The Braves have had a lot of bad baseball this year, but the fifth inning of Friday night’s loss against the Dodgers might be the single worst frame of the 2021 season for them so far. They entered that frame with a one-run lead, and by the time it was mercifully over, they trailed 8-1. The inning had everything that goes in to make a particularly noxious stew of awful baseball: defensive lapses, relievers, relievers who can’t find the zone, relievers who walk in runs, and some absolutely self-lobotomy-inducing tactical decisions. What I’m saying is that we all had a fun Friday night, right?
The game actually started on a pretty happy note, though! Ian Anderson faced the minimum in the first thanks to a double play (that erased an error by Austin Riley playing the rover position in right field on a grounder), and Freddie Freeman jumped all over a 1-2 fastball from Julio Urias to crank a 423-foot homer over the wall in center field, giving his team a 1-0 lead. The Braves threatened further with a single and a walk, but Ehire Adrianza hit a liner right at Cody Bellinger in center to end the inning.
Anderson struck out the side in the second, and also retired the side in order in the third. He walked two in the fourth, but another double play, plus a victorious, 11-pitch battle in which he finally struck out Bellinger kept the Dodgers off the board. The Braves couldn’t scratch anything else across off Urias, either, though they got a baserunner in each of the second, third, and fourth innings.
So, we come to the fifth. It started with Will Smith (the one on the Dodgers) scalding a ball that was fortunately hit right at Ronald Acuña Jr. for the first out. Anderson’s control and command had really faded by this point (see the two walks in the fourth), and he issued a five-pitch free pass to Chris Taylor. Gavin Lux followed with the Dodgers’ first hit, a roped double into right that put men on second and third with one out. And then, things melted way, way down.
With a base open and the pitcher’s spot due up next, the Braves still elected to have Anderson pitch to A.J. Pollock, which is reasonably defensible in and of itself. Less defensible was Austin Riley’s decision on Pollock’s swinging bunt chopper to A) throw home at all and B) actually throw the ball into Taylor’s back. This was then compounded by Anderson underhanding Urias’ bunt to home plate late, meaning that the Braves had given up both the lead and the tie on back-to-back balls that traveled a combined 50 feet or so, while failing to record an out on either. Oh, but we weren’t done yet. Far from it.
Anderson’s day was done before he could face the Los Angeles order for a third time on the night. Credit where credit is due, this was a good decision. However, asking southpaw Sean Newcomb to face three consecutive righties in a one-run game, with plenty of right-handed options available in the bullpen... not so much. (Albert Pujols replaced Max Muncy at first base after the latter exited due to ankle pain.) Newcomb did retire the first batter he faced, getting a flyout from Mookie Betts. But then he walked Pujols. And then he walked Justin Turner with the bases loaded. And then he walked Cody Bellinger with the bases still loaded. There were two more righties due up, but the Braves elected to have yet another lefty pitch to them, as Grant Dayton relieved Newcomb. Dayton didn’t walk in a run, but he gave up an RBI single to Smith and then a bases-clearing double to Taylor. Then he walked someone.
Anyway, that was pretty much the ballgame. Later in the game, Edgar Santana came out and pitched two scoreless innings, which just really renders the whole “no our bullpen lefties must face all these righties” thing baffling. The Braves had a small rally in the eighth against Mitch White, as an Ender Inciarte single and Acuña walk came to roost on an Ozzie Albies double. Later, after Riley singled, Adrianza hit a shallow pop to left that fell in when neither of the three Dodgers converging on it were able to snag it, scoring both Albies and Riley. But, William Contreras grounded out to end the frame.
Tyler Matzek, who also was not used in the fifth, gave up a little-league home run to Mookie Betts across multiple pitches, as a double and two wild pitches allowed Betts to score LA’s ninth run. Kenley Jansen came on with a four-run lead and had command issues early, walking both Abraham Almonte and Ender Inciarte to start the frame. But, the Braves never even managed to bring the tying run to the plate: Acuña popped out on a down-the-pipe cutter, Freeman swung through a down-the-pipe sinker, and Albies could only fly out to Bellinger on a down-the-pipe cutter as well.
Seriously, a prize to whoever can explain the reasoning in having Newcomb and Dayton face all those righties in the fifth in a way that actually makes sense. My one hope is that what the Braves take away from this game is that they should probably throw to the base with the more certain out more often, because the alternative has worked out just terribly for them this season.