The Atlanta Braves looked like one of the most complete teams in the National League after the MLB Trade Deadline. That was thanks to the addition of a trio of star relievers in Chris Martin, Mark Melancon and Shane Greene. But once they stepped foot on the mound, it went horribly wrong for the Braves.
First Shane Greene blew his first two save opportunities before Melancon replaced him as the team’s main closer. However, he hasn’t done a good job either. In five appearances for all three, Martin and Greene both have an ERA over 10.00, while Melancon isn’t doing better with his 9.82 ERA. Sean Newcomb and Luke Jackson, who have also had their fair share of difficulties in August, have seemed like better options. That has turned the bullpen management situation into an overhaul, with more questions currently existing than answers.
Atlanta’s 6.47 ERA since the deadline is 3rd-worst in the majors in that span, with only the constantly bad pitching staffs of Colorado and Baltimore being worse.
It’s very obvious that the bullpen has miserably struggled in August. How big of a problem is that? For now, it is very unlikely that the new trio will carry on performing like they have lately.
All-Star relievers often change teams during the trade deadline, yet so many of them, rather unexplainable, struggle so much at their new destination. That hasn’t been the case with the Braves in recent history. The name of Brad Brach comes to my mind – after being traded south from his Orioles, he had a sub-2.00 ERA second half of the 2018 season, contributing to a top bullpen in the NL all the way to the NLDS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Both Melancon and Martin come from teams that have starters who often pitch deep into games and haven’t been overused. And that’s, most of the time, the case with the Braves as well. With Greene being the hands down closer for the Tigers, all three come knowing that their roles will be similar if not the same as they’ve been the whole campaign.
Their struggles against a poor offence like the Marlins isn’t something encouraging. However, in such a short span this problem seems more like a temporary breakdown. And it better be, because the offence, despite injury bugs, is getting hotter and hotter. Plus, Mike Soroka, who, by the way, was stripped of a win by his bullpen twice despite 1.94 ERA in those starts, is pitching as well as he has all of his spectacular rookie season.
Atlanta’s starting pitching has shown trading for bullpen arms was the right move. Soroka and Max Fried, as well as Julio Teheran, the returning Mike Foltynewicz and the struggling Dallas Keuchel have combined for five wins and just a single loss. The Braves recently won a series against the AL Cental leader, the Twins, and Luke Jackson and Jerry Blevins have been perfect in combined 6.2 innings in relief.
Despite a difficult August for the bullpen, the Braves have won 6 of 11. They have a lot of depth on the field, and Josh Donaldson has made a real difference, improving even a 2018 team that won its division in a convincing fashion.
Melancon’s worst outing was four allowed earned runs, which happened to him only once in San Francisco. Chris Martin also allowed three only to the Mariners on May 20th. Greene’s worst outing with Atlanta, three runs allowed, was his first such in 2019.
It’s clear that their problems have been unprecedented in comparison to what they’ve achieved this season, and shouldn’t be expected to a norm either. All of them have also been top-level relievers almost over the course of their whole careers and are experienced, reliable options, the best available on the mid-summer market this deadline.
Another option would be moving a starter to the bullpen, which proved very successful with Sean Newcomb. But that’s not possible now that they can’t acquire another starting pitcher anymore.
I still believe that we will eventually see the Shane Greene that had 22 saves with sub-2.00 ERA with Detroit, and both Melancon and Martin will perform at their usual level. However, if the bullpen blues become constant, that could be a big blow to Atlanta’s best bullpen group in years and a component that played a big part of their surge toward the second best record in the National League.