These are the times that try men’s souls. Coming out of the All-Star break we knew this was going to be a tough stretch. The Cubs aren’t last year’s Cubs, but they are still a solid team. Facing them before heading out to LA for a four-game set can make you or break you. So far, the Braves haven’t risen to the occasion.
Sean Newcomb got the ball against a struggling John Lackey, who after the game addressed rumors about losing his rotation spot with, “That ain’t going to happen.” His pitching against the Braves showed he meant what he said. The two had to wait nearly three hours to take the mound, after the only rain in the state of Georgia last night formed over SunTrust Park and camped out there for awhile. This is becoming a common occurrence in Atlanta this year. DOB summed up the Braves 2017 experience well on Twitter last night:
#Braves have had over 19 hours of delays In 14 games, including 12 for rain, 1 for lights at Miami, 1 for fear of bullpen implosion in D.C.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) July 19, 2017
The grounds crew pulled the tarp off the field three times in anticipation of the game starting, only to have to replace it again when more rain struck. Judging from the results of the game, the Braves should have tried to take a page from the Nationals play book and delay the game infinitely, in hopes they would never have to play it.
Newcomb has, admittedly, drawn some tough opponents after his torrid start. He was on top of the world, then had to face the Astros, Nationals, and the Cubs back-to-back-to-back. That is not the easiest of assignments, but, if you want to pitch in the majors, you have to be prepared to face major league teams. As his level of competition has risen, so has Newcomb’s old nemesis—walks. He gave up 2 walks against Houston in 3.1 innings, 4 walks to Washington in 4 innings, and 3 against the Cubs in 5.1 innings. It’s hard to find success in the majors when you put baserunners freely on base, but it becomes even more difficult when you start combining that with the long ball. The combination proved to be Newcomb’s undoing against the Cubs.
Nick Markakis accounted for the Braves lone run with a home run in the 2nd inning. Newcomb made sure the lead lasted exactly one pitch into the top of the 3rd, when he gave up a home run to tie the game. If he had buckled down then and there, the inning could have easily been salvaged. Instead, he walked back-to-back men after striking the pitcher out, and then allowed another long ball to give the Cubs a three-run lead. That’s not a winning combination. Newcomb left with the bases loaded and one out in the 6th. One of his runners came in to score after he left the game, but the bullpen held the Cubs there. The problem was the Cubs bullpen held the Braves’ bats in check, and the team never mounted any sort of serious threat to try to regain the lead.
A short night heading into a day game before a flight to the west coast to kick off an 11-game road trip will make for some tired ballplayers during a tough stretch. This could get ugly. The Braves and Cubs will close out their series at noon today, less than 11 hours after their last game ended.
It’s hard to make the claim that any game is a must-win for a team who wasn’t expected to do anything this year and is already playing well over their heads, but today’s game is as close to a must-win as you can get. The Braves really do not want to head into LA having just been swept, when their next four games are against a team who is on a 30-4 tear right now. Yes, you read that right. That was not a typo. And the Braves have to play four against them. If they lose to the Cubs today, they are in real danger of being mired in a 0-7 stretch when they head into Arizona next week. Even though the Braves just swept them in Atlanta, the Diamondbacks have the 4th best record in the majors, and are not exactly the team you want to face at home to get you out of a long losing streak.
Ergo, Cubs delenda est hodie.
And, as always, Natspos delenda est. And the Dodgers too, for good measure.