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Scuffling bullpen sinks Braves in 6-5 loss to Reds

Finishing a maddening homestand on a (very) low note.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For more than three and a half innings on Wednesday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves scuffled and appeared to be on the way to a highly disappointing series loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. Then, the floodgates opened with two outs in the fourth inning and all signs pointed to a victory that would make Thursday’s off day a lot more pleasurable. However, the wheels came flying off the wagon in the seventh inning and the end result was a 6-5 loss to end a maddening homestand.

In short order, the fireworks began in the series finale, with Reds star Joey Votto ejected only three batters into the game for arguing balls and strikes. However, Cincinnati was in control early based on an RBI single from Billy Hamilton in the second inning and a lead-off home run by old friend Jose Peraza in the third.

At the same time, Atlanta’s bats were silent to a deafening degree. Despite the struggles of Luis Castillo entering the day (5.70 ERA), the Braves were unable to gain early traction, making 11 consecutive outs to open the day. The dam finally broke in the fourth inning, though, and it held off until there were already two outs.

Freddie Freeman was the first hitter to reach base, drawing a walk, and he was followed by a single off the bat of Nick Markakis. From there, the run-scoring barrage began, with four straight RBI singles off the bats of Kurt Suzuki, Charlie Culberson, Johan Camargo and Dansby Swanson. The run also featured a questionable call at the plate (not reviewed) when Kurt Suzuki seemed to be out by a wide margin before a creative slide and, in the end, the Braves emerged from the inning with a 4-2 lead.

The top of the fifth frame was not as kind, as Peraza (following his home run earlier) engineered a rally with a triple and was later brought to the plate to slash the lead to one. Atlanta did respond, however, as Ender Inciarte and Danny Santana reached base and, eventually, Culberson plated a run with the benefit of a defensive miscue from the Reds to give the Braves a 5-3 lead with four innings to play.

Though he certainly wasn’t flawless on this afternoon, Sean Newcomb finished the sixth inning (on his 111th pitch) with the Braves holding the two-run lead and he performed triage after earlier damage. All told, the left-hander scattered seven hits (with two walks) while allowing three runs and, even without his best stuff, Newcomb produced six strikeouts.

From there, the lead was in the hands of the bullpen with nine outs to secure and things (immediately) got very dicey in the seventh. Sam Freeman allowed a lead-off walk and, after a two-out single to place a second runner on base, Scooter Gennett produced an RBI single that sent Freeman to the bench and Dan Winkler into the festivities with the margin slashed to 5-4.

Winkler then was greeted by a two-run single from Adam Duvall and, in an instant, a two-run advantage became a 6-5 deficit. After a harmless, 1-2-3 offensive side of the inning, Winkler did manage to stop the bleeding in the top of the eighth, but the burden was then on the offense to close the gap.

The eighth inning did not provide any positive momentum, with a lead-off single from Suzuki quickly erased with a double play from Culberson. Camargo then grounded out to end the frame, leaving only three outs to work with in the attempted comeback.

A.J. Minter held the Reds at bay in the top of the ninth, keeping the margin at 6-5 as the bottom half of the inning arrived. The bats were not able to approximate a threat, though, and a 1-2-3 inning completed the defeat.

The Braves will have a day off for travel on Thursday before beginning a three-game set on the road against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday evening. Stay tuned.

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