As the Braves opened postseason play on Wednesday, 2 teams took home series leads while the other played a back and forth thriller that ended with them giving the game away.
(1-0) Gwinnett Braves 5, (0-1) Columbus Clippers 4
Rio Ruiz, 3B: 0-4, .271/.355/.400
Daniel Castro, SS: 1-3, HR, 3 RBI, .257/.279/.346
Reid Brignac, 2B: 0-2, .264/.361/.394
Bradley Roney, RP: 3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 3.57 ERA
Somehow, someway the Gwinnett Braves ended up making the playoff despite a pitching staff left in shreds by call ups and a fairly lackluster lineup. Now, they have just as much chance to win as anybody and they did just that in the opening game of the series. Left with Carlos Portuondo, a 28 year old Cuban the Braves signed in February who didn’t play a game until July, the GBraves went in seemingly already at a disadvantage and came into the game 0-6 this season against Columbus. Portuondo, whoever, shut the Clippers down in his first 2 innings, and a surprise appearance from Daniel Castro’s previously-thought-deceased home run power gave Gwinnett a 2-0 lead after 2 innings. The second inning did not go so well for Portuondo who allowed a one out home run and then a sacrifice fly 3 batters later that scored Yan Gomes.
With that, Portuondo’s short day was ended and he left the bullpen a deep hole to climb out of. WIth rosters set for the series, it was important for someone to step up and give Gwinnett innings so they don’t run out of gas. Bradley Roney did just that with perhaps his best game of his career. Roney struck out the first batter he faced in the game, then in the third inning struck out the side in order. The first batter of the 5th inning grounded out, and then Roney struck out 4 straight batters again before allowing his first hit of the game and then forcing a ground out to end the 6th. In total, he struck out 8 of the 11 batters he faced, covered more than 3 innings, and allowed only 1 baserunner.
Unfortunately, as Clippers bats went silent so did the Braves and Roney left the game still tied at 2. He made way for Madison Younginer, who worked himself into a bit of 2 out trouble but managed to get out unscathed to take the game to the 8th. Emilio Bonifacio led off the inning with a bunt base hit, his 3rd hit of the game, and set the stage for Reid Brignac. Brignac deposited the first pitch he saw directly over the top of the 365 foot sign the opposite way, and Gwinnett was given a 2 run lead and a chance to steal a home game from the Clippers.
After Madison Younginer got into trouble in the bottom of the 8th Maikel Cleto cleaned up by forcing a bases loaded ground out to get the final out. In the ninth, Daniel Castro drove in his 3rd run of the night with a sacrifice fly to give the Braves an insurance run they would need. With 1 out Maikel CLeto gave up a single to Yandy Diaz, and a home run to Guillermo Quiroz brought the game within 1. The next batter threatened with a deep fly out to right, but finally Cleto was able to retire the side and give Gwinnett the win by forcing Jesus Aguilar to fly out lazily to left field.
Next Game: 9/8 vs (0-1) Columbus Clippers @ 6:35 PM ET
COL: Ryan Merritt
(0-1) Mississippi Braves 5, (1-0) Pensacola Blue Wahoos 6
Ozzie Albies, 2B: 0-2, .321/.391/.467
Dustin Peterson, LF: 2-4, .282/.343/.431
Johan Camargo, SS: 3-4, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI, .267/.304/.379
Mallex Smith, CF: 0-5, .419/.500/.613
Sean Newcomb, SP: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 6 BB, 6 K, 3.86 ERA
Sean Newcomb started tonight’s game, and there was a strong sense of confidence going in that he could really headline the rotation in the postseason. He had been pitching well for over a month, and everything seemed headed in the right direction. Unfortunately, Sean Newcomb was not good Wednesday night. To his credit, he kept Mississippi in the game and managed to only allow 1 run, but he could not find the strike zone and found himself constantly in trouble. Worse yet was the inefficiency, which necessitated him leaving the game after 5 and exposed a tired bullpen to 4 innings of work.
After Newk and Rookie Davis traded 0’s for 3 innings, Mississippi broke through first in the 4th inning. Dustin Peterson hit a hard single with one out, and Carlos Franco took a fastball into the left-center field gap that scored Peterson from from base. Unfortunately, he was stranded there by Meneses and Astudillo and the Braves couldn’t get any more. Newcomb went in to try for a shut down inning, and as became the theme of the game failed to do so. He walked the second batter of the inning and then allowed 2 straight hits to score that man and let Pensacola tie it up.
Akeel Morris replaced Newcomb in the 6th, and he too struggled with his command. He struck out the first batter he faced, but allowed a double and then later a single for that run to score. The Braves offense was not done however, and were able to respond in the top of the 7th. With WIllians Astudillo and Connor Lien on, Johan Camargo lined a ball into right field and scored both to give Mississippi the lead. This was one of Camargo’s 3 hits on the day, and he made a frequent impact to this game especially later on the basepaths.
The 7th, another attempt at a shutdown inning, unraveled quickly for the MBraves. Chad Sobotka, who had previously only pitched 2 games at the AA level, was brought in to try to hold a 1 run lead. He walked the first batter, and then Carlos Franco made the first of 2 critical errors and allowed Pensacola to put runners on the corners. The next batter hit a rocket shot to left field to score Ronald Bueno from third, and Dustin Peterson let the ball to scoot past him allowing Alex Blandino to score from first and Phillip Ervin (the batter) to advance all the way to third. Thus, Chad Sobotka left without recording an out and allowing 2 unearned runs with another standing at third base. AJ Minter managed to strand Ervin, after getting a shallow fly ball to left field and 2 strikeouts to end the inning.
David Peterson ran into some 8th inning trouble when he allowed runners to get to the corners with none out, but Johan Camargo was able to make a snag playing in and make a nice runner to get an out at home. Peterson retired the next two batters, and Mississippi moved into their last at bat down 1 run. Willians Astudillo started the rally with a line drive single to left field with one out but was forced out when Connor Lien grounded out. Down to the final out it was up to Johan Camargo, who singled on his first pitch. Stephen Gaylor came in to pinch hit, with the tying and go ahead runs on base and two outs.
Stephen Gaylor is a local player, who played at Berry College and went undrafted back in 2014. The Braves signed him to a contract, and ever since he’s put up so so numbers and played good defense. He is not the player you would want coming off the bench in that situation. He fell behind one and two, and after some balls in the dirt came up to his 7th pitch of the at bat. He lined that pitch, a belt high fastball, right back up the middle and Connor Lien would easily score the tying run. Then, on the throw back to the infield the ball squibbed away from Zach Vincej, and a heads up play from Johan Camargo allowed him to sprint home and slide in safely with the go ahead run. The roller coaster had peaked for Mississippi.
Riding high, Luis Salazar elected to go with Caleb Dirks who has been fantastic this season and has a 0.91 ERA in 21 games with Rome. Dirks did not have his command working, and walked Phillip Ervin to lead off the inning. Then he forced exactly the ball he needed, a tailor-made double play grounder to third base, but Carlos Franco made the second of those critical errors to allow the runner to reach. After a strikeout that likely should have ended the inning, Zach Vincej tied the game with a base hit to load the bases. Ray Chang singled to tie the game, and the Blue Wahoos were still in business with one out. Dirks struck out Taylor Sparks to reach Joe Hudson, a catcher who was hitting .203 on the season. Dirks issued 4 straight balls, none particularly close, and the Wahoos were gifted a literal walk off win courtesy of the Braves 3 errors and 9 walks allowed.
While it need not be understated how bad this loss was, and how preventable and momentum shifting it was, the biggest blow didn’t come on the scoreboard. The biggest news is the health of Ozzie Albies. On a 1-0 pitch Rookie Davis delivered high and inside, and Ozzie took an awkward swing that appeared to be as much self preservation as anything. He was able to foul it off, but instantly began grabbing his right elbow and appeared to be in significant pain. He sat down on the field while trainers took a look at him, but was pulled from the game. He left the field on his own power, but was visibly upset as evidenced in this tweet from Baseball Prospectus’s Kourage Kuhndahl:
Albies is leaving under his own power, but he's visibly upset. Shouts and kicks the dugout railing on the way out. Hyams pinch-hitting.— Kourage Kundahl (@kouragekundahl) September 8, 2016
While it’s probably wrong to speculate at this point, the injury appeared significant and the tight-lipped nature of the Braves has fans grasping at straws at this point. Whatever the situation, it is not good and I highly doubt we see another plate appearance from Ozzie Albies in 2016. At the very least, the hope is that there is no damage to any of the ligaments or tendons. in the area that could lead to a long term absence or lingering problems.
Next Game: 9/8 vs (1-0) Pensacola Blue Wahoos 7:30 PM ET
MIS: Patrick Weigel
PNS: Jackson Stephens
(1-0) Rome Braves 3, (0-1) Charleston RiverDogs 1
Ray-Patrick Didder, CF-RF: 2-5, SB, Outfield Assist, .274/.387/.381
Austin Riley, 3B: 1-3, 2B, BB, RBI, .271/.324/.479
Ronald Acuna, CF: 1-3, 3B, RBI, .312/.392/.429
Mike Soroka, SP: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 3.11 ERA
Rome struck early in this one, and from then on it was the Mike Soroka show as he put the team on his back. Soroka struggled in his first inning and allowed the first 2 batters of the game to reach. He didn’t have his best control, and it showed early especially with a poor showing from the umpire. The third batter of the game started an interesting play. The ball was blooped into right field, and fortunately for the Braves the runner at first held up to see if it would be caught and Ray-Patrick Didder unleashed one of his better throws and forced him out at second. Soroka then hit the next batter, but came into another bit of luck as a line drive found the glove of Alejandro Salazar for an unassisted double play. That was all the luck Soroka would need, as he locked down for the rest of the night.
The Braves struck quickly, and Ray-Patrick led off the game with a single on the second base. After stealing second base, Didder scored when Ronald Acuna tripled over the head of the right fielder and Rome was off to an early lead. Austin Riley followed that up with an RBI ground out, and Rome had given the arms the cushion they would need to shut the game down. Soroka would retire the next 7 batters in a row. Rome added an insurance run in the 3rd when Austin Riley doubled and was driven in later by Jonathan Morales. Morales reached 3 times on the day and has been key in turning the Rome offense into one of the best in the minor leagues (relative to level of course).
Soroka’s next bout of trouble was much of his own doing in the 5th, as he attempted to make a throw on a bunt single that the runner had clearly beaten out and chucked it into right field. A ground out advanced the runner to 3rd, and he then scored Charleston’s only run of the game on a single up the middle. After the next batter singled, the RiverDogs had the tying run on base with only one out and a strong chance to bring it back. Soroka promptly forced a double play.
Soroka continued to get stronger as the game went on, and retired the next 8 batters in a row to get the Braves to 2 outs in the night. After a single and his first walk of the game, he was finally removed after an even 100 pitches over 7.2 IP. While it was clear all night he was getting squeezed a bit, and didn’t have his best command or curveball, Soroka battled all night and made hitters work. Not a bad job for a first postseason start, and he showed a lot of the poise that makes him special amongst players his age.
Corbin Clouse came in to get the final out of the 8th inning and struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. He gave way to Devan Watts in the ninth, who allowed 1 hit and struck out 1 to close the game out and get the save. The Braves now go to Charleston up 1 game to none. Other injury news revolves around Ronald Acuna, who left this game early. No word has been said on his status, and he appeared a bit gimpy at times. It did not appear to be cause for concern, and could very well have just been a cramp or precautionary measures. He now has a day off to recover so it will be interesting to see if he plays Friday night.
Next Game: 9/9 vs (0-1) Charleston RiverDogs 7:00 PM ET
ROM: Kolby Allard
CSC: Daris Vargas
Around the Playoffs
Those who may play Braves affiliates down the road
Scranton Wilkes/Barre 2, Lehigh Valley 0
Scranton Wilkes/Barre leads series 1-0
Pacific Coast League
Nashville Sounds 10, Oklahoma City Dodgers 7
Nashville leads series 1-0
Tacoma Rainiers 6, El Paso Chihuahas 5
Tacoma leads series 1-0
Montgomery Biscuits, 0 Jackson Generals 3
Jackson leads series 1-0
South Atlantic League
Hagerstown Suns 1, Lakewood BlueClaws 6
Lakewood leads series 1-0