|This isn't a 2011 repeat for Kimbrel and the Braves. (Getty Images)|
Many factors contributed to the Braves' great demise in 2011, but among them was the overuse of the back-end of the bullpen throughout the season by manager Fredi Gonzalez. The starting rotation wore down in September as well.
This time around, things couldn't be more different.
The 2011 Braves were 9-18 with a 4.17 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in September. All three stats were the worst for a month in the entire season. The rotation faltered, especially 38-year-old Derek Lowe (0-5, 8.75), but the once-mighty bullpen had a rough month due to overuse.
Prior to Sept. 8, 2011, Craig Kimbrel was 43 of 48 on save chances with a 1.55 ERA. The rest of the way he'd blown three saves while only closing down three with a 4.76 ERA.
Jonny Venters started his decline earlier than Kimbrel in '11. Through Aug. 22, he had a 1.10 ERA with five saves, 27 holds and only two blown leads. The rest of the way, Venters blew two more leads and had a 5.65 ERA.
The bullpen workload for the big three of Kimbrel, Venters and Eric O'Flaherty was staggering. All three were in the top five for relief appearances in the National League. Those three along with Cristhian Martinez formed four of the top 15 in innings pitched among relievers in the NL. That is four individual relief pitchers with more than 73 innings pitched.
This time around, Gonzalez has had more options and also consciously -- he told reporters in the spring he'd take it easy on Kimbrel and Venters -- dialed it back. Through Tuesday night's victory, Kimbrel has 59 1/3 innings pitched. O'Flaherty has 55 1/3 as the eighth-inning guy. Venters struggled early in the season but sports a 2.01 ERA since the All-Star break and has only racked up 54 2/3 innings on the season. Martinez has worked 71 1/3, but that's only one guy.
It doesn't hurt that the decrepit Lowe is gone and instead young Kris Medlen -- who is fresh after having started the season in the bullpen -- has developed into an ace.
And here we are, the Braves are 15-7 with a 2.71 ERA and 1.06 WHIP this month. In complete contrast to last season, that's the best ERA and WHIP the staff has posted in a month all year.
Then again, lots of things are different in Atlanta this time around. That's why the Braves are celebrating a postseason berth with eight games left.