Beating up the bullpens

Updated: May 30, 2011, 1:08 PM ET
By Buster Olney

The instinct of managers is to do everything they can do to win games that can be won, and early this season, with run production down significantly, most games are close in the late innings. Most games can still be won.

And so time after time after time, managers are going to their best relievers, which explains why Jonny Venters has thrown more innings than any reliever in the majors and is on pace for 98.2 innings, and the Reds' Logan Ondrusek is on track to have about 90 appearances.

You will see a lot of relievers on fumes at the end of this season, a scout mused the other day, and a lot of the reason for that is because of what's happened in April and May.

Today, we rank the bullpen usage in the National League -- from the most heavily used to the bullpens that are in the best shape moving forward, through the prism of the respective teams' most important relievers. (For some relievers listed below, career highs are appropriate, given their longer service time; for some, it's not.)

1. Atlanta Braves

Craig Kimbrel
27 appearances, 26 innings
On pace for: 83 games, 79 innings
Career highs: 69 games, 76.1 innings (majors and minors combined in 2010)

Jonny Venters
29 games, 32.2 innings
On pace for: 89 games, 92.2 innings
Career highs: 79 games, 83 innings (2010)

Eric O'Flaherty
28 games, 26.1 innings
On pace for: 86 games, 79.1 innings
Career highs: 78 games, 56.1 innings