Rays 7, Braves 5

The Braves took a 3 – 0 lead after 4 innings, but were undone largely by a 4 run 7th.

Drew Smyly didn’t allow a hit until the 5th, but after a leadoff check-swing single by Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino doubled. A wild pitch and a sacrifice fly led to Tampa Bay’s first 2 runs. Wander Franco tied the game in the 6th with a solo homer to center, and Smyly’s promising start ended after 5 2/3.

The Braves took the lead back in the bottom of the inning, when Joc Pederson drove in Stephen Vogt, and I’d like to get used to saying that. Pederson went 2 – 4, and Vogt 3 – 4.

In the 7th, A.J. Minter came on to face 3 left handers, and 3 left handers later it was 5 – 4. Luke Jackson relieved and fared similarly. A double by Francisco Mejia and a homer by Yandy Diaz made it 7 – 4. Josh Tomlin and Shane Greene threw a scoreless 8th and 9th though.

Ozzie Albies‘ 2 out double in the 1st scored Freddie Freeman with the Braves first run. The Braves added 2 more in the 4th when Guillermo Heredia drove in Orlando Arcia with a double, and Vogt scored on a force out. Vogt drove in Freeman in the 7th to conclude the scoring.

Albies, Heredia, and Austin Riley joined Pederson in the 2 hit club.

When I was young and dumb, (problems I have since rectified one of) I thought it would be a good idea to manage two youth baseball teams at the same time. One of them went 9 -3; the other 1 – 11, and I could never figure out how I could be so smart on Monday and Thursday and so dumb on Tuesday and Friday.

There’s been a lot of well deserved frustration with the bullpen lately, and some of it has been taken out on Brian Snitker. I really don’t know what people expect him to do with what he has to work with.

I’d like to propose a contest to give us all a chance to show off our managing skills. From the Braves current roster, just pick the 7th, 8th, and 9th inning guys you would use to protect a lead of 3 runs or less and post it in the comments. We’ll track all the candidates in the coming games until we have a winner.

The rules are simple: when one of your guys allows a run, you suck, and you’re fired. Whoever’s picks go the longest without allowing a run is the winner, and gets fired last.

Caution: You’ve got 2021 sample sizes ranging from only 37 2/3 (Will Smith) down to 9 innings pitched (Jesse Chavez,) if that’s what you’re going to use to base your decision.

I’ll go first:
7th: Chavez
8th: Jackson
9th Smith
Duplicates are allowed. There will be no tie-breaker. Let the first-guessing begin.

San Diego comes to town Monday. The Braves are expected to activate Kyle Muller to face Yu Darvish.

Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

45 thoughts on “Rays 7, Braves 5”

  1. Chavez
    Tomlin
    Jackson

    I have zero confidence in these three, but I have negative confidence in the others.

  2. 7th Matzek
    8th Chavez
    9th Smith

    We will all get fired quickly……but who should really get fired is SnitKran

  3. I sure wish Snit had used Tomlin and Greene last night (like I wanted) and Matzek and Santana today. That being said I think you have to have more than a “standard” three because sometimes one or the other might not be available. So I will propose something more complex.

    7th Matzek
    8th Jackson
    9th Smith

    Chavez as stopper (i.e. when you need a high leverage out like today). I, too, would have had Chavez do a full inning tonight using a double switch. He made one pitch today….. ONE PITCH. An alternative would be

    7th Martin
    8th Matzek
    9th Chavez

    Bottom line is I think Jackson, Martin, Chavez, Matzek, Smith are the high leverage guys right now. If Minter and/or Greene can get straightened out then they could be too. Santana can be a good middle inning guy. Tomlin has to go. The problem is that one or more of them may be great one night and lousy the next and you never know who. Chavez and Smith are really the only guys who have not failed dramatically recently. And Jackson was, too, until today.

    We might have won if Chavez pitched the 7th.

  4. Everyone talks about buying. These 3 games should have been won….except the entire bullpen imploded in two of them. Unless we are buying an entire bullpen along with a new pitching coach/manager there is no reason to buy anything. So frustrating.

  5. @3, right now I wouldn’t trust Martin in the 9th of an 8-run blowout. Something’s wrong with him.

  6. Relievers. Can’t shoot them, but we should fire Snit if the bullpen blows the game. Funny game, logic.

  7. I think it’s time for a few bullpen arms to either be dfa’d or put on the IL for inability to pitch. If these next two weeks are important on whether we are buyers or sellers, I think we should let some guys from AAA that we haven’t tried before get some auditions. Unfortunately I don’t see anyone on the 40 man that justifies a call up. Beyond that Dylan Lee, Trevor Kelly, and Thomas Burrows look like they could outpitch most of our bullpen if given the chance. If any of those guys could wake up the relievers a little and at least be league average I don’t see what we have to lose. Other than that I don’t think AA will make a deal to get 7 bullpen arms, which we need.

  8. I would bring up Tanner Roark, who’s worked relief before, to see if he has anything left in the tank.

  9. @2, @3 Matzek is pitching in mop-up in spite of a low-3’s ERA. There’s clearly something going on with him that we can’t possibly know.

    The facts are that almost every single reliever this year has regressed. I don’t know if there’s a logical reason for this other than, well, that’s baseball.

  10. You could double switch Chavez into the 6 spot, but looking longer term that means you would’ve had to pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot twice more after the 6th instead of once more, with a short bench. And at that point, you don’t know if Chavez is going to throw 1 pitch or 30.

    Obviously Minter was a disaster, but I feel sure almost every manager in MLB would have brought in a lefty to pitch to 3 lefties there.

  11. @12 yeah, I am not sure why he isn’t getting more attention for the regression of the bullpen

  12. I was wondering a few weeks ago about not pitching Matzek more too, but beyond the ERA I think he is a time bomb waiting to happen. His spin rate is documented as dropping the 2nd most of anyone in baseball since the illegal substance crackdown and he’s walked 9 batters in his last 5.2 innings (7 outings) and has a 2.29 WHIP despite only allowing 1 run. The last time he pitched in a high leverage situation was July 6 in the 9th inning against the Pirates. He gave up a hit and 3 walks and the game winning run and didn’t get anyone out. I’ve lost confidence in him like Snitker after his last few outings. Of course I can say that about most of the bullpen, but the control issues are extremely concerning. 15 walks in 28 innings and then 9 walks in 5.2 innings.

  13. @12 I think I agree Kranitz sucks but the starting pitching has improved (Anderson, Ynoa, Davidson, and Muller, at least), so I don’t really know what to think.

    And Kranitz was here last year when the bullpen was really good. And if I remember correctly, the bullpen was good in 2019 as well. So, I dunno.

  14. Though I admit that his career MLB numbers don’t inspire confidence, if the postseason were about to start, I’d put Bryse Wilson on the 40-man as a multi-inning reliever. I think he’d have a chance of being more effective than most of the current relievers, and if he’s on, he could pitch for two or three innings. Or Touki if he looks good this week. Since we’re not in that situation, I assume AA would rather keep trying to see if Wilson and Touki can become effective starters, which would be more valuable in the long run.

    As for the contest, let’s say:

    7th: Santana
    8th: Greene
    9th: Smith

    My reasoning may be going against the spirit of the contest; I’m picking them because they might be less likely to pitch tomorrow (Greene pitched today and Smith isn’t likely to pitch if the Padres are ahead by the 9th), making me less likely to lose on the first day.

  15. @17 – I like the way you think. I should have picked Minter.

    As Minter is off the roster now, let’s say he is ineligible.

  16. Was it ever explained why they fired their bullpen coach pretty late in the offseason? It just seems odd given last year’s success.

  17. Over 1/2 the guys in the pen have seen a drop in spin rate. Braves are going to have to do a lot of research when adding relief to see who’s been affected by the sticky ban.

  18. @21 – The only argument I have there is most of them were bad before the ban was put in place and the balls were spinning like crazy. Matzek and Martin have been the only 2 that have really regressed.

  19. @22 and regressed they have, going from two of our more prefered options to being hot garbage like everyone else.

  20. 8 games out in the WC. Bizarrely +25 in Run Dif.

    14th in FIP
    14th in K/9
    12th in wRC+
    8th in wOBA

    About as mediocre right down the middle as I can remember a Braves team. It basically all adds up to what it is, an average team, not good, not awful.

  21. I wouldn’t normally use this stat as a reliable metric, but since the beginning of May, Atlanta is 28th in baseball in reliever losses. So that means they’ve been in and ruined a huge share of close games. The only two teams worse are non-contending Arizona and Kansas City. Is that luck, especially considering they’re 15th in reliever FIP and 19th in reliever ERA over that span? By comparison, the Giants, White Sox, and Brewers have the fewest reliever losses during that time. For the year, Braves PH are 21st in BA, so that also probably has a little bit to do with it. Creating close games and then blowing said close games is a great way to be +25 in run differential (5th in the NL) and 10th in record.

    To your point, Chief, this team works out to being very mediocre in the aggregate, but there are some glaring holes in the roster that were they fixed, it would yield a much better overall result.

    Rusty and I seem to have the same thought: who do you trust in the pen? I can’t fault a GM for mostly bringing back a pen that performed very well last year. But he gets paid the big bucks to see a problem and fix it. Maybe the solution is calling up some AAA arms like some have mentioned. I’m not convinced that’s the solution but whatever.

  22. @25 How could AAA arms be worse? It might not be the solution, but it seems like we are past the point of waiting on guys to suddenly “find it” and be as good as they were last year. Maybe it is the crackdown on gripping stuff, who knows? One thing is certain is that nearly the entire bullpen is unreliable and like many have said it should be the easiest thing to fix. Even a mediocre pen probably puts us at the top of the division. The offense scored 20 runs over the three games with the Rays which should have been plenty to sweep the series so I don’t think that is nearly as much of the problem as it was, although we still have holes to fill.

  23. @26 Well, back in the olden days, AJ Minter was the guy getting outs in AAA.

    Obviously I have no idea if Lee, Burrows, and Kelley can get major league hitters out. I do know they’re 26, 26, and 27-years old, respectively. Kelley has a career major league ERA of 9.26. But, to your point, they could be good and probably worth trying out.

    I think the crackdown has made these decisions more difficult. Matzek has a 3.21 ERA and a 11.8 K/9 and he’s pitching in 9-0 ballgames. Something is going on there. They’re clearly pitching in low leverage because of yips or spin rate. So they’re at least making it obvious they’re hiding one person on the roster right now. How many other guys do they have internal questions about but don’t want to do anything drastic with? Minter’s the easy choice to send down because he has options. I would think Lee, Kelley, or Burrows would be the corresponding move. Who else do you DFA or option to make room for someone else? Their hands are kind of tied right now.

  24. I agree with this 100%.

  25. @27 I think Tomlin should be a DFA candidate despite his success yesterday since he can’t even fulfill his mop up duty role by pitching more than an inning due to lack of effectiveness.

  26. @29 Agreed. He’s definitely the next DFA candidate. I just mean that if Greene, Martin, Matzek, and Smith all continue to underperform, then your hands are pretty tied. Chavez and Santana have probably earned the right to stick around a little longer, so you probably don’t want to DFA them. Jackson is pitching well.

  27. Apart from asking people to put themselves in Snitker’s shoes when thinking about the bullpen, my other point is: most of these guys have barely thrown 30 innings. Are we sure they aren’t any good any more? Or do we believe the 30 innings they threw last year?

    Minter seems cooked for the moment, and Martin’s k/9 rate (5.6) concerns me. Are we sure about the rest of the guys? Shane Greene’s thrown 12 innings.

    Judging relievers long term is a crazy game as relatively little as they throw.

  28. @25 – Do you know how many innings the bullpen’s been asked to cover relative to other teams? I’d be interested if part of the reason the bullpen has so many losses stems from the starters inability to pitch deeper into games or not.

  29. @32 The Braves are 22nd in reliever IP, so fortunately that’s probably not the issue.

    It’s a pretty wild game nowadays. Of the top 30 pitchers in fWAR, only 9 are pitching 6 IP per start on average. Maybe there are a couple innings eaters outside the top 30 who are pitching 6 per start. I always cite these numbers when Rays fans talk about how stupid Kevin Cash was for pulling Snell in last year’s World Series. The modern game is built on having a plethora of bullpen options, and maybe we have them and maybe we don’t, but I think we’ve been uniquely bit by this spin rate crackdown. They’re probably feverishly trying to find out who can still have swing-and-miss ability in this new world.

    And everybody is hawk-eyed. Fans were making video montages of Alex Cobb touching his hair compulsively the other day. This is a crazy thing for baseball to be dealing with.

  30. @25 How could AAA arms be worse?

    As Bad Religion once pointed out:

    In the end the good will go to heaven up above,
    The bad will perish in the depths of hell.
    How can hell be any worse when life alone is such a curse?

  31. Rusty, I really appreciate your perspective and wisdom. The bullpen has sucked, to be sure, and perhaps Kranitz’s coaching is to blame. I certainly don’t have the insider knowledge to judge what he does or doesn’t do.. But the same coach got good to excellent seasons out of Martin, Minter, Matzek, and Greene last year. And as others have pointed out, the starters have been quite good; since June 1, they have the best FIP in the league.

    I doubt firing Kranny would make much of a difference, although perhaps there is some PR value in doing so. The best solution is to get a few new good relievers. People often say that a bullpen is the easiest problem to fix. AA saved the season in 2019 when he traded for Greene, Melancon, and Martin at the deadline. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic he can pull something like that off again. Or that it would be worth the cost if he did.

  32. It seems to me that Matzek is pitching in low leverage to get his mojo back. Enough solid outings and he’ll be back in high leverage. That may be now with Minter going down.

    As far as Minter goes, he needs to retool. I am sure the pitch most significantly affected by the loss of spin rate is his developing change-up. Last year and part of the prior, his changeup was his most effective pitch when it was used in the correct sequence. In the minors he had great numbers because minor league hitters swung and missed at his slider which is a great pitch but never a strike. Major league hitters don’t offer and especially don’t offer when they’re ahead in the count. He does not throw his fastball for strikes at a high enough rate that he can get by in the majors with those two pitches. He must get the change back to be effective. He should not be given up on; he still has the potential to be the best reliever on the team.

    I also think Greene will come around and at 12 innings is still effectively in Spring Training.

    Martin is a different issue. If he is a different pitcher without his spin rate then he needs to be the low leverage guy until he can find a way to return to form (like what they’re doing with Matzek now). If he can’t return to form then he needs to go.

    I think they are making the same mistake with Chavez that they made with O’Day last year. He is pitching great and they should ramp up his leverage. Right now, he is a strike throwing machine. I wish there were a statistic that showed the effectiveness of pitches thrown in 0-2 counts. I know it’s customary to throw a marginal pitch or try to paint a corner or use it as a set-up, but I have seen SO many Braves relievers throw completely non-competitive 0-2 pitches (like 2 feet outside). So far, Chavez has not done that; every pitch is competitive.

    With Tomlin, you might as well be using Rizzo or Mejia. They were able to throw successful single innings. Webb might be better than that….. If Touki looks good and can take over the multi-inning relief role then Tomlin has to go.

  33. @37 I completely agree with what you said about competitive pitches but I think the starters are just as bad and that help leads to the high pitch count and the inability to go deep into games. How many times have we seen a starter (or reliever) get to 0-2 and then walk the hitter because we waste 2 pitches and then lack the command to throw the competitive ball/strike?

  34. @34 Ooooh, that’s old school BR. I think I might prefer Armageddon over watching this bullpen.

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