Packing up his locker Thursday morning, Braves reliever Jonny Venters said he wasn’t sure if he’d slept at all the night before over disappointment from the Braves’ collapse in the wild card. Not that he would admit to anything more than that, but consensus from the outside looking in, anyway, is that he wasn’t just tired from a sleepless night.
Venters finished the season with 85 appearances to lead all major league relievers. His 88 innings were tied for second most among National League relievers. Seven relievers in the majors appeared in 78 or more games, and he, closer Craig Kimbrel (79) and Eric O’Flaherty (78) were three of them.
For much of the September collapse, Venters and Kimbrel had the look of relievers on fumes, not by velocity but by a lack of command and uncharacteristic results. Both Venters and Kimbrel loaded the bases in Wednesday’s night’s loss to the Phillies, and Kimbrel gave up the tying run in a blown save in the ninth.
During the first five months of the season, Venters and Kimbrel combined to go 9-3 with a 1.46 ERA and a .163 opponents’ batting average, while blowing only seven saves and allowing two home runs. In September, they combined to go 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA and a .253 opponents’ batting average, while blowing five saves and allowing three home runs.
With the season over, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has started to play the what-if game himself, and he sounds somewhat torn about whether he overworked the back end of the bullpen.
“If we don’t use those guys, I don’t know if we’re (at) 89 wins, in the situation we were last night,” Gonzalez said Thursday morning. “I will tell you honestly there were probably a couple games in April and May, maybe we shouldn’t have used them. But coming off the All-Star break, I thought we did a hell of a job not using those guys and keeping them fresh.”
For their part, neither Venters or Kimbrel blames fatigue. And when asked about potential overuse by Gonzalez, Venters said: “The only reason the workload was what it was, was because we played so many close games.”
Wednesday’s loss was the Braves 26th extra-inning game of the season. The bullpen had to cover an additional 54 innings – the equivalent of six full games. Nobody is debating that took its toll.
With a crowd of 45,350 at Turner Field in their final game of the season, the Braves finished with a season attendance of 2,372,940. That’s the Braves lowest season attendance since 2004. The Braves had only 79 home dates because of two rainouts, but their average attendance of 30,037 was still second-lowest since 2004, behind a 29,304 average in 2009.
O’Flaherty finished the season with an 0.98 ERA which is the lowest season ERA by a reliever with at least 75 games since 1900.