Think about how much planning went into Joe Girardi’s night for the Phillies.
He made a change from his usual lineup by inserting backup catcher Andrew Knapp in for JT Realmuto; Knapp hit a home run off Ian Anderson last Sunday and rewarded Girardi again tonight by drawing a walk. From there he had to adjust his lineup a little bit because his usual clean-up hitter, Realmuto, had the night off.
He carefully scoped out a spot for Realmuto to pinch hit in a tie game in the seventh. He made a corresponding double switch to keep Knapp in the game without losing Realmuto’s bat. He took a chance on Archie Bradley getting Ozzie Albies out so he could bring in Jose Alvardao to face Freddie Freeman in a key lefty-lefty match-up. Alvarado got a tailor-made double play ball off Freeman’s bat.
Girardi probably arrived at the ballpark five or six hours before first pitch as most managers do, and he spent that entire time trying to figure out match-ups that could give the Phillies an edge in this game. For the most part, it was all working.
Then his shortstop forgot he had to cover second base on a double play ball, and a half day of planning went completely down the drain in two seconds as Ehire Adrianza scored to make it 5-4 Braves, a score that held up the rest of the game.
Baseball is an extremely complicated game, but sometimes it really is as simple as one player making a mental mistake by forgetting to perform one of the most basic fundamentals in the sport and allowing the game-winning run to score.
- Sure Didi Gregorious standing like a statue at shortstop instead of covering the bag was objectively hilarious, but it only came to pass because the bench stepped up again. Adrianza poked a two-strike fastball into left field for a hustle double, Ronald Acuña Jr. pushed him to third with another hit and that gave him the opportunity to score on the Gregorious gaffe. Like we said all spring, this bench is an offensive juggernaut.
- The Braves never let this game get to the “here we go again” stage. Even last night had a little bit of that feeling until the dam broke on Zack Wheeler in the fifth. Tonight they responded from going down 2-0 by grabbing three runs in the bottom of the first. Zach Eflin settled in brilliantly after that first inning, so getting those early runs up was crucial.
- Speaking of settling in, Ian Anderson. He was far from perfect tonight; the fastball command was off and he left a few curveballs hanging in the strike zone. But the great part of his game is he stuck to his bread and butter. We know his best pitch is his changeup. Opposing hitters know it too; they can’t hit it. He used the change a lot with two strikes, especially in the fourth inning when he struck out Gregorious and Knapp with it. Obviously you would like it if he had all three pitches working, but the fact he trusts his best pitch even when the others aren’t effective is a great sign.
- The offense was balanced tonight. Nine hits from seven different players. Not only that, they were spread out on the field with five hits to left, one to center and three to right. The see-saw was just a flat block of wood tonight, but in a good way.
- A week ago I used this space to write about Sean Newcomb’s control issues, and how he still has the same issues in 2021 as he did in 2017. Of course tonight he looked electric with four strikeouts. I don’t even know anymore with Newk. You tell me.
- While we’re on the subject of the bullpen, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith were both phenomenal. Smith in particular looked the sharpest he has since Opening Day with his slider running in on the right-handed hitters.
- That’s two series wins in a row and an opportunity for a sweep tomorrow. What 0-4 start?
- Look, there were no illusions about Cristian Pache coming into this season. He’s here to be Superman in the outfield, The Flash on the bases and, uh, definitely not any kind of superhero at the plate. He’s a 22-year-old kid still learning how to hit at this level, and that’s fine. But woof, it looks rough right now. Sooner or later it will come for him, but that is a black hole in the lineup right now.
- No, you shouldn’t panic, but yes Swanson, Ozuna and Albies are a combined 12-for-87 at the plate this season. They’ll be fine, but that’s a negative until they are.
- The BABIP luck is still biting the Braves. A two-run single in the first inning with an exit velocity at 65 MPH? Really, baseball gods?
- I really hate to say it, but the Phillies might have patched up some of their bullpen issues. If nothing else, they have one relief ace in Alvarado. There has to be something somewhere in the Geneva Accords that makes throwing 101 MPH sinkers from the left side a war crime. Good grief.
- There was an opportunity to knock Eflin out early and put some serious pressure on Matt Moore tomorrow, but the Braves let him off the hook and saved a lot of work for that aforementioned bullpen ahead of the series finale.
Former Brave Of The Day:
Mark Melancon picked up his fourth save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth in a 7-4 Padres win over the Rangers.
Quote Of The Game:
“Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”
— Yogi Berra
You know that rush of adrenaline you get when you’re playing Uno and get the reverse card? The goal for the Braves tomorrow is to drop the reverse card and turn the table on the Phillies with a sweep.