Verducci high on Braves’ postseason chances
From the esteemed SI scribe:
The team with the best chance of keeping the Philadelphia Phillies out of the World Series is the team that trails them in the standings: the Atlanta Braves. No disrespect to the Milwaukee Brewers, a legit threat in their own right, but no team will take a greater inventory of pitching into the postseason than the Braves, whose bullpen is shortening games the way the Yankees did in the late 1990s.
You know about Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, the eighth- and ninth-inning options for manager Fredi Gonzalez. They have not been scored on in 39 1/3 combined innings for the past two months and almost never give up home runs. But Eric O’Flaherty has Venters-like stuff, Peter Moylan is working his way back off the DL, Arodys Vizcaino is bringing high-90s heat, and top prospects Randall Delgado, who was sent back to Triple-A after one-hit ball against the Giants, and Julio Teheran, perhaps the top pitching prospect in baseball, all will be available in September and October.
Meanwhile, lefty Mike Minor (six shutout innings against the Giants) and righty Brandon Beachy give Gonzalez options as starters or long relievers. Atlanta’s postseason rotation hinges on the health of Tommy Hanson, whose shoulder finally cried “uncle” from his stop-and-go delivery. Hanson could be back from tendinitis in five to 10 days. But the Braves are deep on the mound and, with Michael Bourn and Jose Constanza giving them a speed element, much more dynamic on offense.
Give GM Frank Wren credit. He shopped for Carlos Beltran but balked at giving up any of his Four Horsemen: Minor, Teheran, Vizcaino and Delgado. He wound up with a better fit — Bourn — who the Braves also control for next season, without yielding his top prospects.
And give credit to Gonzalez, too. At the All-Star break he and pitching coach Roger McDowell re-assessed how they used O’Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel. Though the Braves play so many close and extra-inning games, he decided to slightly back off how much he used his top relievers — not just to keep them fresh for the stretch, but also for the next five or six years. Atlanta, comfortably ahead in the wild card race, will be a dangerous postseason matchup going into the playoffs with a rested bullpen full of strikeout pitchers.