JS must move, and fast
Where have we seen this hackneyed storyline? Team gets solid starting pitching, scratches out a run here and there to stay close entering the spooky late innings. Mediocre reliever X comes in, quickly populates the bases. Mediocre reliever Y jogs in, surrenders extra base hit and close game becomes much less close.
The only relief is for the opposing closer, who heaves huge sigh of same. No need anymore to intensely pinpoint every pitch lest a mistake tie the game. With a three-run lead, pitching is easier.
Unless JS does something soon, we’ll only see more of this deflating plot, or variations that have the team clinging to a small lead and losing it or holding a big lead that’s hacked to shreds. After last night’s rerun, the NL East standings show the home team closer to the Marlins, whom we’re 6.5 games ahead, than the Mets, whom we’re 7 games behind. The Bravos today are nearer the Natspos, 2 games up, than the Phillies, 3.5 behind.
Yeah, it’s early. Sure, there are 102 games left. But say the Mets, who have a .603 winning percentage, play just .520 ball from here. That would give them 89 wins. To match that, the Bravos need to play at a .588 clip, 60-42 from here. If the Mets continue their present pace, which isn’t out of the question, our boys would need to go a blistering 69-33 (.676) to tie them at 98 wins.
The Braves have surmounted bigger deficits. Who can forget the .740, 54-19 post all-star break run of 1993 that overcame a 10-game July 22 deficit? That was then. This is now. That ’93 team had a stronger bullpen – Stanton emerged as a reliable closer after McMichael had held the fort in the first half – a rock-solid rotation and a more consistent offense than this one. That team traded for a bona fide star slugger, Fred McGriff, to ignite that second-half charge.
This team appears to have little chance to import a player of that caliber. We could get Dontrelle Willis and that will take some pressure off the pen and give us a top 3 to match most any. But does anyone really believe that would be enough to make this pen reliable in a pennant race or the playoffs? Maybe Ken Ray keeps closing well. That still leaves the 7th and 8th innings. And who’s to say how healthy Smoltz will be come October, if there is one? He’s throwing 100-plus pitches every start.
Sorry to be a merchant of gloom.
The Office, as you might have gathered, has the utmost respect for JS as a GM. His methods have worked beautifully for 15 years. This is a new year. Not investing more in the bullpen in the offseason, and maybe the belief that any journeyman who wears the Tomahawk will instantly get late-inning outs, has already cost this team a few wins. The pen isn’t the only problem but it’s easily the biggest one. (Another one: Betemit needs five at-bats a night, not one. He’s probably right now the fourth or fifth best hitter on the team.) If JS doesn’t acquire one or maybe two good relievers before the all-star break, this season is toast.