As Lucas Sims struggled to locate his breaking pitches on Wednesday night in Atlanta, it became the fastball on which he tried to lean. That kind of predictability is blood in the water for the best hitters on the planet, however, and two-time All Star Ozzie Albies never flinched when the 95 mph heater cruised into his wheelhouse.
Albies’ 3-run homer last night sunk the Cincinnati Reds to yet another devastating loss, ones that continue to pile up on the shoulders of a bullpen that had but a quarter-tank of gas on Opening Day over four full months ago. In all honesty, last night wasn’t even among the most back-breaking bullpen blowups, since at least they did their part to hold Atlanta to 5 runs for a handful of innings before the breakdown, something that’s been far too much of an ask on so many occasions already this season.
I owe it to Lucas to not leave his name as the lone culprit here, even if he was bit last night. It’s been Amir Garrett all season, Heath Hembree of late, Sean Doolittle and Brad Brach and Ryan Hendrix before them. It was Josh Osich, for a time, after it was Carson Fulmer and Cam Bedrosian to start. It never should have been, but it was.
In all, it’s now a bullpen whose 1.54 HR/9 is the worst among MLB’s 30 units. Its 4.81 BB/9 is second worst. Its strand rate of 68.1% is fifth-worst, its HR/FB rate of 15.8% is second worst, the 4.81 FIP third-worst, and 5.16 ERA fourth-worst (behind the trio of luminaries in Colorado, Arizona, and Baltimore). In almost every single way you can look, glance, squint, or stare, it’s a bad, bad bullpen.
It was never supposed to be like that, but it was always supposed to be like that.
Archie Bradley is neither saint nor savior. He’s the game’s counterintuitive option at the moment, a low-spin, low-K grinder who relies on above-average groundball generation to record his trio of outs per outing, a pitcher that FIP was pretty well designed to unmask. Still, he’s been the classic “find a way” relief arm so far this season, and has allowed but a lone earned run over his last 16 appearances this season, a run that’s driven his overall season ERA down to a shiny 2.67 in 33.2 IP.
I’m trying to work my way to both the generality of and specificity of Archie Bradley here. The generality of, or the mere concept of a veteran reliever who gets results in whatever way he can, is something that costs a bit of money on the relief market and good teams, or rich teams, pay for. The Philadelphia Phillies chose to pay Bradley $6 million bucks for his efforts this season, only after he reached the open market because the Cincinnati Reds - who had right of first refusal for his services - chose not to. They chose not only to not pay Bradley in specificity, however, they chose not to pay “a Bradley” in generality, either, as they jettisoned Raisel Iglesias to save coin, moved Michael Lorenzen to the rotation mix to fill another unpaid-for hole, and hoped the radar gun would somehow uncover a cheap enough fix down the road.
The generality of not paying “a Bradley” has them 8 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the division right now despite a juggernaut of an offense and a starting rotation that’d be the envy of most playoff-bound squads. The specificity of not paying the Bradley, though, is about to set the stage for a good old fashioned Ern McCracken showdown.
The Reds might find a way to beat Atlanta today and end their 3-game losing streak. Heck, they might do that, the San Diego Padres might fall again, and the Reds could wake up on Friday just 3.5 games out of the National League’s second Wild Card spot. Either way, they’ll wake up in the City of Brotherly Love with a weekend date against Bradley and the Phillies in a series that will determine how powerful their telescope must be to see their path to a playoff spot.
A bit of karma this, the Reds in a crucial spot against a foe who paid for what the Reds would not. If you’re a budget baller and you find a way to actually ball, it’s an inevitability that’s simply impossible to escape in this monopoly called baseball.
That doesn’t mean the Reds have no chance in the matter, of course - we just went over how potentially beatable the Bradley can be, after all. It just means the decision to purposely roll with a bullpen of broken dreams is going to get a very good look at a very familiar face at a major crux of the season, one who could end up in a spot to slam the door on the very team that cut him loose last winter.
We should have known it was going to come to this.