The Braves came into June with the league’s worst infield defense. On Friday night, despite an excellent pitching performance from Charlie Morton and not one, but two homers from the struggling Eddie Rosario, they couldn’t overcome some early defensive lapses en route to a 3-2 loss.
With the various mistakes the Braves made in this game, it’s perhaps surprising that they ended up losing by just a run, but that’s a testament to how well Charlie Morton pitched. To get that out of the way early, Morton was fantastic. Despite facing a tough, lefty-laden lineup, Morton went seven innings and posted a 9/2 K/BB ratio. He didn’t melt down the third time through, and while he nearly allowed a two-run homer to the sole batter he faced for a fourth time, that ball was caught on the warning track. Collin McHugh also had a nice, bounceback, scoreless eighth inning in relief of Morton.
But what the Braves and Morton couldn’t overcome were their own defensive issues, and the defensive aptitude the Diamondbacks showed tonight. Arizona scored twice in the first, plating two runners that reached on infield singles. The leadoff hit by Geraldo Perdomo was maybe a single all the way despite being weakly hit because of where shortstop Orlando Arcia was positioned, but the Braves bungled a bouncer by Corbin Carroll as it went off Matt Olson’s glove about halfway between first and second to put two on with one out. Morton got a weak fly ball for the second out, but then Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit a 50-50 liner down the left-field line to score both runners, and the Braves were in an early hole.
In the third, the Diamondbacks scored their third and final run by a combination of a rare Morton miscue and a much less rare defensive lapse. Morton issued a four-pitch, two-out walk to Carroll. Almost immediately afterwards, Christian Walker pulled a grounder down the third-base line.
Austin Riley is a pretty poor defensive third baseman, but over the last two seasons, he’s made improvements in going to his right. (Going to his left remains a consistent issue.) The Braves don’t position Riley poorly, in a vacuum — his estimated success rate is basically average, and he plays relatively deep and relatively shaded towards the line compared to other third basemen. Still, the fact that he’s a poor third baseman means the Braves consistently have a dilemma without good options: shove Riley even further towards the line to prevent doubles and accept that by doing so you hamstring his ability to get balls in the hole even further... or accept that you’re stopping doubles and nothing else.
With two outs, a runner on first, and a right-handed batter due up, the Braves didn’t plant Riley on the line. The grounder that Walker pulled ended up being an RBI double on a 50-50 grounder. So it goes.
Morton was pretty locked in after that, which kept the game close. Aside from Nick Ahmed, who collected a double and a walk against him later in the game, he yielded nothing else after that third run.
But, the Braves couldn’t hit enough to back him up. Eddie Rosario tried his best! Coming into this game with a woeful... everything... Rosario popped Merrill Kelly for a homer in the second, and then did so again in the seventh. Those were the two Atlanta runs. The Braves had other chances, too, but they bungled them horribly. Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the game with an infield single, but then was thrown out when he overslid the bag on a steal attempt. In the third, with the score 2-1, Matt Olson walked with two outs, and Riley obliterated a ball into the left-field corner. The Braves could’ve either sent Olson for a play at the plate or parked him at third, but inexplicably did neither, and Olson was tagged out before he got back to third base by the fielder that caught the throw in from left field.
The Braves’ next good scoring chance came in the ninth, against closer Miguel Castro, after the top of the order was bamboozled by Austin Adams in the eighth. Sean Murphy notched an infield single to start the inning, and was replaced by pinch-runner Sam Hilliard. Travis d’Arnaud then barreled a bad slider... but it didn’t quite have the juice to get across the finish line and give the Braves the lead. What’s worse, Gurriel made a nice jumping catch to turn what could’ve been an epic Braves moment into an out. Up next was Rosario, and he pulled off something akin to a hit-and-run: Hilliard broke for second as Rosario hit a ball to the left of the second-base bag. Hilliard belly-flopped in on the steal attempt, and then had to get up and scamper to third as the ball trickled into the outfield. Up next was Albies, and after going down 0-2, all he could do was lift a weak fly ball to left. The Braves could’ve challenged the issue with Hilliard, but didn’t do so, wary of Gurriel’s good arm. That meant Orlando Arcia was their last hope, and all Arcia could do was bounce back to Castro to end the game.
On the plus side, the Mets and Phillies also lost today, so there was no immediate damage done. Further, Rosario had a huge game in a season that was looking as bad as the one where he apparently couldn’t see for part of it, without the benefit of that excuse, Morton was awesome, and McHugh had a nice outing. Also, we were able to confirm that Sam Hilliard still exists. On the minus side, there don’t actually appear to be any easy fixes for the mess that is the Braves’ infield defense at the moment, and the Braves are all the way down to the eighth-best record in baseball. They also once again lost a game where they: A) hit at least one homer; B) didn’t allow the opponent to homer; and C) had all the barrels in the game, which is absolutely maddening. The Braves have allowed just one barrel, and hit 13 of them in their last four games, but are somehow 1-3 in those contests.
They’ll try to win a game tomorrow, hopefully without the interference of the baseball gods or their own infield defense, with Spencer Strider set to face Ryne Nelson.