I hate bad traffic. I hate not moving, not knowing why I’m not moving and not knowing WHEN I’ll get moving again. It’s the main reason I don’t go to sporting events, concerts or other activities more often. Being trapped on a road with thousands of people who have inferior driving skills to me (ok, I’m not sure if that’s true, but I’m working off a theory that it is) is suffocating. But when MARTA only runs every 68 minutes and stops running trains before ALL evening events finish, you don’t have much of a choice in Atlanta. Traffic jams are especially painful when I’m out in “BFE.” There’s nothing worse than being stuck in full stop traffic on I-16 in GA when the only place you MIGHT be able to escape is Metter, Ga. That’s right people, METTER, Ga. And trust me, it’s not better in Metter. That feeling of helplessness stinks and there’s not much you can do about it. And what’s worse is, you have no idea if it will get any better any time soon. That’s how I feel about the world famous O’Ventbrel 7th, 8th and 9th bullpen closers. Every time they come out to the mound in 2012, I feel stuck with nowhere to go. I have no idea what’s going on and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Last year, the trio of Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel were about as automatic as they come. If the Braves got to the 7th inning, it was game over. And no one pitcher was better than the other. All three of them were lights out. Well, someone forgot to pay the power bill in 2012. Because as Robert Palmer sang in “Addicted to Love,” “The lights are on…but you’re not home”. Actually, not having power would keep the lights out, but that contradiction in my analogy wouldn’t let me quote Robert Palmer, so I’m ignoring that little quirk. Maybe think of the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” If coffee was for closers only, these guys would need to think about switching to green tea in the mornings. Yea, that’s a better analogy.
Braves fans began to see the degeneration of this fabulous threesome of hurlers at the end of last year, but I think we all blamed Fredi Gonzalez for simply over using all three of them. By September, they looked gassed and out of energy. Kimbrel looked like every finish was a struggle. Venters didn’t have that same dominating stuff he had earlier in 2011. And I’m pretty sure O’Flaherty finally looked at his driver’s license and realized “Oh…I’M Eric O’Flaherty! I guess I need to start pitching like him”.
When you reflect on it, it’s amazing what these three amigos accomplished in 2011. And I’m not sure we’ll see anything like that again anytime soon. Like the two week old Mexican leftovers in my refrigerator, most relief pitchers have a short shelf life. John Smoltz was dominant for a few years. Marino Rivera has been KILLING it for about 15 years. But if you really think about the last 20 years of relievers in MLB, most of them have a good year or two and then fizzle out. Our boy Mark Wohlers was the man for about 2-3 years, then gone. Jonathan Papelbon did it for a 3-4 year stretch; now let’s see what he does. Eric Gagne was so dominant for his Cy Young year, and then they found a needle in his pocket. Brad Lidge closed out the Phillies World Series, now I have NO idea where that cat is.
So when you have three guys…yes, THREE guys all having career seasons, it’s safe to assume it’s the perfect storm. And for those of you who saw the movie “The Perfect Storm”, you know the boat got swallowed by a humongous wave and killed everyone. Fredi just might be that wave that kills the bullpen. That is, if a wave can “tip its cap” to inferior teams at will. The stars aligned for these guys to crush the competition for a season, but now it’s over. 2011 was 2011 and this year, the Braves need a new plan. Fredi already confused Braves fans when he brought in Kris Medlen the other night and pitched him for ONE inning only! What the heck, Fredi? Medlin is a total bulldog and he needs to be highlighted on this staff with a more important role. I know he’s a long reliever. But I honestly believe he fears nothing and loves the spotlight. He has total confidence in his pitches and should be Atlanta 7th or 8th inning guy in combination with Venters. Frank Wren can pick up another 40 year old pitcher if the Braves need long relief help down the road.
So like that crazy traffic on I-16, the late innings for Braves fans is going to be irritating. It will never be easy and it’s going to cause a lot of heartburn. And you can’t get the Garmin out and hit “detour” on this trip. Because the Braves got the cheap Garmin with no real bells and whistles (Fredi). The only function it has is a “repeat button” which allows fans to watch the same mistakes over and over and over and HOPE the outcome will be different. So Braves fans, enjoy the rubbernecking when you’re in that traffic jam of the late innings this year. Because the only satisfaction you’ll get about being in said traffic is knowing what caused the jam in the first place. Poor bullpen management and wishing it was 2011 again.