Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel led all American League relievers in 2017 with 126 strikeouts.

Craig Kimbrel: Braves look like they can compete

The former Braves closer and fan favorite is finishing games for MLB’s best team. The Red Sox are a staggering 68-30 at the All-Star break, and Kimbrel already has secured 30 saves.

Kimbrel, 30, earned a spot in his seventh All-Star game after posting a 1.77 ERA and 0.89 WHIP while striking out 62 in 40-2/3 innings. He’s pitched with additional motivation after missing part of spring training to be with his 6-month-old daughter Lydia Joy, who underwent heart surgery.

In May, he became the youngest player to record 300 career saves, and he needed the fewest appearances to reach that milestone (494). He’s had eight consecutive 30-plus save seasons, and if the Red Sox continue their offensive juggernaut ways, he’ll have a chance to break his career-high of 50, set with the Braves in 2013.

Kimbrel credits his historic save numbers to the teams he’s been on. Certainly, the Braves he left behind following the 2015 trade looked a bit different than the teams for which he recorded 186 saves from 2010-14.

Kimbrel maintains a relationship with Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, the remaining pillar from the last playoff team. He greeted Freeman, his wife, Chelsea, and his father, Fred, in the family area Sunday as players arrived in Washington for the All-Star game.

Freeman and Kimbrel haven’t had time to catch up yet. The two did face off at Fenway Park in late May, when the Red Sox won two of three. Also, the Braves and Red Sox will meet at SunTrust Park on Sept. 3-5.

“They looked good,” Kimbrel said. “You could see talent in their bats and some of their arms. They definitely have the arms, some young guys on their team still learning. They’ll get through some of those curves. But they looked like they had a team that can compete. They played us pretty well.”

The future Hall of Famer is a Huntsville, Alabama, native. He’s maintained he’ll always have love for the Braves.

The Braves are 52-42 at the break, a half-game out of first place in the National League East. That’s not comparable with Kimbrel’s Red Sox, but it’s major progress for a franchise that ignited a rebuild even before Kimbrel was traded to the Padres on the eve of opening day 2015.

“Early on I saw a lot about them,” Kimbrel said. “Obviously they surprised a lot of people to start this year, especially with the way they’ve played and continued to play. I hadn’t followed them as much lately. Been busy, traveling a lot. But whenever I see them on TV, I’m definitely paying attention.”

Kimbrel’s in a contract year: The four-year, $42 million agreement he originally signed with the Braves is expiring.

Like most professional athletes, especially those in larger markets, Kimbrel likely grows tired of the free-agent questions. The Red Sox have the money and motivation to keep him, and given Kimbrel’s age, this probably will be his final payday.

Natural speculation has reconnected Kimbrel with the Braves. They’ll have money to burn, an emotional aspect on their side and a contending club needing bullpen help. But speculation is just that, and Kimbrel is in an ideal situation.

“We’ll get to the end of the season and see where we are,” Kimbrel said. “I’ve loved my time with the Boston Red Sox, and when we get to the end of the season, we’ll see where we are. I’ve loved my last three years here. This city has provided me and my family a lot. We would love to stay and we love the city. But the way the game works, we’ll see how things go when we get there. We’ll find out this offseason.”

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