After a 39 minute rain delay on Sunday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves fielded their worst lineup of the season and still defeated the Washington Nationals in a close 2 to 1 game. So how does a National League team starting five backups defeat a pitcher like Gio Gonzalez? Well, the Braves did it with excellent starting pitching and by relieving that pitcher with the best bullpen in baseball.
The most impressive player in the Braves’ bullpen is without a doubt Craig Kimbrel. The undisputed top closer in the game, Kimbrel has a 1.07 ERA with a .93 WHIP this season, and on Sunday afternoon he registered his 39th save of the season. In 14 pitches, Kimbrel faced four batters, struck out three and recorded the save. But it wasn’t just any save as Sunday saw Kimbrel record his 29th consecutive save, extending his newly held Braves franchise record. It was at the conclusion of Saturday night’s game where he broke the previous record of 27 set by John Smoltz in 2003.
Kimbrel has a knack for setting records. In 2011, he broke the rookie save record of 40, previously set by Neftali Feliz in 2010, and eventually went on to save 46 games that year; he subsequently won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. In 2012, Kimbrel set a new mark for the highest K/9 rate at 16.7 and also the lowest opponent batting average since 1900 at .126. More recently in 2013, he tied Smoltz’s mark of three consecutive seasons with 30 or more saves, a record he will likely break in 2014.
The last time Kimbrel blew a save was May 7 when he gave up back to back home runs against the Cincinnati Reds. Since then he has 36 innings pitched with a .25 ERA, and through 140 batters faced in that period he’s allowed 16 hits, one run, 14 walks and has racked up 53 strikeouts. The beginning of the year was a little shaky for Kimbrel, but since his last blown save he has been absolutely dominant and I can’t wait to finally see him play in the playoffs this October.