#Braves must fix ‘pen now to avoid road trip from Hell

In 1982, the surprising Braves embarked on an 11-game West Coast road trip with a 62-43 record and a 5-1/2 game lead in the NL West. They returned to Atlanta a game and a half behind the Dodgers, having lost 10 of 11 during their visit to Cali due largely to a bullpen that couldn’t hold a lead.

In the first game, at Chavez Ravine, Gene Garber coughed up a 1-run lead in the 9th, his sixth blown save of the year. The following night, after the Braves came back from a 3-0 deficit to tie it in the 8th, then took a 1-run lead in the 10th on a Claudell Washington homer, it was Steve Bedrosian’s turn to spit the bit, undone by a pair of two-out singles and errors by Rafael Ramirez and Chris Chambliss.

They lost in the 11th inning in the third game of the series. Dusty Baker singled, stole second and scored the winning run on a 2-out single by Mike Marshall.

It was their fourth consecutive one-run loss. On the final game of the homestand, the Braves and Giants were tied at 2 in the 9th. Joe Morgan drove in the winning run with a single off Bedrock, who probably still has nightmares about that week.

They lost by two the following day, shut out by Bob Welch.  They would lose two more in extras on that nightmarish West Coast swing. Carlos Diaz (acquired for Jeff Burroughs a year earlier) gave up a two-run homer to Reggie Smith in the 12th inning at Candlestick and, on the final game of the trip, Bedrosian, in his third inning of work, gave up three consecutive hits without recording an out. Amazingly, he maintained  a sub-2.00 ERA after that final loss.

Bedrosian and Garber were actually pretty solid that year. But the rest of the bullpen sucked. Sound familiar?

Who knows if Arodys will be able to avoid the surgical knife. Even if he does, did anyone feel very comfortable with him closing games? Winkler seems a little off of late, and with his injury history you can’t help but be a little nervous. Minter has rebounded after an awful May (6.00 ERA, 18 H in 9 IP) and Jesse Biddle has earned a bigger role.

Otherwise, it’s time to say goodbye to Sam Freeman, Peter Moylan and Matt Wisler. Shane Carle, you’re on notice.

The Braves need three reinforcements, and every day that passes is a day too late. Go ahead and trade for Kirby Yates, the Padres reliever with a 0.82 ERA, 0.848 WHIP and an impressive 4.44 K/BB ratio. He broke out last year as a 30-year-old, striking out 87 in 55-2/3 IP. Salary’s not an issue — he’s owed just $530,000 and would be under team control for three more years.

That’s going to require some talent, though I think some combination of Joey Wentz, Brett Cumberland and Jean Carlos Encarnacion, a young third base prospect hitting .298 at Rome (with 11 walks and 72 strikeouts). You won’t have to trade Pache and I’d hold onto Austin Riley for now but wouldn’t be adverse to trading him for a more significant piece. Riley has steadily improved as he’s progressed through the minors but still has contact issues (66 Ks in 53 games vs. 18 BB). I’m still not sold.

Evan Phillips has also earned a shot, posting a 2.31 ERA at Gwinnett with 50 Ks in 35 IP. After walking 23 in 30 IP at Gwinnett in 2017, Phillips has issued just 13 in 2018.

That leaves one position open, and for that I’d take a flier on Touki Toussaint, who’s having by far his best year, compiling a 3.19 ERA in 15 starts. Command remains an issue (3.8 BB/9 IP), but it’s getting better. A move to the ‘pen might sharpen it even more. He certainly has the repertoire — high 90s fastball and perhaps the best curve in the minors.

Maybe he’s the next K-Rod, who averaged, as a starter, more than four walks per 9 IP the year before he emerged as a difference-maker in the Angeles bullpen the year they won the World Series. It’s worth a shot.

I suspect additional moves will be necessary. But these moves could stop the bleeding and save the local nine from a potentially disastrous road trip. With the ‘pen as presently constituted, it’s hard to envision the Braves returning to Atlanta in first place.

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