In front of another lively sellout crowd, the Braves rallied in the bottom of the 8th after blowing a 3-0 lead to secure a 5-3 win.
The Braves got on the board first. In the bottom of the 3rd, after Michael Harris singled, Dansby Swanson continued his hot streak by hitting his 13th home run off Mitch White, giving the Braves a 2-0 lead. They added another in the 5th as Austin Riley doubled in Ronald Acuna to make it 3-0. It could have been 4-0, but Acuna had gotten picked off, causing a rundown which ended up with both Acuna and Dansby standing on 2nd base. Acuna was the lead runner, so by rule Dansby was called out and credited with a caught stealing even though it was Acuna’s screwup. Dansby would have likely scored from first on the double.
The score remained 3-0 until the top of the 7th. After pitching 6 shutout innings in another superb start, Max Fried tired in the 7th, walking the leadoff hitter Chris Taylor, then Justin Turner singled putting runners on the corners with nobody out. Snitker went to the mound for a conference with Fried, but Max said he had something left. He did reach back for some extra and struck out the next 2 hitters, Trayce Thompson and Hanser Alberto. But Braves nemesis Cody Bellinger, who only seems to get hits against the Braves these days and nobody else, singled up the middle after narrowly missing a 3 run homer on a foul ball to score Taylor and cut it to 3-1.
With Fried over 100 pitches, Snitker went to the bullpen…Will Smith has been his frequent option to go to in high leverage situations in the 7th inning. Smith has been decent lately, but on the season he has been the worst reliever in the bullpen with a 4.85 FIP. Also, he was coming on to face a right handed batter in Austin Barnes. 2 of the right handed relievers may have been unavailable, as Collin McHugh pitched 3 innings yesterday, and O’Day also worked yesterday. Jesse Chavez and Jackson Stephens were other right handed options Snitker could have gone to, however. (More on this topic later.)
Smith gave up an opposite field single to Barnes, scoring Turner to make it 3-2. He then walked another right handed batter, Trea Turner, to load the bases. But Smith managed to strike out the left handed Freddie Freeman to escape with the lead.
However, in the 8th, AJ Minter (in a little bit of a slump lately after his hot start) gave up a leadoff homer to the other Will Smith as the Dodgers tied the game. He pitched around another hit to get out of the inning with the score tied at 3.
In the bottom of the 8th, Travis D’Arnaud led off with a double off the left center field wall off Dodgers flame thrower Brusdar Graterol. Marcell Ozuna followed with a 2 run homer (his 14th) to right center on a hanging breaking ball to put the Braves on top 5-3. That was decisive, as Kenley Jansen struck out all 3 batters to collect his 20th save in the 9th.
This game highlighted the Braves weakness of a trusted late inning RHP outside of closer Kenley Jansen. After Spencer Strider moved to the rotation to fix the weakness of the 5th starter position, there isn’t a hard throwing right hander that Snitker trusts to work in high leverage (other than Jansen). Jackson Stephens and Darren O’Day have struggled recently, while Collin McHugh and Jesse Chavez are soft tossers and it’s obvious that Snitker only wants to use them in middle and long relief. The Braves also have Kirby Yates and Jay Jackson under contract and they are expected to make rehab appearances and come back in the 2nd half of the season. Kirby Yates is coming back from a 2nd Tommy John surgery, though, and Jay Jackson is old and mediocre.
I think that Strider will eventually move back to the bullpen as he has never thrown more than 94 innings, and he is only in his 2nd professional season. (It may already be showing, as his velocity was down a couple of ticks in his last start.) My guess is that the Braves may also acquire more right handed relief help in trade as well.
Of course, this would open up the 5th spot in the rotation. I’m sure the Braves are hoping Mike Soroka can come back and fill this rotation spot in the 2nd half, but given that coming back from 2 different Achilles tears is unprecedented, they may not be able to count on that. Kyle Muller has been excellent at Gwinnett. He has cut his walk rate, only walking 23 men in 76 innings, while striking out 99 men with a 2.96 ERA. (This includes another strong 7 inning start tonight.) With 30 career starts at Gwinnett, one may wonder how much more he has to prove there. Or perhaps the Braves want him to spend a full season there like Kyle Wright did last season, and would rather acquire another starter from outside the organization. (Probably not a big name, as this would be just a 5th starter.)
It will be interesting to see what the Braves do.