The Braves’ Biggest Hole: No, It’s Not the Bullpen

After sitting in first place in the National League East for 60 days, the Braves now share the National League East lead with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves are 7-10 in their last 17 games, and after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to start their most recent 10 game road trip, the Braves lost 2 out of 3 to the Yankees and 3 out of 4 to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Going 2-7 against both the Brewers and the Yankees is disheartening, but it’s not the end of the world, as the Brewers have the best record in the National League, and the Yankees have the second best record in the American League.

And, before that, the Braves lost consecutive series to the Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds at home. Again, it’s disheartening, but it’s not the end of the world. Cincinnati has been playing over .500 since Jim Riggleman took over as manager, and every team in the MLB goes through cold streaks. But, this skid has revealed the monster holes that the Braves have, which make many fans wonder how they were able to reach 50 wins so fast.

The Braves haven’t been to the postseason since 2013, where their roster than and now is completely different. The Brewers haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011, and the Arizona Diamondbacks made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2011, and they were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. There’s no true favorite in the National League. If Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos can make a few moves at the July 31st Trade Deadline, the Braves can emerge as favorites in not only the NL East, but the National League. Anthopoulos doesn’t need to acquire the best player available like he did in Toronto when he acquired David Price, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki, as any help will be productive for the Braves.

The Biggest Problem: Starting Pitching

The main issue for the Braves used to be their bullpen. And, it still is an issue, but the starting pitching for the Braves has been equally, if not more atrocious as of late. At the beginning of the season, Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz were the only reliable starting pitchers. Now, the only consistent starting pitcher is Anibal Sanchez, who is unlikely to keep his 2.72 ERA.

Over Sean Newcomb‘s last two starts, he’s only pitched 6.1 innings, while giving up 10 earned runs. He’s walked 9 hitters in those last two starts alone. On June 12th, his ERA was 2.49, and now it is 3.44. 22% of Newcomb’s starts have ended with him giving up 5 earned runs or more. Newcomb has walked 4 or more batters in 1/3 of his starts. Newcomb has surpassed expectations this year by a lot. But, the last month has reminded us that Newcomb is still distant from being an ace or front-line starter. Newcomb can be a reliable #3 starter, as his inexperience and inconstancy will keep hurting him from being the Sean Newcomb we saw in May and June.

Mike Foltynewicz was just named to his first All-Star game after a 2.37 ERA up to this point. Before Folty’s last start against Milwaukee, he had a 2.02 ERA. When Foltynewicz is on the mound, he’s dominant. In 9 of his 17 starts, he’s allowed 3 hits or less. He’s given up 2 runs or less in 15 of his 17 starts. Folty’s biggest issue has been efficiency. In 10 out of Folty’s 18 starts, he’s only pitched 5 innings or less. While he’s been dominant in those five innings, leaving the bullpen to pitch four innings, especially the Braves’ bullpen, is a recipe for failure. Folty will be a force for the rest of the season, but the ability to pitch later into games is something Folty will have to learn if he wants to be an ace.

Anibal Sanchez has been a huge surprise for the Braves this year, as the 34-year-old is pitching to a 2.72 ERA, which is the first time since 2013 that his ERA has been under 3.00. Sanchez has only made 11 starts and hasn’t ever eclipsed the 100 pitch mark, so Brian Snitker has yet to show confidence in Sanchez. It’s probably for a good reason too-without overpowering stuff, Sanchez has to rely on pinpoint accuracy, which will be hard to maintain.

Even though those three pitchers have noticeable flaws, they should still be in the rotation in September, and hopefully October. But, the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation have been a catastrophe. The closest the Braves ever got to stability was 20-year-old Mike Soroka, who’s on the 60-day DL with Shoulder Inflammation. Max Fried had 1 great start against the Cardinals, but has been shaky in every other appearance past that, and he just went on the DL.

Brandon McCarthy has the highest ERA among usual Braves’ starters at 4.92. In 15 starts, he’s never gotten an out in the 7th inning, and since May 7th, McCarthy has given up 5 ER or more in 3 of his 9 starts. He shouldn’t be in the rotation after July 31st.

The most puzzling pitcher has been Julio Teheran. The Opening Day starter has had a few solid starts this year, including 7 scoreless innings versus the Mets twice and 6 no-hit innings against San Diego. But, he’s had a few awful meltdowns, including:

A 2.1 IP, 5 ER outing versus Washington

A 3 IP performance against Philadelphia

A 6-run outing against Miami

A 4 IP outing in San Diego

A 7 run outing versus Baltimore at Home

12/17 starts with 3 walks or more

A majority of the Braves’ schedule is against division opponents, so if Julio Teheran struggles that much against division opponents, how will he fare when the Braves finish their season with 13 games out of 16 against division opponents, including 7 games against Philadelphia in the final 10 days of the season? If Teheran can’t even get anywhere close to a quality start against the worst team in the MLB, how are Braves fans supposed to trust Teheran against an elite offense? They can’t.

The Braves bullpen is an issue. But, guys like Sam Freeman, Peter Moylan, Lucas Sims, and Matt Wisler wouldn’t have to pitch as much, or really at all, if the Braves’ starting staff could improve and go deeper into games. If the Braves could get 6 innings out of their starters, it would only leave one inning of uncertainty before the late-inning relievers, who have been solid (Winkler, Carle, Viz, Minter, and Biddle). If the starters could be more consistent, the starter and bullpen ERA would decrease greatly. A bullpen isn’t meant to pitch 4 innings a night, which is what Brian Snitker’s bullpen has had to pitch on most nights. An improved bullpen will obviously help the bullpen, but an improved rotation will enhance the whole pitching staff and will decrease usage for guys like Sam Freeman and Peter Moylan, who have ruined many games this season.

Stay tuned for more content surrounding the Braves and the MLB Trade Deadline.

Follow me on Twitter @JackHunter2020 and @EndAroundSports for more. 



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