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Braves can’t battle back despite two homers, drop finale to Nats 6-4

Sean Newcomb had a rough start and allowed two homers, and the Braves failed to rally sufficiently to avoid dropping the series.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves

Sean Newcomb had a rough start, and the Braves couldn’t muster enough offense to tie the game, falling by a 6-4 score to the Nationals on Sunday afternoon. With the defeat, the Braves dropped their final series against Washington, but still hold the season series advantage at 10 games to nine. With the Phillies losing to the Marlins, the Braves trim another game off their magic number, which now stands at eight.

This game did not start off well for the Braves (and it didn’t end too well) either. Newcomb retired the first batter he faced, but Trea Turner singled with one out back up the box, and then Bryce Harper unloaded on a belt-high fastball on the outer third, getting full extension and slamming the ball over the center-field boards to give Washington a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately, the bleeding didn’t stop there. Everyone’s least-favorite Braves bugbear reared its head right after, as Newcomb walked Anthony Rendon. The next batter then singled, and with runners on the corner, Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson couldn’t relay Ryan Zimmerman’s soft roller back to first quickly enough to turn a double play and stop the third Nationals run from scoring. Newcomb allowed yet another single in the inning, but finally retired the inning’s eighth batter.

The Braves, meanwhile, could not deal Tanner Roark a fourth bad start in four tries. Roark allowed just a Freddie Freeman single through his first two innings, and saw his lead extend further when Anthony Rendon floated a fly ball that stayed inside the right-field foul pole for a not-well-hit-but-still-counts two-run homer. Atlanta attempted to rally with a Dansby Swanson leadoff single and a Rio Ruiz pinch-hit walk in the third, but three straight outs snuffed that out without any positive results. Sean Newcomb finished his outing with five runs allowed in three innings to go with six hits, two walks, and three strikeouts.

Kyle Wright took over for the Braves in the fourth and had an adventurous inning. He scattered two walks and a single (including a leadoff four-pitch walk to Roark), but got a pop-out and a fly out to escape a bases-loaded jam with no damage. The Braves scored in the bottom of the inning, as Ender Inciarte drew a two-out walk and Tyler Flowers homered on a low liner to left field to put the Braves on the board and make it a three-run game.

Wright and Roark exchanged 1-2-3 scoreless frames in the fifth, and Shane Carle threw another in the top of the sixth. The Braves had another unsuccessful rally that pushed Roark out of the game, as Nick Markakis hit a one-out double and moved to third on a Charlie Culberson single. Unfortunately, the Nats played matchups effectively, bringing in southpaw Tim Collins to retire Ender Inciarte swinging on three pitches, and righty Wander Suero for Tyler Flowers’ spot in the lineup. Flowers was pulled in favor of pinch-hitter Lucas Duda, but the platoon advantage was not enough, as Duda also struck out to end the sixth with the Braves still down by three.

Shane Carle once again threw a 1-2-3 frame in the seventh (thanks to a double play), and the Braves squandered a leadoff infield single by Swanson in the bottom of the inning. Chad Sobotka threw a scoreless top of the eighth, and the Braves pulled to within one, as Nick Markakis singled off southpaw Matt Grace, and Charlie Culberson did his usual bit, drilling a 2-0 pitch from new pitcher Greg Holland into a right-center for a wall-scraping two-run homer. Ender Inciarte also ripped his offering from Holland, but it was snagged by Zimmerman at first, and the Braves would not get any more.

In the top of the ninth, Brad Brach came out and got the first two outs, but then allowed a single to Harper and another to Rendon. He was not replaced with the lefty-hitting Juan Soto coming to the plate, and Soto singled to drive in Harper to cap the scoring. In some ways, it didn’t matter because the Braves went down in order against Sean Doolittle in the bottom of the inning, but it was still a disappointing instance of another blown opportunity to match up handedness in high leverage, especially given that the Nats had no difficulty doing it earlier in the game. Ronald Acuña Jr. struck out swinging on three pitches to end the game, concluding a miserable day for him in which he previously went 0-for-4 with four high pop-ups. All for pop-ups came on high fastballs (though two were not quite as high as they could have been, and one was a cutter), and he struck out on a fastball above the zone. It remains to be seen whether this reflects a new approach by the opposition that Acuña will need to adjust to as the season moves towards its conclusion.

Roark finished the day with two runs allowed in five and a third to go with two walks and three strikeouts. Rendon, Harper, and Soto combined for seven hits and drove in all of the Nats’ runs but one.

The Braves continue their quest for the postseason tomorrow, as the Cardinals come to town for a matchup of playoff hopefuls.

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