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Strike Them ALL Out: The Braves' Bullpen Dominance

An anagram for "Kimbrel" is "limber K."
An anagram for "Kimbrel" is "limber K."

You may have noticed that the Braves' bullpen is rather good at striking batters out. Well, they pulled off another feat of strength in Saturday's 3-2 win over the Diamondbacks. In that game, Jonny Venters struck out all 3 batters he faced in the 8th inning, and then Craig Kimbrel did the same in the 9th inning.

That game marked just the 8th time in MLB history* that 2 relievers on the same team have struck out all the batters they faced while both facing at least 3 batters. You may remember a couple of the other games:

Rk Tm Opp Date All-K Pitcher 1 (Inning) All-K Pitcher 2
1 ATL ARI 2012-04-21 Venters (8th) Kimbrel (9th)
2 ATL CHC 2011-08-14 Arodys Vizcaino (6th) Venters (8th)
3 ATL WSN 2011-05-12 Cory Gearrin (7th) Kimbrel (10th)
4 KCR CLE 2010-08-29 Blake Wood (8th) Joakim Soria (9th)
5 LAD LAA 2008-06-27 Jonathan Broxton (8th) Takashi Saito (9th)
6 MIN KCR 2007-04-21 Pat Neshek (6th) Joe Nathan (9th)
7 SFG LAD 2000-09-28 Felix Rodriguez (8th) Robb Nen (9th)
8 PHI PIT 1985-06-21 Don Carman (8th) Shane Rawley (9th)
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 4/22/2012.

While this has happened just 8 times in MLB history, the Braves have done it 3 times in the past year.

In Saturday's game, the Braves became just the 5th team to have its two All-Strikeout outings consecutively, and just the 3rd to do so while closing out a close win (Wood & Soria had a big lead and Carman & Rawley pitched in a tie game). I knew right away what Kimbrel & Venters did was impressive, but I didn't realize until I did the research that it was nearly unprecedented.

You probably remember the Braves game from last August as "Eric O'Flaherty's one bad outing." Or if you're like me, you might remember it as "the game Arodys Vizcaino struck out 3 but only got 2 outs." Because one of his Ks resulted in the batter reaching base (on a wild pitch), Vizcaino's outing debatably does not qualify, but he did record 3 Ks in 3 batters faced, so I'm counting it. Despite all the strikeouts (Kimbrel also struck out 3 in the 9th, though he allowed a hit), the Braves lost 6-5 because O'Flaherty gave up a 2-run homer in the 7th.

In the game from May of last year, Gearrin pitched the 7th with the Braves down 5-1. They would score 4 in the bottom half to tie it, and it would stay tied until after Kimbrel struck out the side in the 10th. Brian McCann singled in Martin Prado for a walkoff win in the bottom of the 10th.

Since the start of the 2011 season, the Braves have had 13 all-strikeout relief appearances of at least 3 batters faced. That's 6 more than any other team and almost 1/8 of all the qualifying outings in MLB. Kimbrel has done it 6 times (most in MLB), while Venters has done it 3 times (tied for 3rd-most). Gearrin did it twice during his brief time in MLB, and O'Flaherty and Vizcaino each have done it once. Kimbrel alone has had more all-K appearances in that span than 24 different teams.

All of this is to say that we should appreciate the phenomenal strikeout totals that the Braves relievers are capable of putting up, and that we should not be too surprised if they have another spectacular game in the near future.

* Technically since 1918, but this particular feat is extremely unlikely to have occurred before then.

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