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The Braves depart the first city of the biggest road trip of the season, still in third place in the East. They’re five games back of the first-place Mets & one game back of the Phillies. They split the four-game set with Philadelphia, which isn’t worst case scenario. They didn’t make up any ground on Philly, but they also didn’t lose any. That’s fine, as long as Alex Anthopoulos adds pieces to where keeping pace this long won’t be for naught.
The Phillies President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski has more than earned his reputation for being aggressive on the trade market. Statrting with the Detroit Tigers in the early 2000’s when he brought Jim Leyland out of semi-retirement & added Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers, & Magglio Ordonez on their way to the World Series in 2006. Three years prior, the Tigers lost an American League-record 119 games. After the Tigers, he transitioned to the Boston Red Sox where he brought a World Series title in 2018.
In keeping with his reputation, it’s been widely reported that the Philadelphia Phillies will not only be buyers at the deadline, but aggressive buyers. They’ve already been linked to All-World outfielder Byron Buxton, who rejected the Minnesota Twins contract extension offer.
All that talk about the second-place Phillies probably left you wondering why I didn’t mention the Mets. I didn’t mention the Mets because unless they go out and land bullpen help (their bullpen is ranked 14th in WAR this season. For reference, the Braves are ranked 13th), they’ll not be winning the division. They don’t have the offense to offset a deGrom-less & Carrasco-less rotation, even with the addition of Rich Hill; add in a slumping Francisco Lindor (who’s currently on the IL), they just simply don’t have enough to hold off a Phillies team that possibly adds Buxton & a Braves team that will get injured players back soon & whoever Alex Anthopoulos adds to improve this lineup and bullpen.
If Alex Anthopoulos sees what I see then he knows he needs to focus on bolstering the bullpen. A bullpen that now has 23 losses, TWENTY-THREE LOSSES, on the year. If our bullpen would’ve converted half of those leads, or even just a quarter of those leads the Braves would be in first place. For mathematical sake, converting a quarter would put the Braves 2 games up on the Mets; converting half would have them 7.5 games in front of the Mets. That’s the difference in the National League East this year. Not .500ish ball clubs. Not injury-riddled rosters. Not underperforming rookies. The Braves bullpen. The Braves bullpen has turned a possible 2-game, 7.5 game, EIGHTEEN-GAME LEAD (if the bullpen converted all those blown leads into wins) into a five-game deficit and a third place standing.
Can Anthopoulos completely overhaul the bullpen at the trade deadline?
We’ll see. But he’s done it before. In 2019, the Braves were ranked 20th in high/medium leverage situations, and 18th in low leverage situations, using FIP. They were also ranked third from last in bullpen WAR.
Then the trade deadline rolled around…
On July 31st, 2019, Alex Anthopoulos made the following moves:
-Acquired Chris Martin for Kolby Allard.
-Acquired Mark Melancon for Tristan Beck & Dan Winkler.
-Acquired Shane Greene for Joey Wentz & Travis Demeritte (Demeritte is now back in the Braves MiLB system).
One day. Three guys. Three of the biggest pieces of the 2019 2nd-half & 2020 bullpen that was ranked 9th in Total Bullpen fWAR (2.1), 4th in Bullpen ERA (3.50), & 6th in FIP (3.91). Martin & Greene together combined for a 1.80 ERA over 45.2 innings. That’s nine total runs. Two of the three deadline additions held opponents to NINE earned runs through FORTY-FIVE INNINGS.
I’m not saying that Alex Anthopoulos is about to have more turnover in the Braves bullpen than Nathan Peterman playing Quarterback in the NFL. I’m just saying that a 2-4 man swing in the bullpen can turn this bullpen 180 degrees. And he has the prospect capital to make it happen. I wouldn’t be ecstatic about prospects being dealt for MLB guys on expiring contracts. But there are multi-year options on teams with batters that could also help the Braves. Put a package together & get a return that plugs more than one hole in the hull of this struggling boat.
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