After three close, often back-and-forth affairs with the Phillies, the Braves made sure that Sunday night’s series finale was devoid of any such intrigue by busting out with a seven-run first inning. When all was said and done, they rolled to an 11-4 win, thanks to two homers from Matt Olson, four hits from Ronald Acuña Jr., and plenty of strikeouts from Spencer Strider.
This game was really kind of over after the first inning, because it was pretty much the apotheosis of awesome first innings. Facing journeyman Dylan Covey, whom the Phillies grabbed off waivers from the Dodgers earlier this year, the Braves went right to work. Acuña singled on Covey’s first pitch; Olson crushed a middle-middle cutter a few pitches later to give the Braves a 2-0 lead. Two pitches later, it was a hanging sweeper and Austin Riley’s turn to feast, as the big boy from Mississippi smashed it into center to give the Braves back-to-back jacks and a 3-0 lead. But the Braves weren’t anywhere close to done. Sean Murphy singled, and then traded places with Marcell Ozuna after a forceout. Eddie Rosario then knocked a double high off the bricks in right, and Ozzie Albies hit a grounder to plate both him and Ozuna. Orlando Arcia followed by hitting a ball through (literally, pretty much straight through) Trea Turner, and was able to take second because the ball was then bobbled by Kyle Schwarber in left, a rare two-error play. Albies ended up being thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Michael Harris II, and that was the end of the line for Covey. The Phillies brought in Jeff Hoffman rather than let Covey see a tenth batter, but it didn’t really help. Harris stole second on Hoffman’s first pitch, and then Acuña notched his second single of the inning, scoring two more. The inning only ended when Acuña was thrown out trying to steal second. Three outs in, the Braves led 7-0.
Things didn’t really change much after that. The Braves didn’t score any more off Hoffman, but threatened by putting two on against him with two outs in the fourth, which prompted a pitching switch to Yunior Marte. Harris flew out to end that frame, and Marte escaped a different, bases-loaded jam in the fifth when Rosario flew out to center. But, the Braves extended their lead off Connor Brogdom in the fifth, as Harris reached on a two-out bloop single and then scored on a rarity, a triple hit down the line in left, courtesy of the blistering bat and dynamic legs of Acuña. Olson followed that triple with his second homer of the night, and the Braves had a ten-spot.
The Phillies randomly burned Matt Strahm for an inning in the seventh and kept the Braves off the board there, but Andrew Vasquez presided over an eleventh Atlanta run in the eighth, as he hit Harris with a pitch, wild pitched him to second, and eventually saw Austin Riley single up the middle. Vasquez returned to pitch a scoreless eighth, but suffice to say, the damage was done long before he showed up.
On the pitching side of things, Spencer Strider started slowly, but ramped up in the middle innings, a pattern we’ve seen play out a few times this season. Strider didn’t collect his first punchout until his sixth batter of the game, giving up flyouts to each of the previous five batters. Fly “outs” doesn’t quite do one of them justice, though, as it was this incredible feat of defensive acumen by Harris:
Strider’s third started with a leadoff walk (bad) and then a two-run homer by Brandon Marsh (worse). After a strikeout, there was a weird play where Bryson Stott hit a ground-rule double on a flare to left, that Rosario made zero effort to actually chase down, apparently misjudging where the ball would land. It didn’t matter, though, as two more flyouts ended the frame.
The fourth, though, saw the return of the Strider we’ve come to expect, perhaps unfairly, on every pitch, as he struck out three in a row. The fifth featured a groundout and then two strikeouts, and the sixth had another two strikeouts, sandwiching a flyout. The end result wasn’t the greatest Strider start ever — his third-worst start by xFIP this year — but it didn’t actually need to be great, because the bats had already commenced their pounding of Philadelphia pitching.
After Strider’s six innings, the Braves first gave the ball to Collin McHugh. To be honest, McHugh has been pretty awful this year. Whether that’s due to the pitch clock, some kind of lingering injury (remember that he was shelved with injury earlier this year), or just baseball’s version of karma after the oft-injured McHugh had a great, and healthy, relief season last year, it’s both unfortunate and happening, and his miserable season persisted tonight, as he allowed a walk and a homer, as well as two other hits, in just one inning of work. You could say, “Oh no, he lobbed it in there with an eight-run lead, the horror!” but the reality is that McHugh once again struggled with command and missing bats. It was the third straight outing for him in which he didn’t record a strikeout, and he has now failed to do so in seven of 15 appearances this year. His xFIP after this one is up to 5.94.
Following McHugh, it was time for Dereck Rodriguez to make his Braves debut, and it went fine. Rodriguez’ first frame was a 1-2-3 on three balls in play; his second frame had a walk, a strikeout, and a double, but in the end, Marsh flew out to left to end the game.
With the win, the Braves extend their lead to 5.5 games over the Mets, and seven games over the Phillies. But, surprisingly, their division lead is just 4.5 games at the moment, because of the Marlins. Go figure.
The Braves will now head out to play a set in Oakland that will wrap up May, before swerving to Phoenix.