Examining Atlanta Braves’ Bullpen Through the First Four Weeks
The Atlanta Braves
Four weeks ago today, the Atlanta Braves kicked off the 2013 Major League Baseball season with much fanfare. They had one of the league's best lineups on paper, a solid rotation and a formidable bullpen.
Currently, Atlanta's lineup leads the National League in strikeouts and is struggling to score sans home runs. Following a 12-1 start, the Braves have lost eight of their last 11 games, including four in a row. With that said, the offense is still filled with so much potency that it would be ridiculous to call it anything but one of MLB's best.
The rotation is also struggling right now, with the "Three M's" (as I like to refer to left-hander Paul Maholm, right-hander Kris Medlen and lefty Mike Minor) who fill out the No. 2, 3 and 4 spots in the rotation having just been pounded for at least five runs apiece during a three-game weekend series sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. Nevertheless, for the first time in several years, the Braves' pitching staff is conjuring up memories of the Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz era.
To this point, the most consistent part of Atlanta's ballclub has undoubtedly been its bullpen, which presently boasts a major league-best 2.18 ERA to go with a .226 batting average against. The relief corps has been bolstered not only by its household names, but its lesser-known members as well.
Here is my look at each member of the Braves' bullpen through the first four weeks.
Anthony Varvaro may be listed as the club's long reliever, but he has been pretty untouchable in the early going. In fact, up until he allowed a two-run homer to Detroit's Matt Tuiasosopo on Saturday, he hadn't given up a run. Even after the blast, his ERA is still a strong 1.42.
Since being traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Braves on April 10, veteran right-hander Luis Ayala has given the team quality innings. He has a sub-4 ERA since coming over and he provides the bullpen with something every squad can use: experience.
Cory Gearrin also had a 0.00 ERA before his latest outing, when he served up a three-run homer (two of the runs were charged to him) to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. The sidewinder has been excellent at striking people out and inducing ground balls to get the Braves out of trouble, despite the fact that he has already appeared in 14 games, which is tied for second-most in the majors.
Jordan Walden, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for embattled starting pitcher Tommy Hanson, has been a godsend thus far. The fireballer has posted a 2.00 ERA to go with eight strikeouts and no walks in his first nine appearances.
Luis Avilan may not have made the team if not for the injury problems of fellow southpaw Jonny Venters, who isn't expected back until at least late May. But, he is proving that last year was no fluke. The 23-year-old Venezuelan is the real deal, especially against left-handed hitters, who have compiled just a .214 batting average against him.
Left-handed setup man Eric O'Flaherty is just two years removed from an 0.98 ERA that was the top mark in MLB history for a reliever with 70 or more appearances in a season. His numbers are a little higher this year, but not by much, as his ERA sits at 1.69 right now.
Craig Kimbrel is arguably the preeminent closer in the game today. He hasn't pitched since blowing his first save in nine chances on Wednesday, but I would almost be willing to bet that the next time he takes the mound, he will dominate the competition once again.