After ending an offensively-challenged road trip with an outburst during Wednesday’s victory in Toronto, the Braves kept the run-scoring train rolling on Friday evening, toppling the White Sox by a 10-7 tally. They scored early, they scored late, and they prevailed despite some shaky late-inning relief work by Luke Jackson and Anthony Swarzak. With the Nationals earning themselves a walkoff victory (thanks for nothing, Marlins), the division lead remains at 5.5 games heading into the weekend.
After a quiet first inning, the Atlanta attack broke through in the second against Ivan Nova. Josh Donaldson worked a leadoff walk and advanced to second when Matt Joyce surprised everyone by dropping a bunt down the left-field line. Dansby Swanson then jumped all over a Nova fastball and mashed it into center field for a run-scoring single. After Rafael Ortega hit a deep drive to center for the first out, Tyler Flowers connected on a shoulder-level Nova cutter for a no-doubter into the left-field seats for his tenth home run of the season. Just like that, the Braves were up 4-0. They actually got two more singles in the inning (Max Fried, Ozzie Albies), but could not tack on further runs in the frame.
The third inning seemed like it was going to be another productive hitting arrangement, but it was not to be. The Braves loaded the bases with none out (walk, single, hit by pitch by Donaldson, Joyce, and Swanson, respectively). But, Ortega popped out on the first pitch, and Flowers hit into a 5-3 double play to end the inning. No worries, though: the Braves went right back to scoring in the fourth, as Albies and Freddie Freeman hit back-to-back doubles to make it a five-to-nothing game. Ivan Nova only lasted four innings, and had himself a dreadful outing after a pretty good run of success coming into the game. Nova allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks, including a homer... without striking out a single batter. It was his worst start since May 17, and his first start since August 2011 in which he failed to notch a strikeout.
You’ve probably noticed that you’ve just read three paragraphs with no mention of Atlanta’s pitching performance over the first part of the game. This is the paragraph for that. Max Fried, well, he was dealing. Fried retired the first 13 batters he faced, with very little trouble. Eight of those 13 went down on strikes. Only one of the other five hit a ball in a way that resulted in a hit probability above 50 percent... and it was just 51 percent... and went for a groundout anyway. But then, in the fifth inning, the dealing kind of stopped. The first crack was laughable — Eloy Jimenez hit a soft grounder down the line that broke up the perfect game and no-hitter in one go. Fried then missed with four straight to James McCann, and added a walk to his line for the night. After recording his ninth strikeout of the game by victimizing Yolmer Sanchez, Fried lost the shutout when Adam Engel singled to right, scoring Jimenez and making it a 5-1 game. Pinch-hitter Ryan Cordell then grounded out to third to end the threat.
The White Sox got a bit of a reprieve on the pitching end, as reliever Jace Fry tossed a 1-2-3 frame. Fried then bounced back a bit in his own right, throwing a scoreless frame with two more strikeouts, stranding a Jose Abreu single in the process. In the bottom of the sixth, the Braves tacked on a sixth run, as Flowers doubled off Fry and scored on a two-out single by Albies off new reliever Kelvin Herrera.
The seventh, then, is when things got momentarily dicey. Fried returned to the mound and did not retire a batter in the frame. Jimenez started the inning with a single — he was inches away from being retired on a foul down the right-field line that narrowly avoided Joyce’s glove, which collided with fans reaching for the ball. He then hit James McCann with a pitch, connecting with a hopping McCann’s back foot, weirdly enough. That brought up Sanchez, who hit a hard grounder right to Freeman that somehow evaded his glove. Jimenez scored from second, and what could have been a double play instead chased Fried. On came Luke Jackson, and after he struck out Adam Engel, it looked like the Braves might be able to keep the lead at four runs. They could not. Facing pinch-hitter Welington Castillo, Jackson got ahead 1-2 but then threw a meaty, letter-high, horizontally-centered fastball, and the result was basically the same as the high cutter Nova threw Flowers: a three-run homer deposited into left field. But hey, the Braves still had a one-run lead. Jackson struck out the next two batters to keep it that way, ending his day with three strikeouts and a homer allowed (Manfred’s baaaneeee).
Max Fried once again ended up on the annoying side of the peripherals-ERA battle. He entered the game with an ERA 0.24 higher than his FIP and 0.57 (!) higher than his xFIP; he ends the night with those two marks transforming to 0.40 and 0.70, respectively. That’s what happens when you toss six innings with an 11/1 K/BB ratio and a 75 percent grounder rate, yet still get three earned runs charged to you thanks to someone else giving up a homer. Max Fried: so much better than his run prevention outcomes suggest.
The one-run lead wouldn’t stay that narrow for long. Aaron Bummer came on for the Pale Hose and was indeed a bummer for them: he walked Donaldson, he walked Joyce, he nearly gave up a run on a hard liner to center by Swanson, and after Ortega popped out, he also walked Flowers. Yikes. (And also, Manfred’s baaaneeee.) The walk from Flowers featured a maybe-questionable-but-honestly-not-that-questionable ball three call that agitated Chicago skipper Rick Renteria; Renteria was ejected during a mound visit to remove Bummer from the game. Evan Marshall came on to face Luke Jackson’s spot in the order, which was filled by Adeiny Hechavarria in a pinch. Two pitches later, it was un-filled, as Hechavarria singled up the middle to score two runs.
After Jackson’s unfortunate seventh, Shane Greene turned the tables in the top of the eighth with his three-run cushion, throwing a breezy 1-2-3 frame with just eight pitches (fly out, groundout, groundout). Alex Colome came on for the bottom of the inning and fared as poorly as the other White Sox pitchers on the night. The first three hitters all reached (Albies double, Freeman single and two-base error on a misplay in left field, Donaldson walk), making it 9-5 Braves. The Braves then got a tenth run during a very odd sequence in which Charlie Culberson (pinch-hitting for Greene after an odd double-switch brought up the pitcher’s spot in the order sooner than normal) flew out, Josh Donaldson was caught in a run down and tagged out, but Abreu (the tagger) fell down, allowing Freeman to scamper home and score ahead of a bad throw.
Anthony Swarzak was asked to close out the five-run (again) game, but this too was not to be. Swarzak issued a one-out walk to McCann and then two two-out singles, the latter scoring two runs. Out went Swarzak, and in came Mark Melancon. Seven pitches later, Melancon struck out Tim Anderson on a curve in the dirt to end the game. In a bit of very baseball-ing baseball, both Atlanta relievers that shored up a terrible bullpen during the middle of the season faltered tonight, while last month’s relief acquisitions slammed the door.
With the victory, the Braves have guaranteed themselves a winning season in 2019. This game had a bunch of weird stat-lines. Tyler Flowers had his best game since his two-homer effort in April against the Rockies and his first multi-extra-base hit game of August. Josh Donaldson went 0-for-1 with four walks, only the second four-walk game of his career (the first came less than a year ago, on September 26, 2018... also against the White Sox). Ozzie Albies went 4-for-5 with two doubles, his fourth four-hit game of the season... with all four of those games coming in August.
The series continues tomorrow, as Dallas Keuchel takes on Reynaldo Lopez. Lopez, like Nova, has been much better recently as opposed to earlier in the season, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Braves can flip his script as well.