Welp. If the Braves weren’t down to the AAA bullpen, they might have stolen this one.
For most of the night, the Braves appeared to be having One Of Those Games (TM). A junkballing, soft-tossing pitcher plus an umpire with an expansive definition of the strike zone is kryptonite to this Atlanta lineup, and both of those factors were in play tonight. Shaun Marcum pitched 7 innings and struck out 12 Braves, giving up but four hits and no walks along the way.
Fortunately, one of those hits was by Dan Uggla, who is a spiderweb-on-the-elbow tattoo away from actually being 2007 Andruw Jones. In the top of the seventh, Uggla took Marcum’s hanging changeup into the second deck in left field, driving in Justin Upton and putting the Braves up 2-1. Per ’07 Andruw, Uggla’s going to spend most of the season having just awful at-bats, but 25-30 of them are going to result in a ball wrapped around the right side of the left-field foul pole. Tonight marked #10.
Julio Teheran, who looks like the real thing right now, got through two-thirds of the seventh inning before giving way to Luis Avilan. Teheran went 6 2/3, gave up five hits (one solo homer) and three
runs walks, and kept the Braves in position to win even when Marcum was mowing through a dozen-plus Braves in a row. Avilan threw one pitch, and then the wheels came off.
After Gerald Laird led the top of the eighth off with a single, Fredi (as is his wont) decided it was time to bunt.
Rather than leave Avilan in to do that job, he brought in Ramiro Pena, whose bunt went straight back to the pitcher and erased Laird on a fielder’s choice. (Laird was running for himself, though by the end of the game Schafer and two catchers still had eligibility remaining. Just saying.) The Pena decision burned both an out and the most- effective remaining setup man, and
Upon relieving Avilan for Teheran, he had double-switched in Ramiro Pena to play third base, so Pena was up second in the inning. The bunt wasn’t great and Laird, for some reason running for himself after Fredi had decided to play for one run in the inning, was an easy out at second. With one out and the force out still on, Andrelton Simmons grounded into a double play, and that was the end of that rally.
But at least that double switch saved Avilan from having to come out after one pitch – what’s that you say? Fredi took him out and had Gearrin start the eighth? My original version of the recap glossed over the entire double switch because the sequence of events (Avilan for one pitch in the 7th, Pena bunting in the pitcher’s spot in the bottom of the inning, Gearrin coming in to pitch the 8th) played like a traditional pinch-hit (pinch-bunt?), as if Fredi called for a double switch and then willfully set out to negate that decision. Meanwhile, Laird ran for himself when two catchers were on the bench and Jordan Schafer wasn’t doing anything else. Just a weird sequence of decisions all around. Anyway, Cory Gearrin was brought in to get… the leadoff hitter? David Wright, batting second in the eighth inning? Everyone?
The answer, unfortunately, was “everyone.” Gearrin was all over the place, but Fredi left him in for Turner (single), Wright (strikeout), Duda (ground rule double), Buck (single), Baxter (hit by pitch), Davis (single), and Tejada (fielder’s choice; there was a caught stealing mixed in there that made him the third out.) It was 4-2 by the end of that inning, and the Braves went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth to make that the final score.
It’s aggravating because it feels like the Braves should have stolen this one, but in the end they took two out of three at Citi and still lead the division by 4.5 games. The bullpen is officially a major thing, though. Fredi’s management of it was not the best, but it’s also not like he’s got a plethora of great options back there with four key dudes on the DL. Eventually, lesser relievers are going to get exposed, and that’s what happened tonight.
The big winner tonight was Timothy Miller, that dude from the Atlanta Opera who puts on a tux and sings “God Bless America” at Turner Field on Sundays during the seventh inning stretch. Compared to what the Mets ran out there, Timothy’s easily worth 7 stretches above replacement value.