Over the past few weeks, the Braves have actually been playing some good baseball (6-4 over their last ten and 10-10 over their last twenty), and one of the primary reasons has been their much improved bullpen. On the year, the Atlanta pen has been below average, posting a 3.98 era, good for only 20th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Despite this, the bullpen has been greatly improved due to some emerging youngsters as well as some veteran resurgence.
After Arodys Vizcaino went down with an oblique injury in mid-July, it was Jim Johnson who stepped in as the Braves closer, and has excelled in the role since. In 15 appearances across July and August Johnson has allowed just three earned runs, good for a 1.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts to only 8 walks in that span. Johnson has found success with the Braves for two years in a row now, and it appears he will be sticking with the team for the foreseeable future, as he was pulled back after being claimed on waivers. If Johnson continues his solid work in the back of the pen, there is a chance he could be brought back to Atlanta for the 2017 season.
Krol was acquired last offseason in the deal that sent Cameron Maybin to the Detroit Tigers, and with a 2015 ERA of 5.79, there was not much optimism that Krol would be a important piece in the Braves pen. Despite this, Krol has just gotten better and better as the season has gone on, culminating in an 1.84 ERA in 16 appearances since the beginning of July. Krol is a hard throwing left hander with a fastball that routinely reaches the mid nineties. After trading away fellow lefty reliever Hunter Cervenka, the Braves essentially chose Krol as the primary left handed reliever, and his numbers against lefties (.565 OPS against) say that he is up to the job.
Cabrera signed with the Braves as an international free agent out of the Dominican when he was just a teenager in 2011 and has been showcasing his overpowering fastball in the minors ever since. In late June, the Braves decided to speed up Cabrera’s timeline and recall him straight from Double-A Mississippi, skipping Triple-A entirely. Since then, Cabrera has been exactly what the doctor ordered, posting a 2.91 ERA in 21 appearances, striking out 20 batters while only waking six. Cabrera’s bread and butter has been his fastball, which has averaged 100.8 mph, the fastest in Baseball. If Cabrera continues to dominate with his fastball and keep his walks down, Cabrera will be a force in the bullpen for years to come.
After a rough start to the season, the Braves bullpen has turned out to be a strength for the team, and one that could continue to improve the rest of this season and into next year. With closer Arodys Vizcaino close to making his return and the recent call ups Jason Hursh and Akeel Morris bolstering the pen further, fans should expect the relief core’s fine work to continue.