Nearly all season long, the bullpen has been the not-so-secret weapon of the Atlanta Braves. It came up huge on Sunday night in the season’s most critical game, as a cadre of Atlanta relievers fired 4 2⁄3 innings of scoreless ball, delivering unto Atlanta a home sweep of the Mets and a very good chance that they’ll secure the first-round playoff bye.
The bats, too, played a key role in this one. Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson both homered, each doing so for the third time (and in the third game) of the series. Travis d’Arnaud had the game’s pivotal at-bat, rolling a grounder up the middle with the bases loaded to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead. The scoring mostly settled down afterwards, and the game finished at a snappy pace with an Atlanta victory.
Unlike the other two games of this series, the Braves actually got on the board first against Chris Bassitt, as Dansby Swanson didn’t wait around for a later plate appearance before leaving the building:
That homer came a frame after Charlie Morton stifled a two-out rally by striking out Eduardo Escobar on four straight curveballs. Morton was nowhere near as fortunate in the second or much of the rest of the game, though: Daniel Vogelbach got a 2-0 cutter to lead off the top of the next half-inning and smashed it into right-center to tie the game. Morton later allowed a couple of singles, but ground Francisco Lindor down into a strikeout for the third out.
After a leadoff walk went nowhere against Bassitt in the bottom of the second, the Braves stuck with Morton despite a tough inning. For the second straight frame, a left-handed batter (Morton’s kryptonite this year) popped off on Morton, this time in the form of Jeff McNeil. The next two batters both singled, and alarm bells were likely going off somewhere... but not in the Braves’ dugout. Vogelbach was back up, but Morton was left in the game to allow a weak roller that got past Matt Olson but probably shouldn’t have. That put runners at the corners and made it a 3-1 Mets lead. Morton escaped further damage with a popout, a strikeout, and then a groundout, but the Braves had their work cut out for them.
Fortunately, they’ve been very good at completing their work this series, and Chris Bassitt was struggling even worse than Morton. Orlando Arcia and Ronald Acuña Jr. started the rally with an opposite-field grounder single and an eight-pitch walk, respectively. Swanson then barreled yet another ball off Bassitt, but this one died in center, allowing both runners to move up. Bassitt then plunked Austin Riley, and his command continued to deteriorate, as he then walked Olson to force in a run. Up came Travis d’Arnaud, who hung tough for seven pitches despite starting 0-2, before garnering the good fortune of a weak grounder nowhere near any Mets infielders, that turned the game around:
That was it for Bassitt, and for the rally, as Trevor May came on and got Marcell Ozuna to pop out.
Despite facing the lineup a third time for the fourth, Morton raised some eyebrows and then eased some bile ducts by having a 1-2-3 frame. The Braves also went down in order against May. After Morton allowed a one-out single to Escobar in the fifth, though, the Braves decided that at that point enough was enough, lifting him before facing Vogelbach a third time. Morton finished the game with 4 1⁄3 innings, a 5/1 K/BB ratio, and two more longballs allowed. It wasn’t a good start, but it was plenty good enough tonight.
After Morton departed, well, the vaunted and apparently dauntless Atlanta bullpen went to work. Dylan Lee was first out of the chute and easily got two outs, and then two more in the top of the sixth. When he walked Brandon Nimmo with two outs, he was lifted for Collin McHugh, who struck out Lindor on three pitches to send the game onwards.
Seth Lugo had come in and worked a scoreless fifth, but Matt Olson greeted him with another dinger in the sixth:
That actually capped the scoring, though we didn’t know it at the time. After that, it was all Braves bullpen, all the way. Raisel Iglesias, working a third game in a row, allowed a leadoff single to McNeil but nothing else. A.J Minter also allowed a leadoff single in the eighth, but erased it on a double play ball to end the inning. Kenley Jansen, another three-day-in-a-row-er, had a soul-cleansingly easy ninth inning, needing just seven pitches to end the game. Nimmo grounded out to Swanson at short, Lindor hit a weak bouncer to Olson at first, and McNeil hit a hard liner, but right to Acuña, who caught it on the track and emphatically pumped his fist to underscore the Braves’ domination of the Mets in this series.
With a two-game lead in the division and the head-to-head tiebreaker in tow, the Braves will clinch the NL East and a first-round bye with either one win, or a Mets loss to the Nationals. This swarthy crew will head on down to Miami for their final three games, where they’ll look to put an exclamation point on an amazing season before hopefully enjoying some well-deserved rest.
This was a phenomenal game in a phenomenal series in a phenomenal season. This team, put simply, is awesome.