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Braves can’t overcome ball-in-play misfortune, lose 3-1 to Nats

Another one of those games, bunched together early in the season

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Early on in the 2022 campaign, the Braves and their fans have been subjected to some real no-fun, frustrating games. This was another, as they fell 3-1 to the Nationals in a getaway day game at Truist Park. While we don’t have the full array of data live from Baseball Savant, fundamentally, the Braves had three walks and three hits in their offensive tries today, along with a .272 xBA. The Nationals had zero walks and five hits, and a .236 xBA. The Braves hit a homer; the Nationals didn’t. The Braves had three barrels (two of which went for outs); the Nationals had zero. The Braves had five of the game’s seven balls in play with a hit probability of over 70 percent, eight of the game’s 12 balls in play with an exit velocity over 100 mph, and they still lost. Such is life, but it doesn’t mean it was much fun to watch.

Max Fried struggled a bit in the first, and put his team in a hole from which they could not (thanks to the vagaries of balls in play) recover. A seeing-eye single and a Juan Soto single off the right-field wall put runners on the corners. After a strikeout, a weak grounder scored one run, and then apparent Braves killer Maikel Franco hit a first-pitch elevated fastball into center to make it a 2-0 game.

The Braves had a nice chance to respond against Josiah Gray as Ozzie Albies started the bottom of the first with a single, but he was thrown out trying to steal second in a regrettable tactical error, given that the big hitters in the lineup were coming up. Gray had little trouble after that — the Braves didn’t get another baserunner until Albies walked to lead off the fourth, and they didn’t get another hit until Gray was out of the game, when Austin Riley dingered off Kyle Finnegan with two outs in the sixth. That was all the plate-crossing action the Braves would get.

But it wasn’t all of the action they should have gotten. Alex Dickerson connected for a 400-foot barreled flyout to center in the third. Marcell Ozuna hit a 110.6 mph barreled liner to end the fourth. Gray actually walked two in the fourth, but Albies was erased on Matt Olson hitting a 104 mph, 60ish percent hit probability grounder right at a fielder for a double play, and Ozuna’s lineout came with Riley on first. Gray put two more on with a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the fifth, but ended his day with a strikeout of Manny Piña to keep the Braves at bay.

Sean Doolittle in the seventh and Steve Cishek in the eighth prevented any further Braves rallies. There seemed to be a chance that the tide had turned in the ninth, when with one out, Austin Riley reached on a single solely because of some defensive miscommunication among the Washington infield, but Ozuna followed that up by hitting a would-be ball four slider from Tanner Rainy into the ground for an easy game-ending double play.

On the pitching end, the Braves stifled Washington’s bats after the first, but to no avail. Fried pitched 5 13 with four strikeouts and zero walks. He left two singles after a Nelson Cruz comebacker hit him on the leg in the sixth; Collin McHugh gave up a sac fly to give the Nationals their third run. A.J. Minter (three strikeouts), Tyler Matzek (three weak balls in play), and Kenley Jansen rounded out the pitching slate for Atlanta, but that wasn’t where the problems were.

The problems were in the stuff the Braves couldn’t control, and they fall to 3-4 before heading out to San Diego. I can’t be 100 percent certain, but I’m guessing that when stats update, they will show that in the Braves’ four losses so far this year, they out-xwOBAed the opposing team in three of them. Fun stuff, except the opposite of that. Stay tuned, maybe this’ll reverse itself eventually and we’ll get more games like the 16-4 rout from Tuesday night.

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