It’s been a while since the Braves had a dominant bullpen. Even last year, despite having the “night shift,” Atlanta’s relief core struggled to close games for most of the season — a primary reason why they started off slowly to begin the year. However, Anthopoulos has made it more and more of a priority each season — a no-brainer given the direction the game has gone, relying on relievers more than ever — and he went overboard this offseason.
The Braves didn’t lose much in terms of production this free agency when it comes to their bullpen. Chris Martin and Jesse Chavez were the two most significant subtractions. Ironically, both ended up inking one-year contracts with the Cubs, but I don’t imagine the Braves will be thinking about them too much this season, given what they added to the bunch.
Brian Snitker will have an embarrassment of riches to turn to late in games. Will Smith was the closer last season, but the newly acquired Kenley Jansen will surely take over those duties in 2022. He’s been one of the best closers in the game ever since he came into the league back in 2010. That slides Smith down to a set-up role, and I expect him to be the team’s primary set-up man. In the past, it’s a role he’s been excellent in, and he should be even more consistent now that he isn’t tasked with shutting the door in the ninth.
But if Brian Snitker ever loses faith in Smith, or Smith just needs a day of rest, he has several guys that can also pitch the eighth. Collin McHugh, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, and Luke Jackson all have experienced success in high-leverage situations. Snitker should have zero nerves turning to any of these guys. Hell, an argument could even be made that Matzek and Minter are the most talented arms of the bunch. When they are rolling, nobody can touch their stuff.
Let’s also not forget about Kirby Yates. This is a man who has suffered two significant injuries over the last two seasons, but if he returns healthy later in the year for the Braves, I’m not sure how anybody is going to score on them past the fifth inning. The last time we saw Yates healthy, he was posting a 1.19 ERA while saving a league-leading 41 games for the Padres — good for a ninth-place finish in the NL Cy Young race.
The final couple of spots could be filled by any number of guys, but the Braves have options, some of which are more enticing than others. I wouldn’t be shocked if Sean Newcomb or Touki Toussaint carved out a relief role for themselves. Those are two high-powered arms that could make great bullpen pieces one day. Jacob Webb has flashed at times, and Darren O’Day has experienced plenty of success over his lengthy career. But the one guy I’m keeping an eye out for is Spencer Strider.
Strider sits at 100 MPH and often makes opponents look helpless. The Braves will likely start him in Gwinnett this season, and they may still view him as a starter, but I think he’s more of a reliever. Either way, if he’s going to make a substantial impact at the major-league level in 2022, it will probably be out of the ‘pen. That could be another incredible addition to an already loaded relief core.
Here’s how the group could look towards the end of the season and into the postseason:
Closer: Kenley Jansen
Set-Up: Will Smith
Set-Up: Tyler Matzek
Set-Up: Collin McHugh
Middle Relief: Kirby Yates
Middle Relief: A.J. Minter
Middle Relief: Luke Jackson
Long Relief: Spencer Strider
That’s quite literally the most loaded bullpen I’ve ever laid eyes on. Even if everything doesn’t go perfectly or injuries occur, the Braves have more than enough firepower to weather the storm.