Nothing says the Braves must make a deal, or deals, over the next few hours. They’re on pace to win 105 games in a season where no other team figures to break 100. They’ve scored the second-most runs among MLB clubs; they’ve yielded the fourth-fewest. They came off the season’s worst stretch to sweep Milwaukee, a team they could see in October.
And yet ...
If you’re Alex Anthopoulos, the numbers buzzing in your brain weren’t the 29 runs your team scored over the weekend or the 11 homers it hit. Your focus was the 18 runs mustered by the Brewers, who rank 24th in the majors in scoring, nine of which were yielded by your bullpen. Your focus was on using these next few hours to correct, as much as is humanly possible, the few flaws in baseball’s best team.
The belief is that Anthopoulos, who has already made four smallish moves — three involving pitchers, one of whom was just re-gifted to Kansas City for extra infielder Nicky Lopez — isn’t done. We return to the 2019 deadline, when the Braves landed three relievers. Though Shane Greene was an All-Star and Mark Melancon became the closer here, the Braves saw Chris Martin as the key man.
In Game 1 of the NLDS, Martin was summoned to hold a 3-1 lead in the eighth. The pitcher took the mound but couldn’t pitch. He’d tweaked an oblique. Luke Jackson faced five batters, allowing three hits, one a homer. Melancon, needed an inning ahead of schedule, yielded the tying single. The Cardinals would score four more runs against him in the ninth. The 97-win Braves lost the series 3-2.
The Braves’ bullpen surrendered 13 earned runs over five games. Melancon blew a save and took the loss in Game 1. Greene blew a save in Game 4, when the Braves were poised to clinch. To this day, Anthopoulos believes those Braves could have won the World Series — the Nationals, who finished second in the National League East, upset the 106-win Dodgers in the other NLDS — had Martin been available.
No fool, Anthopoulos learned from excruciating experience. “If losing one guy could make that much difference,” he’d say much later, “you weren’t deep enough.”
In 2021, the same GM bought four new outfielders before the deadline. “We needed a lot of players,” Anthopoulos famously said, but he could have stopped at three outfielders. At 4:34 p.m. on July 30 — the deadline arrived at 4, the Braves having snuck under the wire — it was announced they’d landed Jorge Soler. He would hit go-ahead home runs in Games 1, 4 and 6 of the World Series, of which he was named MVP.
The Braves’ rotation has been an issue — Michael Soroka was just re-demoted, AJ Smith-Shawver re-promoted, then optioned again – but Max Fried is about to be activated. Still, any staff can run low in October. After Charlie Morton’s leg was broken in Game 1, the Braves were forced to start Dylan Lee and Tucker Davidson in Games 4 and 5 of a World Series they somehow won.
The Bobby Cox quote for the thousandth time: “When you think you’ve got enough pitching, you’d better get more.”
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports the Braves “checked” on Justin Verlander. Were he a three-month rental, that might be something the no-stone-unturned Anthopoulos would try. But he’s under contract for $43.3 million next season, when he’ll be 41. The Braves would ask the Mets to pay much of next season’s salary. The Mets would ask for Smith-Shawver and Vaughn Grissom. Meaning (probably): no sale.
The bullpen could stand more tweaks. Another starter — file under “just-to-be-sure” — wouldn’t be unwelcome. The Braves can do nothing more and remain the favorite to win the World Series. That favorites don’t always prevail in October/November won’t keep AA the GM from trying to cover every angle. That’s his job. He’s good at his job.
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Braves vs. Angels, 7:20 p.m., BSSO, 680, 93.7