If we can’t enjoy watching our team in the playoffs, at least we can break everyone else’s toys. The Braves are on an incredible 11-2 run in which they swept the Mets and took two of three from the Nationals, who were assured of a playoff spot but not of home field advantage, and two of three from the Marlins, who still had slim mathematical hopes of the second wild card. Tonight, we dealt a grievous and likely fatal blow to the Detroit Tigers’ playoff hopes.
(As I write this, they are now tied with the Mariners, 1.5 games out of the second wild card with two games to play. The Mariners are still playing a late west coast game right now. If they win, they’ll be one game back with one to play; if they lose, they’ll be two back with two to play.)
The Tigers made an elementary mistake: they pitched to Freddie Freeman with a man on. In the fourth inning, Adonis Garcia led off with a single, and then Jordan Zimmermann threw a low change-up to Freddie, who promptly deposited it in the center field bleachers. There’s just one game left in the Braves’ season, and the Tigers may just want to intentionally walk him for the duration.
But the real story of the game is Little Handsome himself, Aaron Blair. To say that he had the best start of his major league career would be, if anything, an understatement. Flashing a low-90s fastball but largely relying on a curveball and a truly nasty slider, he struck out ten men in six innings, only walking one. I don’t have a count, but he may have thrown more breaking balls than fastballs. And if he can do what he did tonight — throw his breaking balls for called strikes, then move them off the plate and get swinging strikes — he just might have a future as a starter.
Batting 8th, Dansby Swanson got two hits and a walk, and helped to ice the game with a truly gorgeous double play in the eighth inning. After Mauricio Cabrera walked the Bases loaded and Chaz Roe struck out Miguel Cabrera, Swanson laid out to his right to stop a hotshot off the bat of J.D. Martinez, then made a long throw from his knees to Jace Peterson at second, who then threw on to Freddie at first to nail Martinez by a couple of steps, end the inning, and keep a run from scoring.
If that ball had gotten through, it would have been a 5-4 game with a men on first and second; if he hadn’t been able to release it as quickly as he did, it would have been 5-3 with men on first and third. Instead, the Braves took a 5-2 lead to the bottom of the eighth.
Dansby is really, really good. Aaron Blair might even be pretty good. This team is starting to look like it could be interesting.