Spencer Strider to the bullpen?
Atlanta Braves fans the nation over are probably entertaining the idea today, mulling it over in their heads as they pound their red foam tomahawks into the palms of their hands in disgust, frustration and extreme nervousness about the team's suddenly leaky bullpen.
Or is there any other way they should feel after watching closer Kenley Jansen implode during Saturday night's ninth-inning loss at St. Louis thanks to Jansen walking in the winning run after the Braves had entered the bottom of the frame up 5-4?
Yes, not only did Jansen, the former Los Angeles Dodger, walk in the winning run in that defeat, he also surrendered the tying run. And before Braves Country had a chance to shrug that one off as just one bad day at the office, along came Sunday night's prime time meltdown against the Cardinals on ESPN.
Having watched Dansby Swanson swat one out of Busch Stadium for a 3-2 lead in the seventh -- a lead at that point in an Atlanta game that usually spells victory -- the Braves bullpen once more collapsed, this time done in by two home runs surrendered by lefty A.J. Minter. To be fair, only one of the four runs he allowed was earned, but it still calls to mind so many past bullpen struggles when it matters most. Especially since the relief corps was once believed to be one of the defending world champs' greatest strengths.
All of which brings us to Strider, who has proved to be a huge asset as a starter, but might be more important come the playoffs as a reliable closer.
Yes, it's a risk. Strider's the kind of power pitcher not many teams have. He's a flame thrower of epic proportions. The guy's north of 95 mph on almost every fastball. He can hit 100 for fun. He has an 8-4 record, a 2.87 ERA, a whopping 158 strikeouts and the best mustache in the biz heading into Thursday night's start against the Colorado Rockies at Truist Park.
In truth, he's probably too dang talented and valuable to move from the starting rotation to the bullpen. But as much as everyone wants to downplay what happened to Minter and Jansen this past weekend, the fact is that Jansen's already blown five saves in 34 chances.
And for all those folks who say he's been all but unhittable of late, that he hadn't blown a save opportunity since June 26, and he entered this game having posted a 1.84 ERA over his last 15 appearances, he also blew that save against the Dodgers on June 26 and now he's blown one against the Cards by walking in the winning run.
What's the bigger problem in that? Just this: Atlanta could easily face either the Cardinals or Dodgers in the playoffs, possibly both, and both teams seem to know how to get Jansen out of his comfort zone.
As for Minter's mess against St. Louie on Sunday night, he's always been streaky. He's been better this year overall -- he hadn't allowed a single run in his nine previous appearances before Sunday -- and that included two appearances against St. Louis on Friday and Saturday, as well as two against the Mets at Truist a couple of weeks ago.
No player is going to be perfect over a 162-game schedule and Minter may have just needed a night off. Moreover, the Cards have been almost as hot as the Braves of late, winning 12 of their last 15 to Atlanta's current 15-4 run.
Still, you wish Atlanta could find another John Smoltz, its Hall of Fame pitcher that won over 200 games as a starter and saved 154 as a reliever, including a preposterous run between June 3rd of 2002 and May 25th of 2003 when he failed to lose a single game in 73 appearances, winning three and saving 60 in 76 total innings of work.
Strider isn't Smoltz. But he's the only pitcher on the Braves staff who could be overpowering as either a starter or a closer.
Said Minter after Sunday's loss: "There's no reason why we should hang our heads from this game. That's as close as you can get to a World Series game. It's just going to make us that much better."
Perhaps he's right. All of Braves Country hopes he's right. But a few more bullpen collapses like Saturday and Sunday could easily mean close is as close as the Braves will get to returning to the World Series they won a year ago.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.