Everyone knew two years ago when John Hart and John Coppolella that the Atlanta Braves were going to undergo a major rebuild and construct the roster to build through the farm system with high draft picks and major international free agent signings. After two years of woeful baseball at times, many expected Atlanta to make a major jump and begin competing again.
Maybe not compete for the playoffs just yet, but with the opening of a new ballpark and Brian Snitker getting the full-time manager position after being the interim for the second half last year, to compete with the best on a day-to-day basis was the goal.
After competing for six quality innings on Opening Day in New York against the Mets, Atlanta showed that progress still needs to be made, especially late in games. More than a few Atlanta fans questioned the hiring of manager Brian Snitker when he was given the full-time gig. He has been a baseball man for most of his life, but his only experience as manager at the big league level was last season as the interim, a season in which the Braves knew they were not going to compete.
The players in the clubhouse wanted Snitker to remain and he was the popular choice to lead them forward, but many questions still surrounded if he was ready for the gig with more added pressure.
On Monday, in a tight game nodded at 0-0, Snitker elected to take take out starter Julio Teheran after 96 pitches and trading zeros with Mets starter Noah Syndergaard. Not a bad decision at all, as Atlanta will need him for the rest of the season as the unquestionable ace of the staff. To begin the seventh, Ian Krol was called out of the bullpen and that is where things began to get dicey. Krol had trouble finding the zone, giving up two hits and a walk, allowing the Mets to get a run before he was pulled after recording one out.
In a one-run game, many would consider this a high-leverage situation in which it is reasonable to bring in your best reliever to keep you within reach and limit the damage. In his first major decision as manager, Snitker opted to play matchups and used middle relievers to get the outs. The only issue was, and many said this before the season began, the weakness of the bullpen is the middle relief.
The Braves ultimately allowed 6 runs to score in the bottom of the inning, allowing the Mets to blow the game open and pretty much end any chance at a comeback. In all, the Braves used four relievers to get 3 outs, all while the best arms in the pen stayed seated.
Being that it was Opening Day and that it was just the first game, the loss of a game isn't the issue. The issue is the weakness that everyone knew was possible reared its head in game one of 162. With one of the better arms in Mauricio Cabrera beginning the season on the DL, the Braves certainly have lots of question marks going forward. If they can't find capable arms to bridge the gap to the setup relievers and closer at the end, the Braves will continue to struggle to win games and that could add strain to the rotation asking them to go deeper into games.
It is possible the bullpen settles and they perform better than expected, after all, it is just one game, but the question marks will remain. Will Brian Snitker change the way he uses the pen if they need an arm in a high-leverage situation or will the Braves continue to plug arms and see what works for the foreseeable future. It is certainly something to keep an eye on.