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Sunday, October 9, 2005
Braves' bullpen stinks it up

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Saturday, October 8

Editor's note: By popular demand of fans, skeptics, retirees and people who love to mock other people, Second Guessing returns for more October baseball.

David: I have three questions for you, Eric. The first one: Chris Reitsma, John Foster, Joey Devine. Discuss Bobby Cox's thinking in the seventh inning. (OK, that's a statement, not a question.)

Eric: I suspect he's thinking something like, "Gee, our bullpen ain't too hot, is it?" The Braves' pen has been a problem all season. We forget that when we're all bending ourselves into double-windsors talking about how incredible it is that the Braves won 14 division titles in a row, that we forget to ask ourselves, "So, um, is this team really very good?" Beginning with the bullpen, and ending with no reliable starter after John Smoltz, the answer is, "No."

David: This kid Devine was pitching at North Carolina State a few months ago. He gave up grand slams in his first two big-league appearances. I'll take the wild guess that he's the first pitcher to make a postseason roster with a 12.60 ERA in the regular season. That said, I do applaud Bobby Cox's guts in that situation. He believed the 25th guy on his roster could help the team. That says a lot about why they've won those 14 in a row. Do I fault him since the move backfired? I guess I was a little surprised he yanked Reitsma after a double and an infield single. After all, outside of Kyle Farnsworth, Reitsma is about the only guy down there he could trust. Yes, he brought in Foster to turn around Berkman to his weak side, but Foster and Devine are huge wild cards. You don't know what you're going to get out of them. And Cox got the bad tonight.

Eric: I like the guts, too. But as Kris Kristofferson said, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." In a strange way, the Braves' reliance on rookies who've produced may have skewed their perspective a bit for short-series postseason strategizing. The risks of going with Devine are amplified in a situation like this.

David: Well, as you know if you read my piece on playoff theories the other day (yes, that's a cheap plug; check the link in the inline box below if you missed it), I don't have a problem with rookies being used in the postseason. The thing with Devine is you really have no idea if he's any good. He pitched only five innings in the bigs. His Double-A numbers (19 hits and 12 walks in 20 innings) suggest he's not ready for the majors, let alone facing the Houston Astros in the biggest game the team has played all season. But I suppose Bobby was trying to bottle a little Frankie Rodriguez, circa 2002. The bottle was just half-empty.

More playoff coverage
Click here for complete coverage of the MLB playoffs, including Insider columnist Rob Neyer, who will be contributing to Second Guessing during the postseason.

Rob Neyer: Torre isn't perfect Insider

Playoff theories: What really wins in the postseason

Yankees-Angels series page
Red Sox-White Sox series page
Padres-Cardinals series page
Astros-Braves series page

Eric: I'm not saying he failed because he's a rookie; I'm not making a case for veteran leadership or anything; I'm just saying, as you are, that we have no clue what he can do, and that's because the Braves have had so much success with untested guys this year they might be more willing to try another one, or more prone to blindness about the risks of it ...

David: Gotcha. I'm thinking Bobby and Leo Mazzone won't be getting much sleep tonight. OK, second question: Do you start Tim Hudson in Game 4 on three days' rest? Bobby's been very secretive on his starter for the game.

Eric: I know Huddy on three days is a risk (I know most anyone on three days is a risk), but both Horacio Ramirez and John Thomson have ugly, crooked ERAs on the road. I'd go with Hudson, and have Ramirez ready to go at a moment's notice.

David: Well, you're wrong! Just kidding. But I'll disagree. Here's why: if you start Hudson, you must be willing to start Smoltz in Game 5, also on three days. But we all saw Smoltz in Game 2 and I don't see how he can come back on short rest with the pain he was pitching through. So, that means you have to start Thomson or Ramirez at least once. You can't start Ramirez in Houston ... he allowed 31 HRs in 202 innings this year; very dangerous in Minute Maid, especially with Houston's righty-heavy lineup. So that leaves Thomson, bad road ERA or not. At least he only gave up six bombs in 98 innings. So I start Thomson, who pitched decently in September (3.68 ERA). And if you win, you have Hudson on regular rest for Game 5 back in Atlanta and your best shot to take the series.

Eric: You're right about Ramirez in Houston; good call. He hands out home runs like cheerleaders tossing candy from a homecoming float; everybody gets some, even the goth kids nobody ever talks to. But I still say Hudson, with someone (Thomson) in the tank is the way to go. I know Huddy's had some postseason troubles, but I also know he keeps the ball down, and is ornery, and I want a bit of that in a situation when I'm down 1-2 on the road. I'd hate to lose the series without his getting a second start, and waiting for Game 5 is waiting for something that might not happen, which I just don't think you can do.

David: Sounds reasonable. Last question: You're Joe Torre. Shawn Chacon has the ball in Game 4. If he has to come out in the sixth inning, with the score say 4-4, who do you go to in relief?

Eric: Two words: Randy Johnson.

Previous Second Guesses
Oct. 7: Unit left in too long

Oct. 6: Jumpin' on the White Sox bandwagon

Oct. 5: Why leave Wang in the game?

Oct. 4: Colon over Lackey ... say what?