Just like that, it’s April. Since 2000, the Braves have played four games on April Fool’s Day, and have won each of them. None was a more emphatic victory than their 8-0 drubbing of the Cubs in their home opener for their first win of 2019. It wasn’t too long ago so you all probably remember, but the Braves were swept in their opening series last season. The Cubs came into town with a 1-2 record, and by the time they left, the Braves were back at .500, having pulled off a sweep. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — their rout of the North Siders was about as sorely needed as an April 1 game can be.
How it happened: To be perfectly honest, this game really came across as someone who controlled the Braves in their baseball video game, fed up with losing on whatever difficulty setting led to the season-opening sweep, setting the slider to “opposing team can’t really play baseball.” The Braves did some stuff, for sure, but the Cubs absolutely murdered themselves in this game.
The Braves had been outscored 23-11 by the Phillies, and only led for three innings (all consecutive, in the same game) during their first three games. They wasted no time getting on the board after Sean Newcomb worked a scoreless top of the first. Ender Inciarte was still leading off for the Braves at this point, and he popped up Kyle Hendricks’ second pitch of the season into foul territory. Left fielder Mark Zagunis overran the ball and dropped it... which meant that when Inciarte drilled Hendricks’ third pitch of the season into right center for a leadoff homer, it was (weirdly enough for a leadoff homer) an unearned run.
The inning only got sillier from there. With two on and one out, Nick Markakis hit a grounder to Anthony Rizzo at first. Rizzo threw to Javier Baez at short for the forceout, but Baez’ return throw was way, way wide of Rizzo. Not only did the Cubs fail to escape the inning with a double play, but the errant throw allowed a run to score. Next up was Ozzie Albies, and he hit a pop-up into shallow left. Zagunis, Baez, and center fielder Albert Almora Jr. all converged on the ball... but both outfielders stopped dead in their tracks and Baez couldn’t complete the over-the-shoulder catch. Another run scored, and Markakis made it over to third. That set up Brian McCann’s first home PA in Atlanta since 2013, and McCann blooped a flare into shallow center that scored both runners. In just one inning, the Braves (with the Cubs’ monumental help) increased their run total on the young season by nearly 50 percent.
Sean Newcomb was not very good in this game, but due to the very conciliatory AI that appeared to be driving the Cubs in this game, it didn’t matter. In the second, Newcomb issued a leadoff walk on five pitches, allowed a single, and then was very fortunate that Jason Heyward hit the first pitch he saw right back to him for a 1-6-3 double play. Newcomb then walked Hendricks, but caught Zagunis looking to escape the inning. The third was similarly messy, as Newcomb walked two and hurled a wild pitch, but got a groundout from David Bote to end the frame.
Ronald Acuña Jr. got in on the fun in the bottom of the third, bashing his first homer of the season on a very hanging Hendricks curveball. The Cubs were far from done kicking the ball around, as Anthony Rizzo bobbled and then lobbed away a slow roller from McCann for Chicago’s third and fourth errors of the game.
Newcomb’s day was done after he allowed a leadoff single to Rizzo in the fifth. He threw 91 pitches in four-plus innings of work. Wes Parsons came on in relief and immediately got a double play ball off Baez’ bat. Due to the insane arcanity of the “win” stat, Parsons was credited with a victory for pitching a single inning in a 5-0 game. It remains his only major league “win” to date.
In terms of Cubs shenanigans, the game was not over. In the fifth, Hendricks was still out there, laboring with the bases loaded and one out. Dansby Swanson hit a liner back up the middle that skidded off of Hendricks’ glove. It was fielded by Bote at second, whose momentum was carrying him into right field. Bote looked to first, but Swanson was basically at the bag by the time Bote fielded the ball. He then made the terrible decision to hop and fire across his body to second, but ended up spiking the ball. A run had already scored on the infield single, but Bote’s misplay allowed a second run to cross the plate. The Cubs then made another, more routine error in the sixth, this time committed at third base by Kris Bryant. That set up the final run of the game, as Ozzie Albies’ infield single up the middle made it 8-0 Braves.
Meanwhile, Braves’ pitching was being surprisingly effective against the hapless Cubs. Parsons, Jesse Biddle, Chad Sobotka, and Arodys Vizcaino combined for five innings of scoreless relief. Amazingly, these four players, who combined for an absurd 15.9 percent walk rate and -1.5 fWAR in 2019, managed to issue zero walks in five frames. They were helped by some serious Chicago futility: in the eighth, Sobotka ended his inning by getting a double-play ball off Heyward’s bat once again. (The play resulted in a minor kerfuffle when David Bote, Dansby Swanson, and Ozzie Albies exchanged words about Bote’s errant takeout slide.) Then, with Vizcaino pitching, the game ended when Zagunis made a boneheaded blunder by taking off from second base on a flare that was caught easily by Ozzie Albie, and was easily doubled off.
On the flip side, the universe appeared to be cheating for the Braves.
Just your standard 6-5-3 groundout in a game where the other team made six errors.
Game MVP: The Cubs’ own goal-ness all game, from the Braves’ perspective. And maybe Sean Newcomb for somehow allowing zero runs with a 3/4 K/BB ratio, which seems really hard to do.
Game LVP: The way the Cubs’ own goal-ness tortured Kyle Hendricks. If anyone has an easy to figure out how common six-error games are, let me know. Seems rare.
Biggest play: McCann’s two-run flare, I guess? A run-scoring ball in play that the Cubs didn’t botch was definitely the exception to the rule in this game.
The game, in context of the season: This game started a four-game winning streak for the Braves, and they won seven of eight (including this game) to get back on the horse in a big way. The Cubs started the season 1-6, but recovered to post a 15-12 record by the end of April.
In the end, though, probably the most notable thing about this matchup is that the Braves and Cubs ended up in very different places by the end of the year, but for a somewhat odd reason. The Braves outplayed their run differential by six games (second-most in the majors); the Cubs fell short of their run differential by six games (tied for biggest deficit in the majors). The Cubs’ Pythagorean expectation was 90-72, just one win behind the Braves at 91-71; the two teams actually finished 13 wins apart, with the Cubs missing the playoffs. Baseball can be cruel.
I want a recap: Since this is a recent game, this is doable!
I want a longer recap of every gory Cubs buffoon-fest in this game: Sure.
Anything else of note? Be advised that as the Braves didn’t have a game on the (original) schedule for April 2, 2020, this exercise will pick up on April 3.
Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 1: Kinda fitting for this game, The Wrigley Company was founded on this day in 1891. While best known for gum, the original idea for the Wrigley Company was to make baking powder, and throw in gum with baking powder purchases. However, the public liked the gum more than the baking powder, so the company just reoriented itself to selling gum instead.