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Catcher woes sink Braves in 4-2 loss to Marlins

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Brian McCann got hurt. Tyler Flowers got hurt. The Miami catcher hit two homers. Yikes.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

The Braves lost 4-2 to the Marlins on Saturday night. That’s really the story, the artifact of the game that’ll be most-commonly referenced in box scores and standings in the future. The subtitle, though, should be something like, “All sorts of unfortunate stuff happens to cause the Braves to lose the game.” In the end, here are the things this game came down to:

  • The Braves allowed three homers, including two to Jorge Alfaro, Miami’s new catcher acquired as part of the return for J.T. Realmuto. The Braves, for their part, hit zero homers.
  • Brian McCann, the starting catcher tonight for Atlanta, suffered a leg injury running the bases. He seems likely to endure a stint on the Injured List.
  • That injury forced Tyler Flowers into the game. Flowers was then hit on the wrist during his first plate appearance. With the standard two-catcher cache on the roster, Flowers had to stay in the game like a champ, even though he was clearly not really able to function like normal.
  • All of this came to a head as the Braves loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth, down by two runs. The Marlins elected to walk Johan Camargo (who kills lefties, a tribe of whom Miami reliever Adam Conley, pitching at the time, is a member) to bring up the wrist-impaired Flowers. That forced manager Brian Snitker’s hand, as he yoinked Flowers from the game in favor of Charlie Culberson. Normally, Tyler Flowers kills left-handed pitchers too, but having suffered the wrist injury, the game was not left in his hands. Culberson then popped up on the first pitch he saw from Conley to end the game.

Overall, this game was mostly an exercise in frustration for the Braves after a certain point. It started off well, with Kyle Wright firing a 1-2-3 frame with two strikeouts in the top of the first, and the Braves scoring a run after Ender Inciarte drew a leadoff walk and Freddie Freeman doubled him home with one out. The Braves got a little stung as Ronald Acuña Jr. demolished a ball, but right at shortstop J.T. Riddle and Nick Markakis grounded out, but no matter, they had the lead.

Wright kept the Marlins off the board for a while. He allowed a single to Alfaro in the second, but still faced the minimum as Riddle softly lined a ball to short that was turned into a double play with Alfaro slow to get back to first. He issued a one-out walk in the third, but struck out the pitcher and then benefited from a bizarre play in which Curtis Granderson’s comebacker bounced off the mound and took a high hop to the right of second, where a shifted Dansby Swanson was able to corral the ball and throw it to first to end the inning. A tailor-made double play on a terrible 2-0 hanging slider off the bat of Starlin Castro with a runner on first kept Wright’s line scoreless through four.

The Braves wasted a good scoring chance in the bottom of the third, as they had three straight hitters reach with one out (single, walk, error by Riddle at short). But, Nick Markakis hit into his own tailor-made double play with the sacks packed to preclude extending the lead. Another scoring chance was converted in the fourth, however, as Camargo drew a leadoff walk, moved to third on McCann’s sharp grounder to right, and then scored when Swanson dunked a ball into left-center. That was pretty much the turning point in the game from “hey we’re beating the Marlins again” to “augh.”

Kyle Wright attempted to bunt the runners over, but McCann was forced at third base on the play, and injured his leg in the process. Inciarte then walked to load the bases, but Albies popped out and Freeman flew out to keep the game at a 2-0 score. Then, Wright faltered. A hanging 2-1 curveball to Alfaro was lashed out to right for Miami’s first run, a solo homer leading off the fifth. Three batters later, Peter O’Brien did the same thing to an elevated Wright fastball, and the game was tied.

Don Mattingly let Miami starter Sandy Alcantara (4 IP, 5 BB, 0 K, 2 R, an awful outing by any measure) hit for himself to end the top of the fifth, but then didn’t let him return. Tayron Guerrero took over and worked a scoreless frame despite a leadoff walk to Acuña and the hit-by-pitch that damaged Flowers’ wrist. Wright then managed to navigate the sixth despite a leadoff single, finishing his day with a 4/1 K/BB ratio but those two homers allowed. In the bottom of the sixth, the Curse of the Leadoff Double made its presence felt, as pinch-hitter Matt Joyce was stranded on second after smashing a ball from new reliever Nick Anderson into the left-center gap. The most baffling part of that disappointing sequence was Inciarte attempting to (for some reason?) bunt Joyce to third (and failing as he popped it out), despite his propensity to pull ground balls anyway. Anderson struck out both Albies and Acuña to end his inning of work.

Wes Parsons worked a scoreless top of the seventh, and the Braves were set down in order by Drew Steckenrider in the bottom half of the frame. Chad Sobotka then got the “better lucky than good” token for the day, as he issued a leadoff walk in the eighth, had the runner steal second, threw a ball away on ball four to a batter that put runners at the corners, but then got Neil Walker to ground into a double play on a 2-0 pitch to end the inning. Sergio Romo came on for the Atlanta portion of the eighth and got a 1-2-3 inning, though at some cost to himself, as his body was the target for pinch hitter Josh Donaldson’s 109 mph bullet back up the box. Romo was able to recover and throw out Donaldson, and then struck out Inciarte on four pitches to end the frame.

The fateful inning for Atlanta was the ninth. A.J. Minter was summoned from the bullpen despite two righties being due up, and did not fare well. Starlin Castro and Minter dueled for 11 pitches before Castro lined a single into left. Minter was able to get a 2-1 fastball on the outer edge by Alfaro for a foul tip once, but doubled down on it and Alfaro didn’t miss it, once again depositing it into the right field stands for a go-ahead two run homer. Minter was allowed to retire the next batter (a lefty), but then despite leverage being fairly low, was pulled to prevent him from facing any further righties. Luke Jackson made quick work of them, retiring both on just five pitches.

So, then came the bottom of the ninth. The Marlins and Mattingly played it by the book at first — Romo was allowed to face Albies to lead off the inning, but after Albies flew out, left-handed reliever Adam Conley was inserted to face Freeman. But, that didn’t work out super-well, as Freeman hit a comebacker that bounced off Conley and sputtered into left field. That brought up Acuña, who had a weird and frustrating plate appearance. He swung through a 97 mph fastball, took three balls, swung through another 97 mph fastball, fouled a pitch off, and then was frozen on an inside third fastball that he clearly was not hunting for. Markakis was the last hope for the Braves, but things got very interesting as he hit another grounder that was thrown a bit wide by Riddle and not corralled by Walker at first. Instead of ending the game, runners were now on second and third, representing the tying runs.

But, as you already know, things didn’t end well. With Camargo due up, the Marlins placed him on vacant first base, prompting the swap of Culberson for Flowers. The pop-up happened, the Braves fell to .500, and we’ll see what happens in the series finale tomorrow.

All the catching things loomed large in this game. Not just the obvious Alfaro homers and both Atlanta backstops getting hurt, but also the fact that Alfaro stole a number of strikes in the game, including a really blatant one in the bottom of the sixth that struck out Acuña to end the inning.

Brian McCann has been placed on the Injured List; Alex Jackson has been recalled to take his place. No word yet on Tyler Flowers’ status going forward. The box score for this game was ugly from the Braves’ perspective, as the Marlins had more homers than the Braves managed extra-base hits, the Braves lost despite an offensive 8/7 BB/K ratio and a pitching 3/7 BB/K ratio, and the Nick Markakis/Ronald Acuña duo went 0-for-9 with a walk and four strikeouts in the middle of the order.