If the success of the Braves over the past 15 years bothers you, you can take comfort in knowing that the failures in the playoffs make the run much less enjoyable for Braves fans. On my way back in town I lost the radio signal of yesterday’s game with the Braves up 6-1 and Fransworth entering the game. I felt good. It was in the bag. When I found the game on when I got home, I knew it was over. The bullpen teased me for a while, the the result was bound to happen. When you blow a 5-run lead, you don’t deserve to win.
Back in July, I expressed my concerns about the pen that had been more lucky than good, and thankfully Schuerholz did go out and get Farnsworth, who was the real goat in Game 4. But that was it. The Braves really only had one dependable pitcher in the pen, and he had a very bad day. If the pen had held up in games one and three, this might not have been so bad.
How appropriate it was that Joey Devine was on the mound to give up a game-winning homer. It’s not his fault. Devine represents the state of panic that the Braves have not shown about their pitching in some time. No matter what anyone says, the drafting of Devine in the first round of this year’s draft was completely out of character for this organization. It may have been a good pick, and I like him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read something into this. The situation was desperate. A little more than $5 million dollars paid Dan Kolb to be totally worthless and Tom Martin to pitch a week. Jim Brower and Jay
Payton Powell (thanks James), both of whom were rebuffed by other major league teams, were legitimate options (shiver). Look, Leo’s good for half a point of ERA; he can’t do the pitching equivalent of feeding 5,000 people with some bread and fish. Even some of the good work the Braves got from Boyer, McBride, and Davies during the season is a negative, not a positive, in my mind. These guys were not ready. Sure, they had some success, but they struggled at times as well. They were up as desperate measures. I doubt this was the backup plan, but I don’t see what the other options were. This must have been it. And to their credit, these kids did do some very good things and deserve a lot of credit. But, I don’t know what to expect in the future. Relief pitching is hard to evaluate in small samples. I expect there will be some more minor league ball for all of these guys.
The point is, the Braves took pitching for granted, and they shouldn’t have. No one could have predicted Kolb’s collapse, although he never should have been a closer, but you knew something would go wrong. What was the plan? And even though Bernero, who went through a little bad luck, pitched well, he was demoted and DFA’ed with plenty of room on the September roster. Why wasn’t he given a chance? A few dink hits at bad times were why he was gone. And he pitched well in AAA. And why wasn’t Chuck James given a chance to pitch down the stretch? When he finally got some garbage time he looked pretty darn good. The rumored departure of Leo, really scares me now. He can’t work miracles, but he’s done quite a bit with what he’s been given. He was clearly pissed with a few guys in the pen, and was not afraid to say so.
The good thing for the Braves is that next year looks bright on the offensive side. Every position has a quality major league player in place. Look for several off-season trades for decent veteran relief. LaRoche, Langerhans, Johnson, and possibly Marte could be moved. I want the Braves to keep Marte because few players hold such potential at such a low price. The Braves must get something good if they give him up. Estrada should not be moved, because he’s better and cheaper than any other catching options as a backup or starter. Plus, McCann is still young and may need breaks at times, he could even struggle mightily, with no one in the minors ready for 2006. Estrada holds too much value for the Braves to unload. On the pitching side, Horacio and Sosa both may be moved. Sosa’s performed worse than his ERA, and Horacio is not good enough to keep with so many options coming out of AAA. Smoltz’s health has to be a concern as well. I don’t think he would have pitched again this year. All of these moves should be made to construct a bullpen with an abundance of options. I’d like to see Reitsma (whom I think is hurt) in more of a Mike Remlinger role in the middle of the game. Some of the kids may step up, but we just don’t know. The Braves need to be more prepared.
I’ll admit that my current analysis is tainted with bitterness. In a month, I may be able to look at the situation more objectively. But, I don’t think I’ll change my mind on much. It’s frustrating that the bullpen, which scared so many of us coming out of spring training, was the Braves downfall. I will also add that there were a lot of positives this season: the Jones had fantastic years, many rookies really played well, and the team rebounded when the bullpen let them down time after time. Hopefully, the positives will overtake the negatives in my mind until pitchers and catchers report.