ATLANTA -- Closer Craig Kimbrel's scoreless ninth inning -- featuring four strikeouts -- in the Braves' 3-0 victory Wednesday secured his 40th save of the season. Combined with his 46 saves last year, Kimbrel became the second Braves pitcher to save at least 40 games in back-to-back years. John Smoltz accomplished the feat three straight seasons from 2002-04.
Kimbrel has been dominant all season, earning his second trip to the All-Star Game in as many years, but has been especially locked in during September. Since blowing a save Aug. 31 against the Phillies, Kimbrel has not allowed a run in 11 appearances spanning 11 1/3 innings. He has struck out 23 batters and allowed just two walks and six hits.
Kimbrel said he has been pitching with an edge for the last month.
"I feel like you have to pitch with confidence," Kimbrel said. "You can't go out there and throw a pitch [and say], 'Man, I hope he doesn't hit this.' You have to go out there and pitch like, 'I'm going to go out there and pitch, and if I make my pitch, it's going to be successful.'"
In just his second season, Kimbrel has become known as one of the best closers in the Major Leagues, and has had his name invoked in conversations about the National League Cy Young Award. Kimbrel is tied with Cardinals closer Jason Motte for the most saves in the league. The Braves hurler has struck out 111 batters in 60 1/3 innings.
Kimbrel is on the verge of becoming the first pitcher to throw at least 60 innings and average more than 16 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. His opponents' batting average of.126 is also on pace to break the Major League record of .133, set by Eric Gagne in 2003.
Kimbrel said with the playoffs beginning in about a week, he isn't worried about individual awards.
"It's something I never thought I would be mentioned in," Kimbrel said. "Right now, I'm not thinking about it. I'm thinking about helping this team win and getting into the postseason and going deep into the postseason."
Last year, Kimbrel was named NL Rookie of the Year and got two fifth-place Cy Young votes, good for a ninth-place finish. Left-hander Tom Glavine was the last Brave to win the award, taking home the honor for the second time in his career in 1998.