Veteran southpaw Billy Wagner posted a superb 1.43 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over 71 appearances for the Braves last season, saving 37 games and striking out 104 batters in 69.1 innings. He was ridiculously good, but he wanted to go out on top and called it quits as soon as the year was over.
Most teams would struggle with that kind of loss, but the Braves are rolling right along.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke this week with 22-year-old Craig Kimbrel, who is expected to battle 25-year-old Jonny Venters for the Braves’ ninth inning gig this spring. (For what it’s worth, O’Brien thinks Kimbrel is going to win it.)
“I’m ready to get things rolling,” Kimbrel said during Braves pitching camp at Turner Field on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a fun year. I’m just going to come in, get ready to pitch on the mound. Whatever role it’s in, I’ll be ready for it.”
Kimbrel, a righty, struck out 40 batters in just 20.2 innings last season during a short but impressive debut for the Braves. Venters, a lefty, also finished with great numbers — like a 1.95 ERA and 93/39 K/BB ratio.
Relievers are generally overrated, or at least over-discussed. After all, it’s hard to have much of an impact on a 162-game schedule when your contribution spans something like 50-60 innings. But the Braves are undoubtedly loving the fact that they have two cost-effective fireballers around to handle tight situations.
Update (11:09 PM EDT):
From unlucky to lucky, the Cardinals maintained their position in the National League Wild Card race with walk-off victory over the Reds on Thursday night.
The Cardinals went into the top of the ninth with a 3-2 lead over the Reds, but saw the game tied when Scott Schebler dribbled a two-strike, two out ground ball down the third base line. It seemed as if the baseball gods had turned their backs on the Cardinals.
In the bottom of the ninth against reliever Blake Wood, Matt Carpenter drew a one-out walk. Randal Grichuk then struck out, leaving all of the Cardinals’ hopes on Yadier Molina. Molina went ahead 2-0 in the count, then ripped a 95 MPH fastball to left field. The ball bounced high and over the left field fence for what seemed like an obvious ground-rule double. Carpenter motored around third base and scored the winning run.
The Cardinals poured onto the field in celebration and the umpires walked off the field. Manager Bryan Price wanted to have the play reviewed, but when he went onto the field, the umpires were nowhere to be found. Price chased after them but to no avail. As the Cardinals left the field and the stadium emptied, the Reds remained in the dugout. The Reds’ relievers were left in a bit of purgatory, standing aimlessly in left field after exiting the bullpen. Finally, the game was announced as complete over the P.A. system at Busch Stadium. The results are great if you’re a Cardinals fan, but terrible if you’re a Mets or Giants fan.
As Jon Morosi points out, the rules clearly state that the signage above the fence in left field is out of the field of play. The umpires got it wrong.
Price, however, also took too long to speak to the umpires. Per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
If this happened between two teams playing a meaningless game, it would’ve been a lot easier to swallow, but Thursday’s Reds-Cardinals game had implications on not only the Cardinals’ future, but the Mets’ and Giants’ as well.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman went 0-for-4 during Thursday’s win against the Phillies, snapping his hitting streak at 30 games. It marked the longest hitting streak of the 2016 season. Freeman’s streak of 46 consecutive games reaching base safely ended as well.
The longest hitting streak in Atlanta Braves history belongs to Dan Uggla, who hit in 33 consecutive games in 2011. Tommy Holmes hit in 37 straight for the Boston Braves in 1945.
During his hitting streak, Freeman hit .384/.485/.670 with 11 doubles, seven home runs, 27 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 136 plate appearances. That padded what were already very strong numbers on the season. After Thursday’s game, Freeman is overall batting .306/.404/.572 with 33 home runs, 88 RBI< and 101 runs scored in 677 plate appearances.