Admittedly, talking to John Smoltz about golf is a little disorienting. It’s like quizzing Bill Gates on gardening. It’s just not his main milieu, man.
So, even as Smoltz discussed his appearance at the PGA Tour Champions event at TPC Sugarloaf this week, the topic did automatically turn to what he best knows. No, not the art of conversation, although that is one of his strengths. Rather, baseball. Braves baseball.
For instance, there are these recurring questions about the whereabouts of former Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, and what it might mean if one day he happened to show up again with a tomahawk across his chest.
Smoltz, who knows a little about closing as well as starting – both aspects got him to the Hall of Fame – finds the fact that Kimbrel remains unsigned to be a Masterpiece Theater kind of a mystery.
“I don't know where the Kimbrel scenario’s going to end up. The whole thing’s befuddling me,” he said. Get in line. There’s a cadre of Braves fans scratching heads over the Kimbrel affair ahead of one former Braves pitcher whose No. 29 hangs on the stadium façade.
But know this about Kimbrel, Smoltz said, “Whoever lands him is going to have a leg up because whoever lands him is going to be in the mix. That is going to be interesting to watch.”
As of Friday, the Braves were a .500 team, two games back of Philadelphia’s lead. Yes, getting even more in the mix would be quite interesting to watch.
And as he has viewed with interest the comings and goings of young Braves pitchers the past couple of seasons, Smoltz has appreciated the need to ride the highs and lows of developing arms. Why wouldn’t he? He and buddy Tom Glavine lived that through their own early struggles with the Braves.
That said, sooner or later there has to be some reliable order to a pitching staff. And sooner is better. Ideally that would be along the lines of Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz (OK, it’s a bit much to ask to exactly replicate that troika, but you get the idea).
“Year in and year out you need some stability in your rotation,” Smoltz said. “Obviously we had that for the heyday of our careers. You can have a few interchangeable parts. And you can't argue with their success they had with 32 or 33 pitchers (last season). But that's a tough formula to be successful with year in and year out.”
All the Braves’ youth is fine, Smoltz notes. But he will join the chorus of those prodding the team to look outside for help, as well.
In other words, hello, Liberty Media. Shake loose some of those cobwebs on the coin purse.
And, front office, don’t be stingy with the prospects down on the farm.
“So, the Braves’ offense is fine, that’s going to score a lot of runs. But can they prevent the runs that win the game that is there for them to win?” Smoltz said. “They’re going to be in the mix all year, no doubt. It's going to be whether or not by July they’re able to make the necessary moves.
“You know, when you have a great farm system, that’s great. But at some point, you have to go get a guy that’s going to get you to the next level.
“Like if the Padres are in the mix. No one even thinks about the Padres right now because they know it’s two years away for them. But the Padres are going to give up on some of those chips to be relevant now. The Phillies are all in, so they're going to give up some of those prospects to win now.”
Sounds like someone is growing just a little impatient with the Braves, and specifically their piecemeal bullpen. You wouldn’t happen to know anyone else like that, would you?
Smoltz boils down winning to a pretty simple formula.
“If you’ve got two hot guys in your lineup, two hot starters in your rotation and two hot bullpen guys, you’re going to win a lot of games. You know, that can vary. It doesn’t have to be the same two guys.”
And there is one part of that formula, a decisive one, Smoltz believes. One that the Braves have not truly addressed.
“The bullpen is an issue that I think will be defining in the NL East. That’s simply going to be the winner – whose bullpen’s the best.”
That observation, from a trusted source on baseball above all else, might trouble fans of the home team, unless the Braves find some more relief for/from the relievers.