The Braves’ 8 game winning streak, and their knack for scoring runs in the late innings, came to an end on Saturday. The Braves led the Phils 5-4 going to the ninth, but Luke Jackson gave up two in the ninth, the Braves went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth, and the Phillies came away with a 6-5 win.
This game was billed as a spot start by Newcomb until Keuchel is ready to join the rotation, probably next week. But I figured if we saw the new Newk, the strike throwing machine we’ve seen in the bullpen the last month, rather than the old Newk who walks everyone in sight, he could secure a place as a starter. As it turned out, there are bigger questions about Sean.
Newcomb was sort of a cross between old and new Newk. He held the Phils scoreless in the first two innings, but it took him 43 pitches to do so. In the third, after Harper walked with two outs, Realmuto hit what my MLB app called a ground rule double. I guess technically that’s what it was, but in reality it was one of the more sickening things you’ll see on a baseball diamond. JT hit a 102 mph liner off the back of Newcomb’s head that caromed all the way into the Philly dugout. (look at the replay of Realmuto’s face right after he hit it.) Fortunately, Newk was talking and even managed a little smile afterwards, but of course they took no chances and promptly took him to the clubhouse. As of the time I’m writing this on Saturday night, I just saw him interviewed and he seems OK, but the next day or two will tell.
Anyway, Touki came in and allowed both runners to score, plus one of his own. To be fair, though, the inning should have been over before that, but Donaldson made an error to extend the inning.
Aaron “The Big Easy” Nola was on the mound for Philly. He’s not the same guy who was so excellent last year. Riley hit a homer in the second, and Braves scored another run in the third on a double by Acuna followed by two groundouts. Chip and Frenchy were thrilled with that sequence. I like ABC ball as well as the next guy, but another hit or two and a big inning would have been better (especially since Donaldson followed that sequence with a double of his own).
Touki allowed another run in the 4th on a home by Hernandez. But in the bottom of the fifth, Donaldson gave the Braves the lead on a 3 run homer. Donaldson’s long bomb was on Nola’s 95th and final pitch of the night. Gabe “Mr. Kotter” Kapler then brought in someone named JD Hammer, who looks even goofier than his name–if that really is his name. I think it would be a better as a nickname for Donaldson, especially since his homer went into the Henry Aaron terrace.
That was all the scoring until the ninth. Good outings from Webb, Minter, and Swarzak. If you squint, you can see those three as part of a pretty good bullpen. But it takes more than three reliable arms in the pen, and most importantly you need someone to pitch the ninth. Luke did not get the job done. He gave up a couple of hits, and it was made worse by his own throwing error on a bunt. (When they want to give you an out, take it!) I’ve been a defender of Jackson, and I do believe some of his struggles have been bad luck—but enough is enough. This was his 6th (!) blown save. AA has got to get us a closer, sooner rather than later.
In other Braves-related news:
Dusty Baker turns 70 today. He was one of my favorite Braves, in part because he was one of the first Atlanta Braves—drafted in 1967 after the team moved to Atlanta.
Johnnie B. Baker was born June 15, 1949, in Riverside, CA and went to high school in Sacramento. Baker made his ML debut with the Braves in September 1968 as a 19 year old. But he didn’t stick until 1972, which was his rookie season. And he was terrific that year–slash of .321/.383/.504, OPS+ of 142. Dusty had a long and very good career, playing another 15 years, but he never quite fulfilled the promise of that rookie season. His bWAR as a rookie was 5.1, and although he had a few 4 WAR seasons, he never matched that 1972 performance. The Braves traded Baker to the Dodgers after the 1975 season for Lee Lacy, Tom Paciorek, Jerry Royster and Jimmy Wynn. Baker had several good seasons with the Dodgers and appeared in three World Series; you are probably aware that none of those four guys played in a World Series with the Braves.
A few idiosyncratic observations about Dusty:
— There are many moving stories about what a positive role model Henry Aaron was for young Dusty. You should look them up. They reinforce my view that Aaron is not only the greatest Atlanta Brave as a player but also as a person. Baker was on deck when Aaron hit number 715. In the videos of the event you don’t see Baker greeting the Hammer as he reached home, because Dusty says that was Hank’s moment and he did not want to get in the way.
–Baker was part of the 1973 team that was the first in history to have three players with 40 home runs each (and still the only non-Colorado team to do so). He was not one of them (they were Aaron, Darrell Evans, and Davey Johnson), but that was a terrific offensive team; they led the league in runs scored. Baker and Ralph Garr were very good (although Garr was much better the next year when he batted .353 and led the league), and the first base tandem of Mike Lum, Dick Dietz, and Frank Tepedino was quite productive. Even so, that team finished 76-85, because as usual for the Braves of that era, the pitching wasn’t good; they also led the league in runs surrendered. In fact, the only Braves team of the 70’s with a winning record was the next year’s team, which went 88-74. Other than Garr, none of the hitting stars of 1973 were nearly as good in 1974. The difference was that the pitching, for once, was terrific. Buzz Capra led the league in ERA in 1974 and Niekro was third. My experience from that time has profoundly shaped my preferences about the game. Ever since, I have been convinced that it’s much better to have strong pitching than strong hitting. Of course the success of the 90’s reinforced that bias. I tell you that because although I love this 2019 team, and I’m convinced the offense is fantastic, I’m going to remain nervous until we see more stability out of the pitchers, both starters and relievers.
–In 1977, Baker was part of the Dodgers team that was the first to have four players hit 30 home runs each. He and Reggie Smith as the corner outfielders, and Garvey and Cey, the corner infielders, each had over 30. Steve Garvey was overrated, but Reggie Smith was underrated– a really great hitter. You may have seen his name in connection with the Braves recently, as Smith has been a mentor to Max Fried for many years.
–I’m not here to defend Baker as a manager. His approach and decision-making were often questionable, and he’s said some unfortunate things. But his record is one of the best of his generation. His very first year as manager his Giants won 103 games. Fortunately for us, the Braves won 104 in what is still my favorite pennant race ever. The Giants won two more division titles and advanced to the World Series as a wild card in 2002. His Cubs won the division in his first year there, although they lost in the NLCS to Pure Evil (can’t blame him for Steve Bartman). He won two division titles with the Reds (much better than those before and after him), and his Natspos may have underperformed, but not nearly as badly as the team did under Matt Williams and Dave Martinez.
Happy Birthday, Dusty.
Well, tough loss for the Braves, but they are still a game and a half up, and they play again Sunday afternoon. Folty on the hill for the Braves, but Mr. Kotter seems to have run out of pitchers. As of now the Phillies starter is “TBD”; I think he may start Horshak.