While low scoring pitching duels have been the trademark of the Atlanta Braves for a couple of decades, this year’s club is showing how much fun comebacks can be. But while the dramatic flair in winning games from behind is great for television ratings and fan excitement, the Braves have to be concerned over the recent failures of their starting pitching.
Of the Braves’ 17 wins this season, nine have come when the opposition scores first, and Atlanta has also come back from deficits of four runs or more four times (twice in one game against the Philadelphia Phillies). It had been over 20 years (1991) since the Braves overcame a deficit of five runs or more. They’ve managed to do it three times in the last seven days. You want late game drama? No problem. After the seventh inning the Braves have come back to win six times.
But amidst all the excitement and late game heroics, there has to be some worry about the starters. At the end of April. the Braves were sitting at 15th in the league in team ERA (3.94). Just one week into May, Atlanta now sits at 25th in the league (4.50), and among starters they are 24th (4.80). Over the last six games, Braves starters have only averaged 5.5 innings, and that’s including an eight inning effort by Randall Delgado in a shutout loss to the Phillies. Those kind of numbers are going to put a lot of stress on the Atlanta bullpen, and some of the arms coming out of the pen are already logging a lot of innings.
Braves relievers have already thrown 90.2 innings this season, roughly 36% of all the innings pitched by Atlanta in total. Ideally, the Braves would like that number to be around 25% (the Phillies are currently at 26%). Even the rocks of the bullpen haven’t been as quite as solid as expected. The seemingly untouchable trio of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel has shown a few cinks in the armor in recent outings, including a game against the Phillies when both O’Flaherty and Kimbrel blew save opportunities.
However, one of the signs of a great team is for players to be able to step up when others aren’t doing so well, and for all the lack of quality starting pitching that the Braves have had recently, the hitting has more than made up for it. The Braves lead the majors in runs scored and runs batted in, and are third in team batting average. When an offense is rolling like that, there aren’t a lot of leads that are safe for opposing teams.
If the starting pitching can get back on track, and the hitting continues as it has recently, then very few teams that will be able to hang with Atlanta. The comebacks are fun, but Braves fans would probably enjoy the team not having to do it quite so often.