Over the first 16 innings of this weekend’s series at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, everything was coming up Braves. Ozzie Albies was showing the world that he’s not the only young player whose surname starts with “A” that we should be excited about. Dansby Swanson continued on his quest to prove that his struggles during 2017 were only a bump in what should be a smooth road for him from here on out. Freddie Freeman was being Freddie Freeman.
Sean Newcomb didn’t have an excellent starting outing but he did about as well as you could have asked of him considering the conditions. The walks were present but you never got the idea that the game was going to get out of control for him at any point.
Even Brian Snitker was showing signs of being willing to tinker with the lineup in order to get the most of what he’s been given to work with as we saw Ozzie and Dansby at the top of the lineup and Kurt Suzuki hitting cleanup and it ended up working fabulously for the Braves as far as offense was concerned, as they ended up putting up 10 runs on the board.
On a normal day, 10 runs would be more-than-enough to win. However, as we all had the agony of experiencing, this ended up being four runs short of what the Braves needed after the Cubs ended up putting a nine-spot on the board in the bottom of the eighth and they did most of this damage with two outs, at that.
There are two culprits (one individual and one collective) to look at for the calamitous inning that cost the Braves a win on Saturday. Even though he nailed the lineup construction today, Brian Snitker has to take some of the fault for his bullpen management. Peter Moylan was the last reliever who took the mound in that inning and while Moylan was one of many players who blamed the extremely adverse conditions for the awful performance, you have to figure that if he had come in earlier (presumably for the Javier Baez at-bat that turned the inning into a full-on disaster) then maybe this would have gone from being a hot mess to being just a blip on the radar of a unnecessarily close win.
Meanwhile, two pitchers who did not even toe the rubber on Saturday were Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter. Granted, they both pitched on Friday and it would have been completely understandable to give them a day of rest in a game where you were up 10-2 but that scenario went out of the window as soon as Jose Ramirez walked in a run. At that point it was time to get serious and get your two best relievers ready for a high-leverage situation.
There’s no point in saving your “closer” for a save situation when the lead is so precarious at that point that there very well may not be a save situation to deal with. You have to use your best at that point and it was puzzling to see Snitker choose the relievers that he did for a situation that was clearly getting away from the Braves. The luxury of resting Minter and Vizcaino was gone after the rest of the bullpen laid an egg. Maybe we’ll look back on this day in the long run and be glad that both guys ended up getting rest, but for now, it’s frustrating that they were let down by the rest of the ‘pen.
That’s why you can place the lion’s share of the blame at the feet of the bullpen themselves. Yes, the conditions were awful but Sam Freeman owned it and summed it up in the best way possible.
#Braves' Sam Freeman: "It wasn’t the weather; like I say, they had to do it too. I just didn’t execute. I just (expletive) the bed today.”— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) April 14, 2018
Frigid conditions or not, seven walks (with two being HBPs and one being intentional) and a wild pitch in one inning are completely unacceptable from Luke Jackson, Jose Ramirez Freeman and Moylan. There’s no way around it.
As it turns out, the Braves had been playing with fire in that regard. According to FanGraphs, the Braves bullpen went into Saturday with the second-highest BB/9 and BB% in all of baseball at 5.20 and 13.8 percent, respectively. After Saturday’s performance, their BB/9 went up to 5.91 (which is still second place. Thanks, Cincy.) and their BB% is now at 15.2 percent, which "leads" the league now.
I don’t want to say that the bullpen was getting lucky but I will say that we probably should have seen a collapse coming at some point if the Braves were going to continue walking people. Sure enough, it happened and it happened in the most extreme way possible. Even in the frigid weather, the Braves were playing with fire and got burned.
So yeah, that absolutely sucked and here’s hoping that we never have to speak of it again. The good news is that if you take away that utter debacle of an inning, this is some of the most promising baseball that we’ve seen the Braves play since the organization decided to rebuild following the 2014 season. If you’re optimistic about the team’s chances of being decent this year and good next year, then you still have every reason to stay optimistic about those chances.
Plus, the Braves still have one potential megastar waiting in the wings and another promising prospect still making his way into good health. There’s still help on the way and the rebuild is finally starting to bear fruit in terms of major league talent.
If this is the lowest of the low for the Braves, then it’s good that they got it out of the way now because this could still be a fun season to pay witness to. That eighth inning is proof that it’s not going to be pretty all of the time — thriller movies wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if the hero just rolled over the villains all of the time, right?
Plus, for all we know the Braves could just shrug this off and continue their decent start to the season by beating up on the Phillies. That’s the beauty of this sport — we can see wacky stuff like today’s shambles happen on one day and then get a nice-and-boring 3-0 victory the next day. That’s baseball for you.
We’ll learn a bit about how this team can deal with adversity based on Monday’s game but once again, you shouldn’t let that cloud your sight of what still appears to be a bright future on the horizon.