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Braves Flashback/Recap: April 17

A not very fun swan song

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Towards the beginning of this series, we focused on back-to-back games played between the 2018 Braves and Phillies: first came Nick Markakis walking off with his first ever game-ending homer on Opening Day, and then came a disappointing 11-inning loss courtesy of Shane Carle and a very bad Peter Bourjos slide. The Braves would obliterate the Phillies 15-2 in the rubber game of that season-opening series, and then beat them in their next meeting by a 2-1 score. That put both teams at 9-6 heading into their April 17 game, which ended up being another very close contest between the two teams. Unfortunately, though, the Braves faltered late once again.

How it happened: The pitching matchup for this game was a rematch of the March 30, 11-inning loss: Mike Foltynewicz went for the Braves, and Nick Pivetta for the Phillies. On March 30, Foltynewicz had the better outing, but the Phillies got the better relief work. In this game... kinda the same thing happened, though both starters fared better.

After Foltynewicz started the game with a very modern inning (two strikeouts, one walk, a wild pitch, a fly ball out), the Braves struck first (and for the only time) against Pivetta. Ender Inciarte sliced a ball through the infield, and moved to second when Pivetta hit Freeman with a pitch with one out. Nick Markakis then hit a grounder to third resulting in a forceout at second but no double play due to a bobble, moving Inciarte to third. That set up a Preston Tucker groundball single through an infield shift that had second baseman Cesar Hernandez playing in the shallow grass, easily scoring Inciarte. A wild pitch then put two in scoring position for Dansby Swanson, but he hit a lineout right at the right fielder to end the inning.

The Phillies didn’t help themselves in the second: despite a leadoff walk followed by a single and then a strikeout, Pivetta swung away on a 2-0 count and hit into a double play. However, that didn’t end up mattering too much, as they would tie the game in the third on a one-out single-walk-single sequence, with Odubel Herrera driving in the tying run past a lunging Ozzie Albies. An unbearded Foltynewicz seemed to be in trouble, but got Rhys Hoskins to pull a low-and-outside pitch to Johan Camargo at third base, and a nifty, close double play ended the inning.

The starters’ outings were otherwise quiet. The Braves collected a few hits, but nothing big or timely; Pivetta finished with five innings (requiring 98 pitches, but that’s 2018 baseball for you), five hits, one run, zero walks, and two strikeouts. He nearly gave up the lead on his last batter, as Freddie Freeman rocketed a ball to deep center, but it stopped short of the wall and was brought down by a leaping Herrera. Foltynewicz got another double play (three total behind him in six innings) and finished with a flourish, striking out the side. His final line was one run in six innings, with four hits, four walks, and eight strikeouts. It was his longest start of 2018 to that point, and arguably his best until he really popped off in late May and June.

The bullpens, too, did their jobs and mostly held the tie. Hoby Milner was the first guy out for the Phillies, and unlike Opening Day, where his premature outing gave up the homer to Freddie Freeman, he got two lefties out and gave way to Yacksel Rios, who retired Dansby Swanson. Peter Moylan and Sam Freeman basically did the same thing for the Braves in the next frame, though Moylan gave up a single and Freeman yielded a walk before getting Scott Kingery to hit into a double play. Rios started the bottom of the seventh, but was chased after allowing a single to Carlos Perez (Carlos Perez!) and then walking Peter Bourjos. On came southpaw Adam Morgan, who got a groundout from Inciarte and then let lefty-murdering Albies lace a ball, but unfortunately right at the left fielder. Sam Freeman gave up a leadoff walk in the eighth, but that also didn’t yield anything later, and Dan Winkler came on with two outs to strike out Rhys Hoskins.

The Braves had a great chance to take the lead in the eighth, but it didn’t happen. Markakis drew a one-out walk against Morgan, and after Luis Garcia replaced Morgan with two outs, Dansby Swanson rolled a single. After a wild pitch, Gabe Kapler pushed the managing button and elected to intentionally walk Ryan Flaherty (wtf?) to bring up Carlos Perez, but the Braves countered by pinch-hitting Kurt Suzuki. The Phillies were vindicated, as Suzuki hit a routine groundout to short.

In the ninth, nominal closers Arodys Vizcaino and Hector Neris traded scoreless frames that included a walk each. Both hurlers ended their innings with swinging strikeouts. Which brought us to the tenth...

So, the facts don’t entirely fit the evidence in this case, but I always think of Jose Ramirez as kind of the contention signpost for the Braves, at least in retrospect. (No, not that Jose Ramirez, the reliever one.) During the 2015-2016 offseason, the Braves acquired Ramirez for a player to be named later (Ryne Harper, in the end). He spent a chunk of 2016 in Atlanta’s bullpen, being a generally cromulent modern reliever (lots of strikeouts, lots of walks) with some good luck (86 ERA-) and some mediocre-to-scary peripherals (98 FIP-, 122 xFIP-). In 2017, the Braves had (I guess) no reason not to carry him again, and he logged a career-high 62 frames with Atlanta. His run prevention turned out better (73 ERA-) but the rest was scarier or unchanged (114 FIP-, 116 xFIP-). Part of the reason it was hard to think of the 2018 Braves as a contender (even though they very much were, and pretty quickly, too) is because they did stuff like carry Jose Ramirez on their roster to start the season, and use him. In that first Foltynewicz-Pivetta matchup on March 30, Ramirez made his season debut and allowed a go-ahead run (but not the ultimate extra-inning game-winning run, that was Shane Carle). Ramirez then got three low-leverage situations before pitching in a tied, extra-inning game where he miraculously went 1-2-3 with no walks. He then had a super-meltdown during the played-in-a-typhoon game against the Cubs, coming in during low leverage and retiring just one of the six batters he faced. Which again, brings us to the tenth inning of this game...

The first thing Ramirez did, in this tied extra-inning game, was walk Scott Kingery on four pitches. After Kingery stole second, Cesar Hernandez reached on a bunt, as Johan Camargo made an uncharacteristically weak throw down to first. Kingery made it down to third as the go-ahead run. For a second, Ramirez looked like he might abscond with the tie just yet — he struck out Carlos Santana and then got Herrera to pop out to Camargo in foul territory. But, nope, no dice. With Hoskins at the plate, a 2-2 pitch that was supposed to be low and away ended up letter-high and over the plate, and Hoskins unloaded, hitting a high liner that looped over the head of Nick Markakis in right and landed at the base of the wall. Two runs scored, but Ramirez and the Phillies weren’t done. After another walk, this time on five pitches to Aaron Altherr, Ramirez let Maikel Franco muscle a 2-2 pitch out to deep left center. Inciarte almost made the play but coudn’t quite come up with it on a slide, and two more runs scored. Only after an intentional walk did Ramirez end the inning by striking out pinch-hitter Ben Lively, another pitcher batting in place of Hector Neris. Ramirez had let the Phillies bat around and score four runs in the tenth, with three walks (one intentional).

Drew Hutchison, who threw two scoreless frames in the March 30 game, came out to close down the game and had no issues doing so. All the Braves got was a two-out single from Swanson before Flaherty grounded out to end the game.

Game MVP: Cesar Hernandez, who went 2-for-3 with two walks. Hernandez scored the tying run, set up Hoskins’ go-ahead double with his effective bunt-and-speed combination, and the only out he made was as the first batter of the game.

Game LVP: Jose Ramirez. It was Ramirez’ second consecutive meltdown, his second consecutive game allowing four or more runs, and second consecutive game with a WPA of -.48 or worse. (That’s basically an entire victory blown in and of itself.) It’s hard to say whether the Braves learned their lesson or not, as Ramirez went on the shelf with a shoulder issue shortly thereafter. He never appeared in another game, making just one rehab appearance later in the year, before getting outrighted to the minors at season’s end. Ramirez rejected the assignment and became a free agent — he did not pitch with another team in 2019 and it’s unclear whether he will resume play in affiliated baseball at any point in the future. Ramirez finished his Braves tenure with a 99 ERA-, 111 FIP-, 122 xFIP-, negative WPA, and -0.3 fWAR with the Braves in 101 innings across three seasons. He posted -0.97 WPA in just seven total appearances in 2018.

Biggest play: The Hoskins double. Oof.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves and Phillies would keep up their dance of close games for much of the year. The Braves won their first three series against Philadelphia and lost the next one — the two teams then didn’t meet at all between late May and late September. On May 23, when the Braves and Phillies met for the last time until September, the Braves had a half-game lead in the NL East over the Phillies. Coming into September 20, the Braves had a 5.5 game lead with 10 games to play — and we all know what happened — the Braves swept the Phillies in four games, clinching the division and then beating them with a hangover lineup to seal the sweep. The Phillies went 8-20 in September to finish below .500 at 80-82, after leading the division as late as August 11.

Video: You got it. Here’s a recap:

And here’s a real recap:

Anything else? This game reminded me that Carlos Santana played for the Phillies in 2018, and moreover, that he smashed some TVs in the clubhouse because he was upset that his teammates were playing Fortnite (what the hell is Fortnite and why do people play it, I’m so old) while the team was skidding. This amuses me to no end, because Santana is now Cleveland’s representative in the 30-player MLB: The Show tournament-season-whatever-thing where Luke Jackson is the Braves’ representative. What a weird turnaround.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 17: The safe splashdown date of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970.

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