John Smoltz: The MLB-best Braves have one possible weakness | Genznews

The Atlanta Braves have been nearly flawless all season long. I still believe this will prove to be their best team of all time.

They enter Tuesday an MLB-best 94-50, holding a 6.5-game lead for the top spot in the National League and 15-game cushion in the NL East. On Sunday, they became baseball’s first team to clinch a playoff spot. In the weekend prior, they outclassed their biggest threat in the league by taking three of four from the Dodgers in Los Angeles. 

On top of that, the Braves have scored the most runs (841) in the majors and given up the seventh-fewest (603) to produce a run differential of 238 that rates among the best marks this century. 

In the latest edition of Saturdays with Smoltz on the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast, I asked lead MLB on FOX analyst John Smoltz if his former team had any weaknesses. The Hall of Famer had to think about it but eventually honed in on one particular area. 

“Every team’s got weaknesses,” Smoltz said. “It’s just the Braves have kind of made up for their offense to cover some weaknesses. The front end of the rotation is very good. We saw that. 

“I think for their bullpen, it’s a little bit, can they get three guys hot? That’s the question that I would have.”

The Braves actually entered Monday with the second-best bullpen ERA (3.53). Right on cue, the Phillies tagged Atlanta’s relievers for four runs in the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by Bryce Harper’s game-tying two-run homer off Raisel Iglesias with two outs in the ninth. To be fair, Iglesias has proven to be one of the most reliable closers in baseball this year. Additionally, Collin McHugh, A.J. Minter, Kirby Yates, Joe Jiménez and Michael Tonkin have all been reliable arms in the middle-to-late innings throughout the season. 

But something worth noting with that group is most of them average fewer than one inning pitched per outing. In addition, McHugh was placed on the injured list last week. 

Braves vs Dodgers headline the Top 3 MLB Postseason matchups

Braves vs Dodgers headline the Top 3 MLB Postseason matchups

Smoltz has made it known over the years how much he dislikes the way starters are managed in the postseason, which inevitably leads to the bullpen shouldering a bit more of the burden than they’re used to in the regular season. 

“If going you’re [to make a] deep postseason run, you got to have a full bullpen and that bullpen has to remain hot, and they have to have two or three guys that they can rely on,” Smoltz said. “[The Braves] are getting Dylan Lee back. So, they’re getting some guys back. But I think if there’s a weakness, it would be a little bit of a covering innings for starters [in shorter outings].”

Lee returned earlier this month and could be a key piece for Atlanta moving forward. He’s scuffled a bit (4 ER, 3.1 IP) following a three-month absence because of inflammation in his throwing shoulder. But the crafty lefty was dominant as a rookie for the Braves just a year ago (2.13 ERA, 59 Ks, 50.2 IP).

Ronald Acuña Jr. crushes his 36th home run of the season vs. the Phillies

Ronald Acuña Jr. crushes his 36th home run of the season vs. the Phillies

The effectiveness of the Braves’ bullpen, however, might not be as critical this October if the lineup keeps producing at a historic rate. Ronald Acuña Jr. seems close to clinching the MVP, hitting .364 with a 1.198 OPS to go along with eight homers, 21 RBIs and six stolen bases in his past 15 games. The superstar outfielder recently became the first player in MLB history to record 30 homers and 60 steals in the same season and, with 36 homers and 65 steals, is currently on pace to reach 40-70. 

One of those homers was an absolute rocket against the Dodgers, registering an MLB-season-high 121.2 mph exit velocity.  

“The Acuña ball right there in L.A. goes right up there with some of the best I’ve ever seen from the standpoint as soon as he hit it,” Smoltz said, “it was gone.” 

Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.

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