I don’t know if anyone’s making “Braves 2022 loss” bingo cards, but if they did, I’m not sure “bonafide bullpen implosion” was something worth marking. At least not until tonight, as the Atlanta relief corps yielded seven runs in the game’s final three innings to the San Diego Padres, turning a one-time 6-4 advantage into a disappointing 11-6 defeat.
Look, this is a tough recap to write, because the game morphed on itself in the nearly four hours it took to come to a conclusion. It started out the way many games do: with barreled outs and some backbreaking soft contact by the Braves’ opponents. But then, after a gift defensive miscue and the departure of Yu Darvish, Dansby Swanson trucked a mammoth three-run homer into center to turn a frustrating 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 advantage. It was the Braves’ second homer of the night, and the Braves were, very briefly, looking like they powered up and could yoink out another come-from-behind win.
But, it was not to be. Will Smith came on for the seventh, and within four batters, had given the Padres that three-run homer right back, courtesy of Ha-Seong Kim. The Braves put the tying run on base in the bottom of the inning, and then both the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the bottom of the eighth, but it was not to be, as Austin Riley flew out to seal the Braves’ last best chance of another comeback. In the ninth, Spencer Strider (who threw a scoreless eight) and Darren O’Day combined to give up another four runs, putting the game pretty much out of reach.
There was a bunch of stuff earlier on, too, but you can look at a box score or grab the highlights if you’re desperate, yeah? The Padres scored their first run off Max Fried in the third via single-double-barreled sac fly; the Braves got it right back as William Contreras took Darvish deep. In the fifth, the Padres went ahead with a two-out rally that went single-double-intentional walk-single — the frustrating part was that the double was a sub-70 mph bloop that came close to kissing the foul line’s chalk, and Eric Hosmer’s tiebreaking single was below 80 mph and is an inning-ending grounder/liner as often as it reaches the outfield. Swanson got one of those runs back with an RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, and the Braves had a chance to tie it as Travis Demeritte followed with a single of his own, but Matt Olson struck out on three pitches and Riley flew out to end the inning.
It was a game of some big performances for the Braves — Swanson went 2-for-4 with the three-run shot and another run driven in, Travis Demeritte had a perfect 3-for-3 with two walks day out of the leadoff spot, and each of Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall, and William Contreras also collected two hits apiece. But overcoming bullpen implosions is hard, and Austin Riley’s 0-for-5 gave him a WPA of worse than -.270 for the game. Every Braves pitcher ended up with negative WPA, too, which is kind of the story here, because otherwise, Swanson could have delivered a very neat victory to his team on the back of his .470ish WPA.
The Padres got three hits apiece from Hosmer, Wil Myers (who homered off Fried for San Diego’s fourth run in the sixth), and Kim (who had the big blow three-run shot off Smith). The Braves will try for a win tomorrow night. If not a win, maybe they’ll at least lose in some non-novel way. Maybe someone really should make those bingo cards.
(Also a bunch of stuff about both managers ignoring the times through the order penalty, ignoring reliever handedness, I can’t tell whether this game involved both juiced and un-juiced balls given that some barrels died en route to the outfield and others didn’t — in other words, the Braves baseball fare we’ve all come to expect. Except the bullpen meltdown. That was new, at least for 2022.)