Second verse, same as the first, apparently: the Braves picked up right where they left off in their first game following the All-Star Break, crushing the White Sox by a final 9-0 tally. In what was pretty much a reprise of their summer surge, they scored four in the first and cruised from there for their 61st win of the season.
After Charlie Morton threw a 1-2-3 first, the bats made Michael Kopech’s return from the Injured List a miserable one. Kopech, who had struggled for a few starts before being shut down with shoulder concerns in mid-June, was clearly never right in this game, missing again and again with his fastball. A tight zone didn’t help matters, but neither did the merciless Braves assault. Two walks sandwiching a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with one out, and then Matt Olson just went full sadist, cheating enough on a fastball in a spot where Kopech had consistently missed to the first three batters. The result was an absolute moonshot, Olson’s 30th, and a 4-0 lead for the Braves before they even made an out.
Kopech never righted the ship. He issued two more walks across the next four batters; one of his two outs recorded in this game was a 330-foot flyout. Eight batters in, he joined Eury Perez and Dylan Covey as the other two pitchers to not make it out of the first against the Braves this year.
Old friend Touki Toussaint replaced Kopech and promptly issued a walk of his own, but then got out of the inning as Ronald Acuña Jr.’s soft flare to right found a glove. Toussaint then proceeded to do something we’ve seen him manage before in a Braves uniform — an effective pseudo-start in long relief. Toussaint went 5 1⁄3 innings with four walks and four strikeouts, though two of the walks came because the White Sox ran him past his 18th batter, which is also when the Braves scored their fifth run on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ozzie Albies. For those first 18 batters, Toussaint pitched pretty well, and the Braves’ only barrel of the game was Olson’s first-inning slam.
The Braves didn’t even need a slam in this one, though. Charlie Morton finished with a 4/1 K/BB ratio in seven scoreless innings, though that mark is more reflective of the fact that the White Sox were mostly content to hit weak, off-balance grounders for much of the evening than a lack of strikeout stuff. The White Sox didn’t have a batted ball with a hit probability above 18 percent in the first three innings; two solid singles in innings four and five were each erased on tailor-made double plays immediately afterwards. Jake Burger barreled a ball off Morton to start the sixth, but it died on the warning track in right-center. Morton had a chance to face the minimum through seven, but after a donut hole flare in the seventh with one out, Luis Robert Jr. hit a grounder and busted it down the line enough that Albies couldn’t manage to convert the 4-3 double play. Alas, Morton ended up facing one over the minimum.
Ben Heller and just-recalled Lucas Luetge finished up the shutout; the game ended on the Braves’ fourth double play of the game, as the White Sox sent just 29 men to the plate despite five hits and a walk.
The Braves made the game even more of a laugher late. Already with a 5-0 lead in the seventh, they tagged Bryan Shaw for four runs thanks to a one-out walk, three straight singles, and later, an Ozzie Albies double that knocked in two. The White Sox had to actually remove Shaw before he completed the inning, which is pretty brutal given that they had essentially zero win probability at the time but still had to summon another pitcher from the bullpen.
On the Braves’ end, every starter reached base, as they collected nine walks and a couple of plunked batters to go with their eight hits. Acuña stole his 42nd base of the season, and Harris had a perfect day by going 2-for-2 with two free passes, one of three Braves to collect multiple walks on the night.
The series continues tomorrow as the White Sox will try to get more out of Lance Lynn than they manage out of Kopech tonight.