If this game was any indication, the Braves might be in for a fun second half. Tense, perhaps, but definitely fun. Freddie Freeman hit a go-ahead solo home run in the sixth inning, and after the Diamondbacks scored runs in consecutive innings to pull ahead, Freeman beat the shift to give Atlanta a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
From the way the game started, you’d never have guessed that it had such a wild ending. R.A. Dickey walked the first batter he faced and gave up a single to Paul Goldschmidt, but escaped the first inning thanks to a double play. The Braves converted an Ender Inciarte leadoff double with Matt Kemp’s two-out, RBI single to take a 1-0 lead. Dickey and Arizona starter Taijuan Walker then proceeded to throw up a bunch of zeroes, as no further runs scored through the fifth. Dickey’s knuckleball was knuckling very effectively: he allowed just four hits, two walks, and a hit by pitch through five frames.
But, the life of a knuckleball pitcher is always subject to get weird in a hurry. That’s pretty much what happened in the top of the sixth. Tyler Flowers started the frame off right with an egregious stolen strike three with Jake Lamb at the plate, but then the worm turned. Two line drives into the shallow outfield later, the D-backs had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first. Career replacement-level player and noted Dickey tormentor Daniel Descalso then laced a liner right at Dickey’s glove. Dickey nearly snagged it, but it ended up skidding past the mound to the right of the second-base bag. Johan Camargo, starting at shortstop in lieu of Dansby Swanson, managed to get to the ball, but his behind-the-back flip attempt went into no man’s land, and the runner at third easily scored on the play. After another line drive into the outfield, on which the Diamondbacks inexplicably chose not to challenge the “arm” of Nick Markakis and play it station-to-station, Dickey found himself in a bases-loaded, one-out situation against his mound opponent, Walker. Luckily, Walker rolled a 2-2 pitch right to Camargo, and while he hustled down the line and made it a bang-bang play at first, the call on the field was “out” and the Diamondbacks chose not to challenge, sending the game into the bottom of the sixth knotted at one run apiece.
It didn’t stay knotted long. Walker hung a terrible breaking pitch up in the zone to Freddie Freeman, and we all know Freeman doesn’t miss those too often.
Two batters later, the Braves were back in front, 2-1.
But, Freeman is not the only noted baseball masher in this contest: Paul Goldschmidt proved he could do something similar, and deposited a poor Sam Freeman pitch into the left-field stands in the top of the seventh to tie the game up once more. (More on the Freeman pitching decision later).
Then, things got weird. In the top of the eighth, the Braves tabbed Jose Ramirez to try to keep the game scoreless. Ramirez, well... he didn’t do that, but it happened in strange fashion. Chris Owings hit a leadoff single, and then stole second. Camargo overran Flowers’ poor throw, which rolled into center, allowing Owings to scamper to third, representing the go-ahead run with none out in the inning. Ramirez then rebounded really well: the next batted popped out to shallow right, and once again, the Diamondbacks chose not to test the “arm” of Nick Markakis. After that, Descalso grounded out to short, and Ramirez had a fantastic chance to escape the inning with the tie intact. He even got pinch-hitter Ketel Marte to two strikes, before spinning out a pitch that somehow went the exact opposite direction from what Flowers was expecting (Flowers went down to his left, while the ball darted to his right), resulting in a run-scoring wild pitch that put the Braves down by a run.
Ramirez ended up walking Marte and being pulled in favor of Rex Brothers, who ended the inning with no further damage.
But, like I said... things got weird. The Diamondbacks summoned Archie Bradley from the bullpen for the bottom of the eighth. Bradley has been nothing short of shutdown this year (1.10 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 2.91 xFIP, 1.2 fWAR in 41 innings), but melted down. Inciarte reached on an infield single, and then Brandon Phillips slashed a double down the right field line to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. The Diamondbacks then elected, for some reason I don’t quite understand, to have Bradley pitch to Freeman with a base open, and Freeman made them pay, lashing a single the opposite way, away from the teeth of the shift. Inciarte scored easily, and Phillips bellyflopped going around third base, but the throw from the outfield came in to second, and Phillips was able to recover and easily score the go-ahead run.
That gave the Braves the lead they needed into the bottom of the ninth, where they asked Jim Johnson to preserve the lead. Since you saw the headline, you already know he did, but unless you watched the game, you didn’t see this great piece of fielding from Inciarte which was instrumental in delivering the victory. Enjoy:
Thanks, Diamondbacks! Thanks, Ender Inciarte!
Freeman and Inciarte were the only Braves to finish with more than one hit. The Braves won despite collecting fewer hits than the Diamondbacks. R.A. Dickey allowed one run for the fourth consecutive start. Rex Brothers vultured the pitching win with his short relief appearance — it was his first pitching win since October 2015.
The Braves are back at it with the Snakes tomorrow night, as Mike Foltynewicz faces off against Patrick Corbin.
And now, a brief moment for Ivan’s soapbox. Namely, this was the worst-managed game, across both managers, that I think I’ve seen this season. Here’s the stuff that bugged me, not just in retrospect, but at the time (check the game thread):
- Putting Sam Freeman into a situation where he had to face two righties in the top of the seventh. This season, Freeman’s splits feature an 0.70+ FIP difference when facing righties as compared to lefties, and a much more dramatic xFIP difference of over 2.00. (His career xFIP against lefties and righties isn’t too dissimilar... but it’s also not very good against either type of hitter, so... maybe don’t use him in high-leverage situations in the first place?) Both A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt hit lefties better than righties, with Goldschmidt absolutely pounding them (career 165 wRC+). Predictably, Freeman yielded the tying homer to Goldschmidt, and that homer was almost a go-ahead shot, as Pollock also mashed a hard liner that just happened to be hit right at Freddie Freeman at third base.
- Using Lane Adams as a pinch-hitter against the righty reliever Jake Barrett in the seventh. Barrett has been awful against lefties so far in his short career (6.43 FIP, 5.63 xFIP), so purposefully bailing him out by letting him not face a lefty, even in a two-out, none-on situation just seems weird.
- Letting Jose Ramirez face the lefty-hitting Daniel Descalso and the switch-hitting Ketel Marte (who hits lefties worse than righties; 70 wRC+ vs. 87 wRC+ for his career) with the go-ahead run at third base. Granted, Sam Freeman had already been used in poor fashion earlier, but this just compounded the issue.
- Not pinch-hitting for Taijuan Walker in the top of the sixth. I get that he had only pitched five innings to that point, but the bases were loaded with one out, and he had worked through the lineup twice. Perhaps justifiable to leave him in there, but they paid the price for letting him swing away in that situation.
- Not challenging the bang-bang play at first as Walker hit into the double play. The chances that a higher-leverage situation would come up later weren’t very high; may as well roll the dice and hope to steal at least one run out of it based on the vagaries of the replay review decision.
- The multiple instances of not testing the arm of Nick Markakis. Come on, don’t you guys have advance scouting?
- At the beginning of the eighth, the Diamondbacks appeared to use a shift on Ender Inciarte that involved second baseman Brandon Drury playing almost on the outfield grass. Given Inciarte’s footspeed, playing back for him doesn’t seem to make much sense, as it increases the chance of an infield hit. Not really noticeable, though, unless it happens... which it did.
- Pitching to Freddie Freeman with the tying run on third, and the go-ahead run on second, with none out. Despite his great stats this season, Archie Bradley has a 4.63 FIP (4.51 xFIP) against lefties for his career, which is over a run higher than his FIP/xFIP against righties. Beyond just this, the next hitter, Matt Kemp, still looks to be playing hurt, and has a 53 wRC+ with a 55 percent ground ball rate since the beginning of June — certainly a better opponent for a righty reliever who wants a double play to try and escape a massive jam. Plus, Freeman’s run, the second go-ahead run of the inning, probably does not matter very much, as far as leverage or win probability go, in the bottom of the eighth. (Per this, the difference in win expectancy between a one-run lead and a two-run lead in the top of the ninth is only about seven percent, from a 13 percent chance to win to a six percent chance for the visiting team.)