Suppose I told you ahead of Wednesday night’s game that:
–Braves pitchers would surrender only five hits on the night;
–The Braves’ starting outfielders would continue to certify the genius of Alex Anthopoulos: Rosario and Duvall would each homer and Soler would reach base four times;
–The Nats’ starting pitcher would only pitch one third of an inning, forcing Dave Martinez to turn to his beleaguered bullpen much earlier than he had planned.
You’d wager a lot of what you own on a Braves win, right?
No, of course you wouldn’t, because you know better than to bet on baseball. As it turned out, this also happened:
–The Braves vaunted infield, which has been so terrific this year, went a combined 0 for 15;
–Braves pitchers may have given up just the five hits, but they walked 8 batters, hit another, and surrendered two homers;
–Touki’s line was especially discouraging: in three plus innings, he tossed 62 pitches, only 29 of which were strikes (the comparisons to Sean Newcomb in last night’s comments are looking more and more apt);
–Drew Smyly the reliever looks a lot like Smyly the starter: three hits and a run in one inning of work;
–The Nationals used six relievers to get through the final 8 2/3 innings; the only two I recognized were Andrew Voth and Wander Suero, both of whom have an ERA around six; and yet the Braves could only plate two against this undistinguished bunch.
Add all this up, and you get a 4-2 Washington victory. It’s a frustrating loss, because it’s one the Braves should have won. Fortunately, the Phillies and Mets both lost, so the lead remains at 2.5 and 4 games.
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No one has asked my opinion on the Will Smith/Juan Soto shenanigans, but since I have the floor, may I suggest that Will Smith seems like a jackass? I’ve said that Don Mattingly’s vendetta against Ronald Acuña is a disgrace. Smith’s attitude and actions toward Soto are in the same category (but not to the same degree). Deliberately hitting a batter with a pitch is never called for, and in any event neither young superstar did anything wrong.
I’ll tell you who I do respect and admire: Freddie Freeman. His response to the Martinez-ordered plunking in the first inning revealed his class and character. In case you missed it, the first pitch from the Nats’ starter Sean Nolin sailed behind Freddie’s head. The second plunked him right on the hip. Instead of charging the mound and starting a stupid brawl, he pointed out to the home plate ump that this sequence left no doubt that the pitcher hit him on purpose, thus requiring that the pitcher be ejected. The umps did indeed toss Nolin. Freddie then chatted for a while with Soto (with his arm on his shoulder), and went over to the Nationals dugout to speak calmly with Martinez. His actions no doubt defused rather than escalated the situation. Let’s hope this is the end of this silly “feud.”
By the way, it turns out that Nolin getting ejected didn’t work out so well for the Braves. He came into the game with an ERA of 5.60—probably would have been better to decline the penalty and leave him in.
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The Braves can and should win the series on Thursday behind Huascar Ynoa against Eric Fedde. Then it’s six more at home against the Marlins and Rockies. It would behoove our guys over the next week to make some hay while the sun shines, before yet another west coast trip (how did we get both west coast trips in September?!).
Ten years ago last night, the Braves swept the Mets to take a 7.5 game lead over St. Louis in the Wild Card standings. You may recall how that pennant race turned out; I still have a little PTSD from it. I don’t bring up that unpleasant memory as a prediction of the next three weeks. I could point to, say, 1993, when the Braves trailed with three weeks to play and won the pennant. My point is that, just as in last night’s game, predictions are a fool’s errand; anything can happen in the last three weeks of a pennant race. I’m going to do my best not to pull my hair out (not much left anyway) with every twist and turn. A close race down the stretch in September is a rare joy, and I’m going to enjoy it. We have the added benefit of closing the season at home against the two rivals for the division. I’m not predicting, but I like our chances.