys right before October – or else another quick exit might await.