It wasn’t easy last night, but Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel found away to strike out Joey Votto to perserve a 7-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. But, it was more than just another save for Kimbrel as it sets him up for the chance of becoming the second-youngest pitcher ever to reach 100 saves in his career in the history of MLB.
Kimbrel picked up his 10th save for his 99th career handshake last night in the beginning of his fourth year of service. At 24 years and 344 days, Kimbrel is second only to Francisco Rodriguez, who picked up his 100th save on September 10, 2006, at 24 years and 247 days according to Elias Sports Bureau.
So, 98 days away from another record will have to be the best Kimbrel can accomplish when it comes to this.
But to get to this feat, Atlanta will have to play another solid offensive game against its near mirror-image in the Reds. If the Braves can get to Kimbrel in the bottom of the ninth, he is going to have to be sharper than what he has been over the past week.
Kimbrel blew only three saves in the entire 2012 season. In the past seven days, though, the Braves closer has registered two and was dangerously close to letting things get out of hand before striking out Votto last night.
This trend has many Braves fans concerned. Kimbrel seems to have to work through the first batter in every appearance before he locks in on his stuff. But in the past week, his fastball is missing some kick and his deadly curve hasn’t popped the snap-dragon like it has burned so many with in his career.
Is it some of the hangover effects of the World Baseball Classic? Is it just the best closer in the game working on somethings knowing he has a long season ahead? Or is he simply a bit nervous about the milestone of 100 saves?
Who knows at this point, but it is certain that Kimbrel and the Braves want to see him collect No. 100 tonight in nice easy fashion.
Atlanta sends Kris Medlen (1-4, 3.38 ERA) to the mound, who is going to have a hard task against the Reds lineup and Homer Bailey (1-3, 3.38). Bailey is the National League‘s top night game pitcher, posting a ERA of just 0.43 in three starts.
Add to the mix a frustrated Medlen, who is riding a three-game losing streak in his last three starts, and this game smells of a low-scoring pitching duel — which is a hard thing to do in the little league park that is The Great American Ballpark.
Brian McCann will get his second-straight start tonight after going 0-4 with a walk in his debut last night. McCann has a career .318 average in Cincy. On the other side of the plate, B.J. Upton hopes to break out of his funk after wearing the golden sombrero with four strikeouts. Upton completely missed at least four mistakes that were right down the middle of the plate, which is a concern this far into the season.
Braves fans are used to Dan Uggla swinging wildly outside the zone and missing, but its a different issue when Upton is missing meatballs over the heart of the plate.
Meanwhile, the rest of Braves Nation will be watching to see what amazing things Andrelton Simmons will do for an encore tonight. Simmons hit a pair of homers and had a career-high four RBIs, along with four tremendous plays in the field, including a crazy acrobatic tag between the legs on a pick-off attempt late in the game.
The Reds’ Dusty Baker will get a second shot at his 1,600 career win. Despite the loss last night, Cincy has won all five of its home series in 2013.
M. Shannon Smallwood is a Featured Columnist for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @woodysmalls.