State of the 'pen

Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are two of the best (and most used) relievers in baseball. US Presswire

With the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation facing some significant health questions, they are going to need strong performances from their relievers to have a chance of advancing in October. Problem is, no team has relied more on its relievers than Atlanta in 2011. Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O'Flaherty rank first, third and fourth, respectively, in the majors in relief appearances, and these relatively large workloads have created doubts about how well the Braves' bullpen will perform in October.

There's only one problem -- these workloads aren't actually historically unique for relievers at all. Focusing solely on 2011 totals gives the appearance of overwork, but in reality, the Braves are using their bullpen in the normal way it has been deployed for most of the past two decades. Instead, it's the rest of baseball that is seeing a fairly dramatic shift downward in reliever usage.