If it wasn’t for the living legend, Mariano Rivera, pitching for the New York Yankees, Craig Kimbrel would be the best closer in baseball right now. It doesn’t matter who the Atlanta Braves are playing, Kimbrel can always be relied on to pick up the save in a close game.
Kimbrel is the kind of pitcher every manager dreams about. He can be relied on night after night, game after game, to come in a save situation and pick up the win for his club with ease. He has come to the mound and gotten a 1-2-3 inning 24 times this season, and 11 times has he needed just 10 pitches or less to get through an inning. He works fast, efficiently and his stuff is just down right nasty.
The 28-year-old right-hander ranks at or near the top of the MLB in most categories. Kimbrel ranks first in the majors, with 47 saves and a 1.04 ERA. He’s racked up 89 strikeouts and has walked just 18 batters. If you break down his runs given up by the month, Kimbrel didn’t give up a run throughout the months of April, June or August. In May, July and September, he’s allowed just eight combined runs.
In Game 1 of their double-header against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, Kimbrel became human again. The Braves took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth and Kimbrel came on looking to do to the Nationals what he’s done to them seven times already this season. Instead, the Nationals lit him up for three runs in the bottom of the ninth to steal the win 6-5.
I wouldn’t expect this to become a habit for Kimbrel. You have to go all the way back to May 7 against the Cincinnati Reds to find his most recent blown save. He recovered from that and he’ll recover this. You should feel even more afraid if you’re a team with the Braves still on your schedule, since he’ll be pitching with a chip on his shoulder after blowing this save the way he did.
To quote one of my favorite sports movies, Rocky IV, “He’s not a machine! He’s a man!” The Nationals showed the MLB that the almighty Craig Kimbrel isn’t a machine after all.