The Braves were supposed to have fixed their bullpen problem at the trade deadline, having acquired three relievers they could use in high-leverage roles.
What they've gotten instead is complete disaster. Somehow, their bullpen has gotten less reliable than before, and it begins with intended closer Shane Greene, who went from having a 1.18 ERA and 22 saves for the Tigers to losing his job in the span of only three appearances.
Those three appearances, in order: a blown save, a loss, a home run in a non-save chance.
Too quick of a trigger for manager Brian Snitker? Maybe. There's certainly a case to be made after watching Greene's replacement, Mark Melancon, serve up four earned runs in what was supposed to be his first save chance Saturday. Greene ended up taking another blown save while attempting to bail him out, the poor guy.
So where do the Braves turn next, Chris Martin? He completes the triumvirate of deadline relief pitcher acquisitions who may be something less than great. Or ... maybe less than that, even. He has allowed five earned runs in just five appearances for the Braves, after all.
Nope, the reliever who recorded the save Sunday was their ol' friend Luke Jackson. And he did it in the most Luke Jackson way possible: giving up three hits and having to rely on a Ronald Acuna throw to protect a one-run lead.
Yeah, he's not the guy.
So who is? It's still an open question. Melancon's four earned runs Saturday were the result of four singles, so maybe he deserves another chance. He had, after all, put together a 0.64 ERA and 0.57 WHIP over his previous 13 appearances. That's sort of the story, though, for each of Melancon, Greene, Martin and even Jackson. Their ratios are good enough that you suspect they could do a decent enough job closing -- not so dominant that they're Aroldis Chapman and not so suspect that you're halfway expecting them to get sent to the minors, but just ... decent.
Decent will always be susceptible over the short sample of innings a reliever is expected to provide. What might be characterized as a meltdown could be just a lot of nonsense happening all at once -- the kind that would quickly be drowned out with a starter's workload, but they're not granted that luxury. They're asked to be perfect even though their ratios are not, and particularly in today's offensive environment, there will be uncomfortable stretches as a result. It's just that it's happening for all three at a time when they're most under the microscope.
My guess is Melancon will eventually settle into the role for Atlanta, but I'd be holding onto Greene just in case. One of them's going to be in a good scenario for saves if he can avoid the nonsense for long enough to earn some trust.
CIN Cincinnati • #44 • Age: 27
Aristides Aquino's ownership is soaring right now, to the point he'll soon (if he isn't already) be ineligible for a list such as this one. Yes, Saturday's three-homer game was magical. Yes, he clearly has power, having now hit 35 homers between the majors and minors this year. Yes, he's the Reds' starting right fielder, and yes, you should pick him up if you need either home runs or outfield help. How good he'll actually be I think is reasonable to ask given that his exaggeratedly open stance forfeits like half of the diamond and that he's currently sporting a 30 percent strikeout rate. But his value hasn't escalated to the point of requiring a sell-high discussion yet. Right now, we're still coming to terms with whether to roster him, and the answer is yes.
J.D. Davis 3B
NYM N.Y. Mets • #28 • Age: 28
A better choice to roster than Aquino, though: J.D. Davis. Yeah, I said it. He may not have quite matched Aquino's output, but a two-homer weekend ain't bad, especially when it means he's batting .383 (18 for 47) with five homers in 15 games since taking over as the Mets' primary left fielder. His walk rate is decent, his strikeout rate low. He hits the ball hard and to all fields. So even though his BABIP and home run-to-fly ball rate are both on the high side, his xBA and xwOBA not only support what he's done this year but suggest he should be even better. His xBA, in fact, ranks second among those with 300 plate appearances, behind just Cody Bellinger.
Emilio Pagan RP
SD San Diego • #14 • Age: 30
If you're really looking for saves, don't even bother with that Braves mess. Just cozy up to Emilio Pagan, who has now recorded four straight saves for the Rays, seemingly ending their seemingly endless closer committee. I say that fully understanding that Jose Alvarado is on the verge of returning from a strained oblique, but Alvarado is one of only two lefties in their bullpen and the only one they should trust in high-leverage situations. Plus, unlike the Braves' options, Pagan has ratios more in line with Aroldis Chapman than Shane Greene. Seems worth the gamble, at least.
Aaron Civale SP
CLE Cleveland • #43 • Age: 26
Another quality start makes it 3 for 3 for Aaron Civale, who appears to have locked up the rotation spot vacated by Trevor Bauer. He's right at a strikeout per inning in those three starts, and the plus-plus control that defined his stay in the minors appears to have translated as well. He doesn't light up the radar gun or have an obvious swing-and-miss pitch, but what he has has played up in both Triple-A and the majors this year. Given the Indians' track record of developing pitchers and your desperate need for more of them, you latch on and hope for the best.
Ian Happ LF
CHC Chi. Cubs • #8 • Age: 27
Hey, remember this guy? The toast of the town two years ago is back playing every day for the Cubs, having seemingly ended their revolving door at second base, and he might just be fixed now. Strikeouts, of course, got the better of Ian Happ last year, and it was more of the same at Triple-A to begin this year. But his strikeout rate over his final 20 games there was a surprising 20.8 percent, and so far he has struck out just 10 times in 16 games with the big club (21.7 percent). It's too small of a sample to assume anything has changed for him, but sustaining it across two levels is interesting. And his OPS potential is high enough that it's reasonable to view him with rose colored glasses.
NYM N.Y. Mets • Age: 32
Speaking of rose colored glasses, here's where the unending need for competent starting pitching has brought me. Mike Montgomery was once one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, though, and has never gotten a fair enough shake in the starting role. The Royals, for whom he was such a prospect all those years ago, are giving him that shake, and he raised eyebrows by striking out seven on 13 swinging strikes over five innings against the Red Sox two starts ago. Afterward, he said that relieving held him back by limiting his full arsenal. Well, he followed it up Sunday by striking out 12 on 21 swinging strikes in seven innings -- Tigers lineup, but still. He's suddenly throwing a cutter that's not only getting its own whiffs but seems to have made his other pitches more effective, too. So ... maybe? Yeah, bet you weren't buying into Mike Minor at first either.