So sure… there’s a pandemic, baseball is attempting a shambolic 60 game season, Albies and Adams are on the IL and Mike Soroka has a torn Achilles tendon, but why not look on the bright side? And there’s always a bright side – the Braves enter the game 8-4 which, if they keep it up or even falter a bit in the next 48, will be plenty good enough to enter the Pandemic Crapshoot. This season already has the shakiest performance by a starting pitcher in baseball history that yielded no runs. So, as Midge Maisel says, “Tits up!” When the remains of civilization are dug up by the Insect Invaders from Planet Gsksdfjskdf in the year 36,456, nobody is going to remember that 2020 was a bastardized season. The WS Trophy will look identical as they pore over it with their proboscides (and be honest: how many of you knew that was the plural form of proboscis?) and the name Atlanta Braves will shine just as brightly as any other.
The Braves entered tonight’s second game against the Buffarontonians with the enigmatic Sean Newcomb on the hill. Newcomb has now started 55 games and relieved in 52. His ERA as a starter is over a run higher. His WHIP is 1.448 as a starter, 1.167 as a reliever. As a starter, the opponents are OPSing .729; as a reliever .658.
Now of course he’s thrown 5 times more innings as a starter, so sample sizes matter here. But it’s not like he starts well and tires, which would then make you think he has to be a reliever. His 1st, 2nd and 3rd inning stats look pretty much like his 4th 5th and 6th inning stats. (If you squint a little, he seems to have bad 3rd innings.) By the way, all these split numbers come from the invaluable BRef Split page. Anyway, there’s a famous philosophical problem called Newcomb’s Paradox, which confounds causality, strategy and the nature of free will. Sean is the baseball version.
So would you rather have a middle-of-the-road starting pitcher or a pretty good left-handed reliever? In most years, the answer is probably the latter, but this year there’s absolutely no question. We just need Newcomb to give us innings, even better if he pitches like the relief pitcher, not the starter. Maybe they can use the same amnesia machine that made Chris Martin get a save while he thought he was pitching the 8th to convince Sean that he’s the long relief guy in a game that’s a couple of innings in already.
Culberson got his first start of the year, replacing Albies. Austin Riley subbed a right-handed bat for Freddie Freeman at first. I have no problem at all giving Freddie a day off. I think all the Iron Man stuff is way overrated. In addition, Freddie’s lifetime OPS against lefthanded pitchers is 100 points lower than Riley’s. But if I had to pick a lefthander whose skillset bodes badly for Austin, it’s the junk-throwing Hyun-jin Ryu. Not optimistic. (I wrote this before his two weak K’s against Ryu proved me right.)
After a quiet first, Newcomb got in 2nd inning trouble which yielded a run on a sac fly. I don’t think Acuña made his best effort on the throw home – he looked a little surprised that the not-exactly-swift Vlad Jr. was willing to test the arm. Other than that, though, Newcomb pitched well, assisted by a great play from Camargo in the 4th. But he gave up another run in the top of the 5th (Ender didn’t quite make the play that could have saved the run) and he was done. 4 2/3 innings and two runs yielded is probably good enough if Newcomb can do that the rest of the season – a middle-of-the-road performance for a middle-of-the-rotation starter. The one thing Sean doesn’t need is people telling him he has to be a #2. He needs to be Sean Newcomb which is probably good enough.
Tomlin, Greene, Martin and Minter pitched hitless ball. That’s why the starter doesn’t have to be that good. The relievers have pitched more innings than the starters so far, and it’s been, as the accountants say, accretive to our results.
Hyun-jin Ryu had a great first half last season (including a 4 hit complete game shutout against the Braves) and a bad second half (including a loss to the Braves.) He certainly looked like May 2019 Ryu against the Braves tonight, yielding one hit (and that one kinda questionable) through 5 at which point he mercifully departed. His replacement, Thomas Hatch, yielded a homer to Duvall which cut the lead in half.
An uneventful 8th (unless you count the initial appearance of Nick Markakis, or what is probably the only appearance of Scott Schebler before the roster cuts tomorrow) led to Anthony Bass going for the save. Dansby bounced out. Marcell walked. d’Arnaud singled. But Duvall then rapped into a DP to end it.
So if last December I told you the Braves would be playing .615 ball in early August I think you’d have accepted it. So accept it. Rubber game tomorrow night.