Through the past two seasons, Atlanta’s bullpen dominance was driven by the trio of closer Craig Kimbrel and late-inning lefties Johnny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. From the start of 2011 through the end of the 2012 season, the trio of Kimbrel, Venters & O’Flaherty combined for a 1.79 ERA and a .197 opposing batting average over 417 innings. And over that 2- year span, the Braves boasted the most effective bullpen in game.
It was that late-inning dominance that led many fans to begin referring to the trio as “The Untouchables”.
Entering the 2013 season, it was again that threesome that led many analysts to label Braves’ bullpen baseball’s best. But before even a single flip of the calendar Atlanta’s relief plans went off the rails. O’Flaherty threw only 18 innings in April before being sidelined by arm trouble, while Venters started the year on the disabled list. And just a few weeks into the season, we learned both Braves relievers would undergo “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery just hours apart from one another.
Just that quickly, two of Atlanta’s three preeminent bullpen arms were wrapped in plaster and shelved for the season. Losing for the season not only two dominant relievers, but two lefties may seem like an unmanageable loss for any bullpen . But the Braves managed. In fact, they’ve hardly missed a beat.
With Venters and O’Flaherty gone, pressure mounted on two members of the Braves’ bullpen to fill their formidable shoes. First, right-handed fireballer Jordan Walden, for whom the Braves swapped RHP Tommy Hanson over the winter, would be asked to assume O’Flaherty’s setup duties. And sophomore reliever Luis Avilan was suddenly thrust into the role of the bullpen’s go-to southpaw.
The revamped late-inning trio of Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden has picked up where the old threesome left off. Over 133.2 innings, they’ve combined for a 1.62 ERA and a .171 opposing average.
The ability of this late-inning group to shorten ballgames was on display on Sunday night. Medlen went 6 strong innings and handed the ball to Avilan in the 7th. Walden followed in the 8th and Kimbrel (who else?) in the 9th. Nine Cardinals up, nine Cardinals down for the win and a series sweep. This trio is the biggest reason why Atlanta boasts baseball’s best bullpen ERA.
The faces may have changed (except, of course, for Kimbrel), but The Untouchables remain..
Thanks to @brandon93s for the image.