Legit playoff teams would not panic in this situation
Since Chipper Jones lost Emilio Bonafacio’s chopper in the lights and Omar Infante followed with his two-out walk off homer against Craig Kimbrel last night, the most popular word among Braves fans seems to be “panic.”
Many fans have asked, “when should we start to panic?” I jokingly responded to one fan’s Tweet by Tweeting, “No reason to procrastinate.”
But in all honesty, if you have already hit the panic button you’ve essentially admitted that you do not believe the Braves can compete with the Phillies, Brewers and D-backs once the postseason arrives.
Legitimate playoff teams certainly should not panic when afforded the opportunity to protect a 2 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card standings while playing five of its final eight games against the Marlins and Nationals.
With this being said, the Braves have looked nothing like a playoff contender while losing 12 of their past 18 games. They have batted .197 with runners in scoring position during this span and Brian McCann has gone just 2-for-16 since halting his post-DL slump with a big two-hit game in last Tuesday’s win over the Marlins.
Of the 12 losses suffered by the Braves this month, seven have been pinned on its proud bullpen. In five of these seven losses, the Braves have blown a lead after the sixth inning. Arodys Vizcaino started the trend during a Sept. 2 game against the Dodgers.
Unfortunately for the Braves, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel are responsible for blowing four of the five late leads squandered this month. Before it happened over the past 48 hours, there was no reason to believe they could blow late leads on consecutive days.
But now that Venters blew Sunday’s one-run lead with two outs in the eighth and Kimbrel squandered last night’s lead after having Bonafacio down 0-2 with two outs in the ninth, it’s impossible to overlook their workload.
Venters leads the Majors with 82 appearances and Kimbrel ranks second with 77 appearances. Venters’ 85 innings rank third among Major League relievers. Kimbrel ranks seventh with 75 1/3 innings.
Jose Valverde, John Axford and Carlos Marmol are the only other Major League relievers with at least 20 save opportunities who have recorded at least 70 appearances.
While Venters’ sinker might be better when he is a little fatigued, Kimbrel might have shown some signs of fatigue the past two days. He certainly looked strong while recording three strikeouts in Saturday’s perfect ninth inning. But while allowing the second and third homers of his career over the past two days, the rookie closer has proven to be human.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has attempted to lessen the physical stress placed on both Kimbrel and Venters. But the makeup of his club and the twists and turns of this season have prevented him from putting much of a dent in their workloads.
The Braves have played 54 one-run games and a Major League high 25 extra inning games. These are just a couple simple factors that have added to the workloads realized by Venters and Kimbrel.
A lot of the blame has to be placed on the starting rotation’s inability to work deep into the game. With Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson sidelined by injuries, this has proven to be even more of a problem since the All-Star break.
The Braves have seen their starting pitchers complete at least seven innings in 38 of their first 154 games (25 percent) and in 12 of the 62 (19 percent) games played since the All-Star break.
The Braves have seen their starting pitchers complete at least eight innings just eight times this season and just twice since the All-Star break.
Tim Hudson has accounted for nine of the 12 instances when the Braves have seen a starting pitcher work at least seven innings since the All-Star break.
In other words four out of every five days over the past couple months, there has been a good chance the bullpen was going to do have to do some heavy lifting.
As the Braves prepare to play their final eight games of the season, they can only hope that their bullpen has enough bullets left to continue proving to be the asset that it has been over the past six months.
If the Braves do not make the playoffs this year, there is no doubt that Monday’s ninth inning will haunt them and their fans for a while.
But one inning or more specifically a sequence of two batters can not solely determine the fate of a team that entered September with an 8 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card race.