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Walks capsize Braves in 6-4 loss to Phillies

The Braves outhomered the Phillies, but couldn’t overcome the walkathon their arms issued.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this game, the Braves were especially good at limiting walks. The pitching staff as a whole had the eighth-lowest walk rate in MLB, while the bullpen was second to only the Tigers in not issuing free passes. But, the thing with baseball games is that you’ll always see something unexpected, and this time, the unexpected thing was that the Braves walked a bunch of people and pretty much imploded as a result.

Just like the series opener, this was a back-and-forth affair. Jared Shuster navigated around a leadoff single and a wild pitch by getting three flyouts, while Taijuan Walker allowed a two-out single and nothing more. After Shuster stranded a two-out double in the second, the Braves blew a scoring chance. Marcell Ozuna, seemingly having reversed his ball-in-play curse, reached on a roller past short. Eddie Rosario then lifted a ball that hit high off the brick wall in right and popped past Nick Castellanos. Somehow, Ozuna didn’t score on the play even though the ball rolled all the way to where second baseman Bryson Stott had to field it, but the Braves had runners on second and third and no one out. But then! Ozzie Albies hit a grounder to first, and for some reason, Ozuna didn’t run home on contact, but also didn’t go back to third base, which make him easy pickings for one of the dumbest double plays you’ll ever see. Rosario also ended up stranded after a groundout.

After that bit of non-excitement, the Phillies progressed to the walk-cashing part of the game. Shuster started his second trip to the order by walking Stott, and then walking Trea Turner. He had a chance to get out of it after Bryce Harper flew out, but then Nick Castellanos also hit a wall-ball into right center, cashing in both free passes with what ended up being a triple because neither Michael Harris II nor Ronald Acuña Jr. put themselves into a position to field the carom (though the runners would’ve scored anyway with two outs on the play). Shuster escaped further damage with a strikeout.

The next couple of frames were quiet, and the Braves scratched a run back thanks to a Travis d’Arnaud double, Ozuna single, and Rosario sacrifice fly. Albies had a chance to tie the game, but grounded out again with Ozuna on second. After Shuster worked another perfect frame, the Braves roared back: Orlando Arcia notched an 0-2 leadoff single, and then Harris turned the game around with his second homer of the year into the left-center stands. The Braves looked like they might punish Walker more now that he had entered the third time through the order after Matt Olson drew a one-out walk, but Austin Riley hit into a double play to end the frame.

And then, more walk-cashing. Shuster issued a leadoff walk to Harper to start the sixth, but retired the next two batters, just barely missing a three-up, three-down innings because Castellanos beat out what could’ve been a 5-4-3 double play. With righties J.T. Realmuto and Alec Bohm due up, the Braves removed Shuster to prevent things from getting out of hand, but we live in a world where results only follow process in the general sense, and so, things got more out of hand. Joe Jimenez came in and walked Realmuto. Then he walked Bohm. Now he was facing a lefty even though he came on to face righties, and said lefty, Brandon Marsh, rolled a hard grounder through the left side and the near-shift the Braves were using, cashing in two more walks and giving the Phillies the lead again.

The Braves were only down by a run heading into the bottom of the sixth, but didn’t do anything, in part because Eddie Rosario got thrown out trying to take second to end the inning. (He replaced d’Arnaud, who had a leadoff single, after a forceout.)

Then came the top of the seventh, which felt like it lasted an entire game. The Braves are still not sure how to use Lucas Luetge, but if he has any more outings like tonight’s seventh inning, I doubt they’ll be using him much going forward at all. It took Luetge 42 pitches to get two outs, during which there were two singles, a double, a walk, and a sacrifice fly. By the time he was mercifully relieved by Collin McHugh, the inning wasn’t over, and the Phillies now led 6-3.

The Braves had a great chance with Walker inexplicably still pitching in the bottom of the seventh, but blew that too. Both Arcia and Harris singled to bring up Acuña for a fourth time, and the Phillies stuck with Walker. Acuña, in what was easily his worst offensive performance of the year, couldn’t even take advantage of “4TTO,” flying out weakly to right. The Phillies then lifted Walker for Matt Strahm, who got Olson to bounce out to end the inning.

McHugh threw a scoreless eighth, but also walked a guy in the process. That put the Braves’ bullpen tally to four walks contrasted with zero strikeouts. Jimenez somehow issued two walks in one game despite coming into this outing having walked just three batters all season. Ozuna homered off Strahm to make it 6-4, but the curtains were closing on the Braves. After Jesse Chavez pulled off the miraculous, a no-walk appearance in this game (though he didn’t strike anyone out, either), the Braves had one more chance — stop former Brave Craig Kimbrel from notching his 400th career save. They didn’t.

Harris gave them some brief hope by capping his night with a walk, giving him a 2-for-3 day where he reached base thrice in four trips. That made the game pretty exciting, as Acuña had a huge chance for atonement in a situation where he could’ve tied the game with one swing... but instead he grounded out (while smashing the ball, mind) for the third time to end the game. All three of his grounders were hard-hit and of the 50-50, you’re either standing right there or it’s a hit variety (ish), but he hit all three basically right at infielders.

And so, the Braves, with their stupid walk-filled game, somehow lost a contest where they outhomered the opposition 2-0, out-barreled them 3-2, and out-hard-hit them 14-10. It was only the second game this season where the Braves issued more walks to the opposition than they had strikeouts, and they tied a season high with their seven walks.

Jared Shuster pitched okay, but nothing like his last outing. You could either read his outing as “good, because he didn’t allow a homer,” or “horrifying because he allowed all those fly balls, yet fortunate because none were homers.” A 5/3 K/BB ratio doesn’t really play long-term, especially when paired with only a third of balls in play allowed being on the ground. But, the real issue here was the bullpen, which turned in essentially a season-worst performance. The team came into the game with 2.2 bullpen fWAR, an 87 FIP-, and a 90 xFIP-. They will leave it with 2.1 bullpen fWAR, an 88 FIP-, and a 93 xFIP-. For one game in May, that’s a pretty big swing. Probably the most confusing part of this game was Jesse Chavez coming into to throw a pretty worthless ninth inning, despite sitting in the bullpen as Joe Jimenez came on to reliever Shuster in the sixth. That sort of leverage had been Chavez’ charge up until, seemingly, this game, and if he was unavailable for whatever reason, you could dig it. But the change in the pecking order, such as it is, didn’t work out.

The series continues tomorrow with Zack Wheeler going against Charlie Morton, as the latter tries to exorcise the demons embodied by the Phillies’ left-handed bats, which tormented him late last season and essentially eliminated the Braves from the postseason.

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