You know, arcades? Where you used to have to put quarters into the machines to keep your Street Fighter II Turbo streak going? Yeah, those things. I bring them up because what the Braves and Reds did today was only nominally baseball — the combination of a re-juiced baseball, two lineups mashing the ball, the teeny-tiny confines of Great American Ball Park, and some truly awful pitching, and that’s the stew that was served on Friday night.
To be honest, I am at a loss about how to recap this game. I can’t really describe the entirety of the goings-on. It would be too long, as the 21-run affair took over three hours, featured 12 different pitchers, and had runs scored in seven of its nine innings. If you missed this one, pull up the box score on Gameday and follow along, watching the highlights. Better yet, watch a video recap or MLB.com’s Condensed Game. This was an experience.
In the end, the Braves lost — they hit three solo homers off former Brave Lucas Sims in the eighth to pull within a run, but ran out of comeback magic. It’s hard to be miffed, because they hit five total homers and scored ten runs and lost due to the usual bugbear: a laconic attitude towards pitcher replacement. Plus, the Reds are fun, Elly de la Cruz hit for the cycle across his first four plate appearances, the Braves can afford to lose a game here and there at this point, and expecting order from chaos is just a bridge too far.
So, due to me not even knowing where to start, much less to end, let’s just mention some stuff that happened in this time.
The Braves blew a 5-0 lead. They jumped all over Luke Weaver in the first, with Travis d’Arnaud barreling a three-run homer with two outs, and adding a couple of more runs on balls in play before and after the dinger. But, the Reds came back with three homers of their own to tie it up — two two-run homers, and a solo shot by Joey Votto.
AJ Smith-Shawver got rattled and never really recovered. After being handed a five-run lead, Smith-Shawver looked great in the first. Jake Fraley’s two-run homer in the second came on an elevated fastball that was likely not a strike, and Smith-Shawver foundered afterwards. Go look at the pitch plots before the homer, and after. Before, he was executing a plan; after, his pitches were just all over the place. The second two-run homer came off the bat of de la Cruz on a first-pitch hanging curve; Smith-Shawver walked two batters across the two frames between the two homers. A Joey Votto homer on a full count tied the game. In the end, the start was nightmarish for the 20-year-old — two walks and a hit-by-pitch, three homers, just four strikeouts, and a 10 percent grounder rate. I was more surprised that he managed to get ten outs, including seven after Fraley’s homer, than him struggling in the first place. Giving up a dinger on a pitch a guy shouldn’t even be able to reach... that’s a tough lesson to learn in your third-ever start.
Collin McHugh’s awful season continues. McHugh was great for the Braves last year, but has been both injured and ineffective this season. After having a really tough season through May, he finally reeled off a nice run in June, but it was back to disaster for him tonight. McHugh came on to bail out Smith-Shawver from further damage and ended the fourth without further incident, but then hit two consecutive batters to start the fifth (the Braves had taken a two-run lead in the top of the inning, by the way), gave up a broken-bat RBI single, and then a game-changing three-run homer to Votto.
Perhaps the only really frustrating part of this game was that McHugh arguably had de la Cruz struck out.
After the homer, McHugh was lifted for Ben Heller, who was was even more horrendous. Heller faced eight batters, walked three of them, and only retired three.
Elly de la Cruz hit for the cycle. He doubled ahead of Fraley’s homer off Smith-Shawver in the second, hit a two-run homer off Smith-Shawver in the third, singled off McHugh in the PA shown in the image above in the fourth, and then tripled off Heller in the fifth. He was also thrown out trying to steal home when Kirby Yates threw to first on a pickoff, as Matt Olson’s throw home was in plenty of time.
Cheap and non-cheap homers galore. There were nine homers hit in this game. Only five were barreled. The Braves had five homers, the Reds had four; three of the Braves’ five were barreled compared to two of the Reds’ four. Both Votto and Olson hit two homers each; both of Votto’s were the Reds’ two barreled homers, while only one of Olson’s was barreled.
The difference in this game was kinda the free passes. The Braves issued a combination of nine walks and hit-by-pitches. The Reds walked just three Braves. If not for Smith-Shawver, McHugh, and Heller putting a bunch of Reds on, they might have coasted to a win, even with the Reds running some kind of psychotic +.100-or-more xBA overperformance in this game.
Or the difference was letting Smith-Shawver, McHugh, and Heller pitch so long. But really, it’s hard to fault the Braves too much here, because Jared Shuster is pitching tomorrow. And if you want to see some real bonkers arcade baseball, tune in for that game, because Shuster already pitches like the hand of some celestial being is destined to gently shove fly balls towards the infield, and guess what? There are no gods in the Great American Ball Park.
But hey, Kirby Yates was randomly super-good in this game somehow. So the Braves have that going for them, which is nice.
The Braves hit three homers in one inning and still lost. Ronad Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, and Olson all took Lucas Sims deep in the eighth, to make for a potentially-exciting ninth. But even after Alexis Diaz issued a one-out walk to Eddie Rosario in the ninth, Orlando Arcia hit into a double play to end the game.
Anyway, tune in tomorrow for Arcade Ball 2: Jared Shuster Tries to Pitch in This Funhouse Ballpark. That game is at 4:10 pm ET. Don’t forget to search the couch cushion for extra quarters.