Normally, when a team scores in three consecutive innings, like the Braves did on Friday night, that means a good night. Unfortunately for the Braves, the Marlins also scored in those same three innings, in greater quantities. That was the difference as Brandon McCarthy suffered another poor start, and the Braves couldn’t solve the Miami relief corps en route to a 6-3 loss. The defeat snapped the team’s three-game winning streak and its longer road winning streak, evening the present series at one apiece. The Braves will now have the weekend to try and exact some revenge.
The main story in this one was that Brandon McCarthy gave up a ton of hits. Some of those hits were well-deserved, and some, to put it bluntly, were not. J.T. Realmuto set the tone for Miami and McCarthy early, knocking a hanging McCarthy curveball for a double (hit probability = 34%) to lead off the bottom of the first. Two consecutive groundouts led to Realmuto crossing the plate with the game’s first run. After a bit of a reprieve in the second where McCarthy struck out the side while working around a single (hit probability = 68%), the Braves finally did something against Miami starter Dan Straily.
By something, I actually mean Ozzie Albies hooking his 12th homer of the year into right field. The blast ties Albies for first in the National League with Bryce Harper and was another patented Wizard Albies magic missile that just got out (hit probability = 48%). But, aside from Albies, the rest of the hitters in the top half of the third struck out, and the Marlins went right back to work against McCarthy. And I do mean, “right back to work,” as Realmuto knocked the first pitch of the bottom of the inning deep into left center for a homer to take back the lead.
The Braves then tied it up again in the top of the fourth. Nick Markakis reached on a one-out single, and advanced to third when Ender Inciarte hit a ball that went off of first baseman Justin Bour’s glove. Johan Camargo then drew a walk to load the bases, as the Braves seemed to be figuring out that Dan Straily didn’t really have the control or command to keep them off the bases. This then became self-evident (if only for a little while) as the next batter, Ryan Flaherty, drew a bases-loaded walk, tying the game at two apiece. Unfortunately, McCarthy then flew out to keep the game knotted...
...which then gave the Marlins another opportunity to unknot it. Derek Dietrich hit a leadoff single (hit probability = 48%). Then, Miguel Rojas lined a ball over the infield (hit probability = 57%), moving Dietrich to third. Lewis Brinson then chopped a ball over Flaherty at third base (hit probability = 18%), scoring the third Miami run. After a merciful Straily groundout, Realmuto then came up and collected his third hit of the game, a run-scoring single up the middle that McCarthy did not get a glove on (hit probability = 34%). Fortunately for the Braves, Martin Prado hit a hard grounder to third that became an around-the-horn double play.
So naturally, the Braves (kind of) battled back against Straily. Ozzie Albies drew a leadoff walk, stole second, and advanced to third on an errant throw by Realmuto on the steal attempt. After an ugly Ronald Acuña Jr. strikeout and a heartbreaking liner off Freddie Freeman’s bat that was snagged on a dive by Bour at first, Nick Markakis picked up his teammates with a liner into right field that scored Albies and put Markakis at second. The Braves were within one, and it looked like Miami skipper Don Mattingly might have pulled Straily right then and there, but he elected to leave him in and Kurt Suzuki grounded out to leave the Fish ahead by one run.
Unfortunately for the Braves, even that deficit wouldn’t last long, as McCarthy gave up more runs still. Just like in the third, he again allowed a homer to the leadoff batter, this time to Starlin Castro. (And that ball was crushed.) The Marlins weren’t done yet, though. A one-out pop-up (hit probability = 31%) and a couple of liners into the outfield (hit probabilities = 91%, 74%) pushed another run across. McCarthy then ended another inning via the double play, courtesy of a soft liner off the bat of Lewis Brinson, but the damage was done.
That was it for both starters, but the Braves managed nothing against Miami’s bullpen, which hasn’t been effective to date. Junichi Tazawa pitched a scoreless sixth, righting the ship after what’s been a horrendous start to 2018 for him. Peter Moylan pitched the bottom of the inning, allowing two baserunners but also inducing the Braves’ third double play in three innings to get out of it. In the seventh, the Braves did nothing against Tayron Guerrero, Miami’s best reliever so far this season, who carved up Ozzie Albies with a 101 mph fastball. In the eighth, the bats did nothing against Kyle Barraclough, hitting three can of corn fly balls. Jesse Biddle, meanwhile, worked two scoreless innings of relief, and getting yet another double play thanks to a great snag of a liner at short by Camargo. Brad Ziegler came on for the ninth and the Braves faltered once again, despite a Preston Tucker pinch-hit single and an Albies liner that was flagged down in left field despite being struck pretty well.
The real story in this one, though, was the Marlins’ furious attack and the punishment suffered by McCarthy. McCarthy’s final line was five innings, 11 hits allowed (including two homers), six runs allowed, two walks, and three strikeouts. If you live by the BABIP you die by the BABIP, but McCarthy is probably not going to succeed in any start where he allows homers, doesn’t get favorable ball-in-play outcomes, and also records only modest strikeout totals. The triple whammy of a decreased strikeout rate, an increased walk rate, and terrible luck on fly balls leaving the yard has really done in McCarthy’s performance so far this season, and a .362 BABIP-against just makes everything worse. Some of these things (the BABIP and the HR/FB rate) might regress, but McCarthy may need to figure out a way to pull his peripherals back up to return to his expected level of performance.
Meanwhile, the Braves never really solved Straily, who recorded his first non-terrible start of the year. Straily went five, allowing three hits, three walks, and three runs (two earned) while striking out five. Despite putting three runs on the board, the Braves only managed five hits, two of which came courtesy of Nick Markakis.
The series continues tomorrow night, as Mike Soroka takes the ball for Atlanta to face off against Jarlin Garcia.