• Exclusives

    Braves swept while ‘pen struggles, welcome 2nd place O’s

    Anytime the New York Yankees are in town, you want to win. That was the feeling in the Braves’ clubhouse throughout the 3-game set in Atlanta, but things did not go as anyone would have liked. The Yankees swept the Braves and saw firsthand the glaring holes in the Braves bullpen right now.

    The tone at Turner Field this week is unlike anything fans have seen this season. The Bronx Bombers brought out a huge contingent of their own fans. When Yankees fans would cheer for their players, Braves fans would boo them–the Yankees fans, just as much as the players. While many were making comparisons to these two teams matching up in the postseasons of 1996 and 1999, the Braves didn’t play like either of those teams. Though starting pitching was, for the most part, solid, the bullpen was a mess and the offense struggled once again with runners in scoring position.

    Delgado pitched 5 innings, allowing only 3 runs. The bullpen was solid with newly recalled Cory Gearrin, Durbin and Venters, but the offense just couldn’t make anything happen. Only one runner made it into scoring position and four runners were left on base.

    The second game of the series was a real heartbreaker. Mike Minor really stepped up, something he has done in his last two starts and maybe in response to all the talk that he would be sent down. Minor pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing 5 hits, 1 earned run and only 1 walk. In the top of the 8th, Derek Jeter got on base and Fredi Gonzalez immediately pulled Minor and sent in Jonny Venters. A single by Curtis Granderson and a walk to Mark Teixeira loaded the bases for Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod hit a grand slam off Venters, his 23rd career grand slam, tying him with the great Lou Gehrig for the most grand slams in baseball history. Venters and Gearrin went on to allow 2 more runs in the top of the 8th. The Braves were unable to make up the 2-run deficit and lost the game 6-4.

    Tim Hudson made the start in game 3 after missing a start due to ankle soreness attributed to bone chips. Huddy pitched 6 innings, allowing 6 hits and 3 earned runs. Hudson struck out 8 batters. Minus a missing his spot on a pitch to Granderson that just barely made it over the right field fence and scored 2 runs, Hudson looked as good as he has all season. The ‘pen, in a nice rebound from the night before, didn’t allow a run. The Braves couldn’t capitalize in the final innings and lost by one run.

    The Braves continue interleague play 3rd in the National League East, 5 games behind the 1st place Washington Nationals with a record of 34-29.

    INTERLEAGUE CONTINUES WITH THE SURGING ORIOLES…

    Friday: Brian Matusz (5-6, 4.82) vs. Tommy Hanson (7-4, 3.55)

    Saturday: Jason Hammel (6-2, 3.22) vs. Brandon Beachy (5-4, 1.98)

    Sunday: Wei-Yin Chen (6-2, 3.68) vs. Randall Delgado (4-6, 4.34)

    The Baltimore Orioles come into town as one of the hottest teams in baseball, not to mention one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season. The Orioles are in 2nd place in the American League East, 1 game behind the equally tough New York Yankees. The Orioles have a record of 36-26. Orioles’ pitching has been strong,

    While it is hard to ignore the struggles of the Braves’ offense, especially with runners in scoring position (they finished the New York series 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position), the glaring downfall of the team right now is the bullpen. As the Yankees series hinged on the ‘pen, so could the series with the Orioles.

    Jonny Venters was lights out last season. In 2011, Venters made 85 appearances for the Atlanta Braves. His line: 6-2 record,  88 IP, with a 1.84 ERA. He only allowed 53 hits, 19 runs, 2 home runs, and only hit 5 batters the entire season. This season? His line so far in 2012: 3-3 record, 24 1/3 IP, with a 4.44 ERA. He has allowed 33 hits, 14 runs, 4 home runs and has hit 4 batters. The team is saying publicly that Venters is healthy, but his performance is saying otherwise.

    Eric O’Flaherty, who combined with Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters to be the most effective ‘pen trio in baseball last year, has struggled this season as well. O’Flaherty has not been available for Fredi Gonzalez since Tuesday when he woke with a sore pitching elbow. Fredi said he would give him a few more days of rest. In 2011, O’Flaherty had an incredible run. His line: 2-4 record, 73 2/3 IP, with a 0.98 ERA. He allowed 59 hits, 9 runs and 2 home runs. This season, O’Flaherty has struggled. His 2012 line so far: 1-0 record, 22 2/3 IP, with a 3.97 ERA. He has already allowed 24 hits, 12 runs and 3 home runs.

    As the starting rotation solidifies, the bullpen needs to shut down games. That’s the bottom line and the bullpen has failed repeatedly at this of late. While Venters and O’Flaherty are not the only problem, long man Livan Hernandez has struggled in his last few outings, they’re struggles have left the bullpen depleted and added to its inconsistency.

    The biggest question mark right now is Kris Medlen. Medlen was providing consistency and the ability to pitch in a variety of situations out of the ‘pen. When Mike Minor and Randall Delgado were both struggling in the rotation, Medlen was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to stretch out in preparation to join the starting rotation. While Medlen has been in the minors, Delgado has settled in nicely, Julio Teheran made a spot start and Minor has had 2 back-to-back quality starts. The need for Medlen in the ‘pen seems obvious. Unless the Braves plan to trade for bullpen depth or rush pitchers currently at Triple-A, they need to work with the pieces they have and for now that means utilizing the versatile Medlen where he is needed most.

    The Orioles series gets underway at Turner Field tomorrow at 7:35 (EST).

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch" href="https://twitter.com/#!/framethepitch">@framethepitch.