Three Cuts: Braves playing like World Series contenders in season’s final months

The overall numbers are, admittedly, alarming for a playoff contender.

The Atlanta Braves have trotted out three left-handed relievers in the second half — Sean Newcomb, Jerry Blevins and A.J. Minter — but only two regulars since the trade deadline. When the front office added three right-handed veterans to bolster the bullpen mix for the playoff run, it (perhaps inadvertently) doubled down on Newcomb and Blevins, especially if the franchise plans on giving Max Fried and Dallas Keuchel playoff starts. Here’s how those two arms have fared since the All-Star break:

Sean Newcomb: The 26-year-old owns the worst second-half WAR among Braves pitchers (-0.6) thanks to his 6.53 FIP and 16.7 percent walk rate. The converted starter, who dominated in relief role during last season’s NLDS and earlier in the 2019 campaign, has given up five home runs in 22 innings since the break. His 80 percent second-half strand rate is the only thing keeping his ERA at 4.50 over that span.

Jerry Blevins: The veteran lefty specialist claims a respectable 3.65 ERA in the second half, but his walk rate is over 13 percent and he’s given up three homers in 12 1/3 innings.

A.J. Minter carried a 9.00 ERA into his first outing since the July 30 on Sunday afternoon and gave up four hits with one strikeout, though he did not allow an earned run of his own. Still, at this point it would be difficult to project Minter, the presumed future closer for this franchise at the beginning of the season, to make the postseason roster barring injury or a spectacular September stretch run — and he did not jump out to a promising start.

So are the Braves in trouble if they run into a postseason opponent like the Dodgers or Cubs, two clubs hitting much better against right-handed pitching this season? Well, the outlook is a bit more optimistic when viewing Newcomb and/or Blevins through the lens of facing left-handed hitters only (second-half weighted on-base average):

Newcomb: .277 wOBA vs. LHH, .338 wOBA vs. RHH

Blevins: .237 wOBA vs. LHH, .322 wOBA vs. RHH

Those weighted on-base averages against left-handed hitters are two of the top 24 second-half marks in baseball among left-handed pitchers. Atlanta’s bullpen may be righty-dominant entering the stretch run, but the team’s two lefty staples have been able to find some success against same-side hitters, something to keep in mind when their names are called in high-leverage situations this month and beyond.

John E. Sokolowski

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