What bullpen struggles? What questionable in-game management? What starting rotation uncertainty? What short-lived offensive doldrums? The Braves made all of these questions very, very moot on Sunday night, erupting offensively early and often for a triumphant, definitive 11-5 win over the Cleveland Indians. The party started with two Josh Donaldson homers in the game’s first two innings and didn’t really end until much, much later, as Max Fried threw up an array of zeroes and the rest of the lineup joined in on the run-scoring fun.
This was supposed to be an intriguing pitching matchup between two promising young arms, but Cleveland starter Shane Bieber failed to live up to that particular promise. The Braves assaulted Bieber for seven runs, which also reflects the number of Braves batters he was actually able to retire. Donaldson tagged him for two homers — the first came on a slider at the knees that was driven to right center; the second was a very high fastball that Donaldson tomahawked a seeming trillion feet into the Cleveland night. After giving up a ringing one-out double to Brian McCann in the third and then failing to retire Dansby Swanson on a hot smash that was ruled an error on third baseman Jose Ramirez, Tribe manager Terry Francona had to spend his 60th birthday sending Bieber to the showers and asking a procession of ineffective relievers to try and keep the score manageable (which they didn’t do). The Braves ended up scoring three more runs in the third after Bieber’s departure, and added singleton runs in the fourth, sixth, and seventh.
Meanwhile, Max Fried just went to work and did his thing. After the Braves took a 2-0 lead in the first (Donaldson’s first homer; a Nick Markakis RBI double down the right-field foul line that scored Freddie Freeman), Fried had kind of a weird first inning in which he got two quick outs but then issued three consecutive walks due to some questionable non-strike calls. But, he didn’t break, as he got another routine fly out from Jason Kipnis with the sacks packed to end the threat.
After that, it was basically all Atlanta. In the second, it was Donaldson’s three-run shot that made the score 5-0, scoring Matt Joyce (leadoff double) and Ozzie Albies (hit by pitch). In the third, Ender Inciarte doubled to left to score McCann (earlier double off the left-field wall in which he attempted to saunter into second and barely made it in ahead of the tag) and then Albies hit a two-run single of his own scoring Swanson (reach on hot smash error) and Inciarte. Those runs were yielded by new reliever Tyler Olson, who also played a part in Cleveland’s bullpen meltdown yesterday.
In the fourth, the Braves victimized Cody Anderson (also part of last night’s meltdown for the Indians), as Donaldson singled to lead off the frame, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a Freeman single. The Braves actually went three up, three down against Anderson in the fifth, but then got another run in the sixth. as Freeman doubled with one out, and then Cleveland LOOGY Oliver Perez could not retire either Markakis (infield single) or McCann (groundball single). Then, in the seventh, Freeman drove in his team’s eleventh and final run with a groundball single, punishing fresh bullpen meat Dan Otero for walking two in the inning.
The seventh was also when the Tribe finally got on the board. Up to that point, Max Fried had worked his way through Cleveland’s order three full times, allowing just five hits and striking out five batters. He had walked three to that point, but none since the first inning. With the huge lead, Fried just pretty much kept throwing strikes, and while the Indians managed to string together consecutive singles a couple of times, they never managed to convert them into runs. The fourth time through the order finally managed to find a chink in Fried’s armor. Francisco Lindor homered on a 3-1 pitch for his team’s first run, taking sequencing out of the equation. A grounder up the middle from the next batter spelled the end of Fried’s day. On came Jesse Biddle, who allowed a walk and a run-scoring soft pop into right field, but this was mostly just playing out the string at this point. Fried’s line ended with a 6/3 K/BB ratio and two runs allowed in 6 1⁄3 innings of work.
Josh Tomlin came on to face his former team for the eighth and ninth. He allowed a few runs (homer by Roberto Perez in the eighth, three singles in the ninth that led to two runs scoring due to a really oddball decision by Ender Inciarte to airmail a throw to nowhere for no obvious reason) but slammed the door nonetheless.
This game definitely featured some oddities despite the lopsided score. Cleveland catcher Kevin Plawecki tossed a 1-2-3 ninth for the Tribe. (Ozzie Albies hit right-handed against his 70 to 80 mph curveballs.) Plawecki was the only Cleveland “pitcher” with a perfect night. Roberto Perez, he of the 70 wRC+ and a 37 mark coming into this game, went 3-for-4 with a dinger, raising his season mark back up to 70. It was his first 3-hit game since 2017.
The Atlanta offense basically just went ham. They pounded out 16 hits. Every starter had at least one hit; more had multiple hits than one hit. Five hitters finished with an extra-base hit, more than didn’t collect one. Josh Donaldson recorded his first two-homer game since August 2017, and raised his wRC+ by 28 points up to 139. Gotta love April stats.
The Braves move above .500 once again and now sit just one game behind the Phillies (as do the Mets) for the division lead. They enjoy an off-day tomorrow before staying within the confines of the Buckeye State and kicking off a series with the Reds on Tuesday evening.