The Braves beat the Reds 7-4 on Monday and Craig Kimbrel earned his 10th save. But it is hard to ignore the fact that the Braves bullpen, solid as a rock early in the season, continues to be shaky of late.
The Reds got two hits in the ninth off Kimbrel, and had slugger Joey Votto up representing the tying run, before Kimbrel fanned Votto to end the game. In Great American Ballpark, where the game was being played, any decently hit fly ball by a left-handed hitter like Votto has a chance to go out.
The tenseness of the moment was not lost on Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez who said, “In the ninth when you’re facing Votto in this ballpark with two people on and a three-run lead, it’s hard.” Gonzalez’s contorted facial expressions were more descriptive than his words as he relived the ninth inning agony.
Kimbrel blew his last save opportunity this past Friday night against the Mets, when David Wright blasted a shot deep into the right center field bleachers to tie the game in the ninth. Kimbrell is now 10 of 12 on the season in save conversions.
Jordan Walden, the big right-handed reliever the Braves acquired from the Angels in the Tommie Hanson trade, started the seventh inning with the Braves up 7-2, and proceeded to give up two runs on three hits without recording an out. Walden’s second consecutive poor performance.
Lefty Eric O’Flaherty came on to get the three outs in the eighth without allowing a Reds runner to reach base. This was a solid bounce-back performance for O’Flaherty, who contributed to the loss against the Mets last Friday night, when he surrendered a one run lead in the eighth by giving up a solo homer.
Baseball is a long season and players go up and down in their production as the months roll by. Despite recent struggles, the Braves still have one of the best bullpens in baseball. The main problem is that the Braves bullpen can be so good for such long stretches of time that after a while you expect near perfection.
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