Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Washington Nationals extended well beyond the afternoon, resulting in a marathon that stretched well into the evening hours. Unfortunately for the Braves and their fans, the result was an unsatisfying one, as the Braves suffered a loss four hours after the first pitch by a 5-3 score to their division rivals. The big stories in this one were the amazing relief work put in by Jesse Biddle and the complete inability of the Atlanta bats to do anything against the Washington bullpen. With the loss, the Braves’ division lead falls back to half a game, and the top spot will once again be on the line tomorrow afternoon in the series finale.
The regulation portion of the featured mostly outs and some homers. Brandon McCarthy gave up a two-run homer to Michael Taylor in the second but otherwise kept the Nationals off the board. McCarthy retired the last eight men he faced and struck out seven while issuing zero walks and allowing just four hits.
The Braves, meanwhile, could not do anything against Gio Gonzalez for the first few innings. Gonzalez was perfect through four before allowing back-to-back singles to Nick Markakis and Tyler Flowers to start the fifth, both on the first pitch. He then fell behind 2-0 to Johan Camargo before grooving a changeup that Camargo slammed over the center field wall to give the Braves a three-run lead.
After the Braves failed to convert a Freddie Freeman two-out double into a fourth run, the Nationals struck back courtesy of (what else?) the longball, as Sam Freeman failed to complete his lefty reliever duties and gave up a homer to Juan Soto to lead off the seventh. The Braves managed just a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh but couldn’t untie the game. After that, the bullpens took over, with Gonzalez departing having allowed only the three runs and five total hits in seven frames, while punching out nine Atlanta batters.
Both bullpens were perfect in the eighth and ninth (Shane Carle and A.J. Minter for the Braves, Ryan Madson and Sammy Solis for the Nationals). The tenth was similar, with Peter Moylan and Brandon Kintzler matching perfect innings. Then, the game became the duel of middle relievers pressed into extended service. The Braves threw out Jesse Biddle; the Nationals countered with Justin Miller. Biddle had a phenomenal outing. Despite a hit by pitch and two walks, one intentional, Biddle struck out the side in the 11th. He got two more strikeouts and a harmless fly out in the 12th, working around a two-out single. He struck out the side in the 13th. Meanwhile, the Braves did nothing against Miller, striking out five times (including all three hitters in the 13th).
In the fateful 14th, the Braves used Miguel Socolovich to try to keep the game tied. That plan did not work out. It remains to be seen why Brian Snitker and the Braves did not opt to use two of their best relievers in Daniel Winkler and Arodys Vizcaino in this game — hopefully the Braves’ beat reporters pose this question to the team’s brass. In any case, Socolovich gave the Braves a very ineffective inning. He allowed a one-out single to pinch-hitter Max Scherzer, and after a Michael Taylor flyout, Wilmer Difo hit a rocket triple to right center to score the fourth Washington run. One pitch later, Spencer Kieboom hit a single to score Difo. After a walk, Socolovich retired Trea Turner to end the inning; Turner finished this game 0-for-7 with five strikeouts.
The Braves did nothing against Nationals closer Sean Doolittle in the bottom of the 14th, hitting three lazy fly balls to the outfield. The Washington bullpen threw seven perfect innings against Atlanta; in total, Washington retired the last 22 Atlanta hitters, as well as the first 12. As such, the Braves lost their longest game of the season while collecting just five hits and a stunning zero walks while striking out 16 times. That’ll put a damper on the ol’ offensive stat line for pretty much everyone. No Brave had multiple hits; both Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies went 0-for-6 at the top of Atlanta’s order. The Nationals didn’t fare much better offensively save for Juan Soto, who went 3-for-5 with the game-tying homer and two runs.
The Braves will try to win this series tomorrow, but they’ll have to hit better than they did in this one, or get some superior pitching from Anibal Sanchez against Jeremy Hellickson to do so.