By: Matthew Osborne
If his team’s offense were a talking point during a discussion, Smokies manager Buddy Bailey would smile. Bringing up his bullpen’s performance in the same discussion would quickly wipe the smile off his face and replace it with a grimace.
Spanning from Tuesday night and the memorable no-no for Eric Jokisch to Friday night against the Montgomery Biscuits, the Smokies’ offense lit up the scoreboard with 30 runs.
“I’m really impressed with the hitters. Nine (Thursday) night, 10 the other night, and then 11 (Friday), that’s 30 runs in three days. When you look at that and go down the line-up, everybody is kicking in some way to have that production,” Bailey said.
And although lighting up a scoreboard isn’t the best thing for relief pitchers, the lights in the Smokies Park scoreboard may need replacing after Montgomery leaves. The Biscuits have pushed 14 runners across home plate against Smokies relievers.
During the 2013 season, the Smokies have the second-worst record in games decided by one run (17-23). The bullpen has accounted for 14 of the 23 losses with seven blown saves in those games. And in losses, the Smokies’ relievers have a 4.42 ERA (36 ER/73.1 IP).
“We just didn’t get it done as a bullpen. Everybody that pitched in the game gave up runs, unearned runs, earned runs, along the way,” Bailey said.
Yet the Smokies have won two of the first three games, thanks in part to scoring runs while playing from behind.
Starting pitchers for Tennessee haven’t been much better than their counterparts, but only once has a Smokies’ starter recorded a decision. Newly reassigned starter Nick Struck took the loss Saturday evening.
Friday evening, starter Dae-Eun Rhee gave up four runs in the first. The home half of the fourth got him off the hook. Justin Bour and Christian Villanueva both knocked balls onto the Smokies Park berm and gave their team a lead.
Headed to the eighth, the Smokies led 10-6. Over the next two innings, four pitchers toed the bump and were knocked around for four more runs. Walks have been a problem for the entire Smokies pitching staff and it bit again.
“The walks, we keep talking about the walks. Ninth inning, two run lead, we go out and have a leadoff walk and that kind of gave the other team a little life and momentum.”
Then, the offense earned the save. A Rafael Lopez single, a Matt Szczur walk and an Arismendy Alcantara single set the table for Javier Baez.
Baez answered with a walk-off single through the infield for an 11-10 Smokies win.
“It’s a slugfest battle, who can get that one hit here or there for the club. You can look at the stat sheet, everyone had a really, really good night tonight in some capacity,” Bailey said.
The offense’s ability to fight and stay alive in games earned it praises from Bailey, a man who has seen many future Major League players.
“We have a nucleus here that are young, they are pretty talented, and they refuse to lose,” the skipper said of his current Smokies roster. “I remember years ago when I was in the Braves in the minor leagues, I had guys that were pretty good like this with Flowers, Gant and all them. They would find a way to get back in the game and would refuse to lose.
But if these Smokies want to make a run towards a Southern League title, their first since 2004, the bullpen will have to contribute as much as the offense.
To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitterand like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page. Matthew Osborne is a beat writer for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow Matthew on Twitter here: @themindoftheoz