The Braves’ success this season lies within the pitching. If they want to win, they will need to make some major adjustments with the type of pitchers that grace the mound. The minors may be riddled with pitchers, but not all are ready for the big leagues. The Braves need to execute two key changes to the rotation and bullpen to have a chance at a World Series ring.
Leadership in Starting Pitching
If you ask anyone ‘who is the National’s ace?’ they will probably say Max Scherzer. If you ask someone ‘who is the Dodger’s ace?’ most likely they will say Clayton Kershaw. When you ask ‘who’s the ace for the Braves?’…crickets. The Braves don’t have one guy that they can always count on in the rotation to be reliable. At one point in time Julio Teheran was that guy, but he has had so many good and bad years, that he can’t be the leadership needed. Yet the Braves have continued to start him on opening day the last 2 years and probably will again this year. The Braves need a pitcher that can lead, someone that they know, no matter who they are facing, will get the job done.
I would love to see the Braves go and get some big name to take charge of the rotation like Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn. But unfortunately I don’t think that will happen this year, since new GM, Alex Anthopoulos seems to be concerned with harvesting those in the minors and rightfully so with such a good farm system, but they are young. The Braves need someone that can rally the rotation and encourage others; someone who is seasoned and not afraid to tell the younger pitchers that they need to work on something.
Julio and Folty are the veterans but they don’t have the success themselves to be able to encourage others. Last season Folty had one of his better seasons ending with a 4.79 ERA with 143 strikeouts across 154 innings. His 2017 season started out great, but the rest of the season was up and down – consistency is his issue. Julio’s problem is his command. He ended last season with a 4.49 ERA with 151 strikeouts across 188.1 innings. So unfortunately because of these two pitcher’s inconsistent pasts, they can’t lead the rotation. That leaves the rotation meandering with no guide and we’ve seen what that gets us.
In 2017, the Cleveland Indians season was not as eventful as the year before, but still an overall good year. One pitcher carried the same drive from the World Series throughout the 2017 season – Corey Kluber. He was the star of the rotation and was doing fairly well until he got hurt on May 2, 2017 and was on the DL for almost a month. During his time away from the mound there was a significate effect on the Indians. While Kluber was on the DL, the Indians had a .520 winning percentage. For the entire season, the Indians had a .650 winning percentage. When he returned on June 1, 2017, he threw a complete game shutout. Kluber’s success throughout the season was a beacon of hope and an encouragement to the rest of the team and when he got hurt the rotation faltered. At the end of the season, during the team’s 22 game winning streak, Kluber won all 4 of the starts he had during that time period. This is the type of leadership that the Braves need, someone the young pitchers can look to when they don’t know what to do; someone who is seasoned and who can take command. Kluber is more than just a great pitcher, he is an example to the rest of the rotation and Braves pitching needs a guide like Kluber to direct them toward a championship.
In an interview with the NY Times, Indian’s pitching coach Mike Callaway said after the 22 game win streak,
We talk about it on the bench. You used to watch Michael Jordan play when he was the best, and you looked up and you were like: ‘He’s got 40 points? I didn’t even realize that.’ The other night, Kluber’s got 12 strikeouts and it didn’t even seem like that, just because he’s so comfortable out there.”
Jim Johnson as the Braves “closer” was anything but reliable. GM Alex Anthopoulos’ first act as new GM was to trade him away. I like him already. How many of you found yourself screaming at the TV like I was every time Snitker would put him in and he would blow yet another save? In 56.2 innings pitched Jim Johnson had 9 blown saves, the most in all of the National league, only 1 behind Roberto Osuna with 10 in the American league. In August of 2017, Johnson had a 16.71 ERA in 10 game appearances. It’s time for the Braves to get someone who knows what they are doing. The Braves haven’t had a reliable, consistent, lights-out closer since Craig Kimbrel. So who’s the right fit for the job?
When Johnson wasn’t failing as a closer last season, Arody’s Vizcaino stepped up and was the Braves only real closer-like pitcher in 2017 with a 2.83 ERA in 62 games with 14 saves in 57.1 innings pitched and 64 strikeouts. Vizcaino had a pretty decent season but Minter certainly made an impact in his debut to the majors in August. Right now AJ Minter seems to be making a push to earn his spot as the Braves closing man. At the end of 2017, Minter pitched 16 games in the majors with a 3.00 ERA in 15.0 innings pitched and 26 strikeouts only allowing 2 walks and 1 home run. He is definitely someone that you cannot overlook when you think about the closer position. If he can prove that he is better than Vizcaino, he has a good shot of calling that position his own.
In an interview with the AJC, Minter said that his biggest concern this season is just staying healthy. Catcher, Tyler Flower commented on the young left-hander saying that:
“He’s good. He’s going to be extremely good for as long as he can stay healthy…The guy’s got a two-pitch mix and just dominates people. That’s impressive.”
The talent for the closer position is definitely there with Minter’s Kimbrel-like numbers he put up in August 2017. With a little more time and experience we could have another star closer on our hands with Minter, he’s just going to have to fight Vizicano for it first. Who will earn the closer spot?
Despite the amount of young, inexperienced talent that is expected to come up this year, the Braves have the right ingredients for the perfect mix of a winning ball club. If the Braves can play their cards right across these aspects of the roster, mixed with the new GM’s enthusiasm about the team, it’s going to be a good year.