If you make a list of “problems” the Braves have had this season (and past seasons), letting starters wither on the vine after their eighteenth batter is probably going to be up there. If you make an honest list of problems the Braves have had recently, an inability to convert balls in play into outs to support the pitching is definitely toward the top of the list. In the series finale in Pittsburgh, both befell the Braves, who fell by a 7-5 score despite jumping out to a 4-0 lead early.
Coming into the game, one thing to watch was whether Bryce Elder’s nightmarish run would continue. It sorta did, and sorta didn’t. The good news was that Elder didn’t allow any homers, and that he had a nice 5/2 K/BB ratio, which doesn’t seem overpowering but is a definite improvement over the meager punchout tallies and boatload of walks he’s issued in his bad stretch. The bad news is, well... after getting through the top of the Pirates lineup a third time through in the fifth in easy fashion, he allowed a single and then a deep double that Michael Harris II couldn’t flag down in left-center, putting the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. Joe Jimenez relieved Elder but couldn’t keep either runner from scoring, pushing the Braves into a deficit they wouldn’t overcome.
The first run of the game came courtesy of Ozzie Albies (single, steal) and Austin Riley (RBI single). The Braves got their second run of the game when Orlando Arcia led off the second with his 13th homer of the year, obliterating a Bailey Falter fastball that wasn’t high enough to be missed or fouled off. Matt Olson hit his 40th homer of the year off Falter in the third, a moonshot to straightaway center — it marks the first time since 2019 that the Braves have had a 40-homer campaign. Right after Olson’s dong, Travis d’Arnaud singled, and Marcell Ozuna gapped a double that scored the Braves’ catcher from first.
The Pirates, though, came right back against the Braves in the bottom of the third. After a one-out single, Elder barely clipped leadoff man Josh Palacios with a pitch that would’ve been a strike had it reached d’Arnaud’s mitt. A five-pitch walk loaded the bases, and KeBryan Hayes unloaded them with a two-run single to left on a good inside edge sinker. It’s worth noting that while slider location, one of Elder’s big challenges during his skid, was improved today, he used the sinker way too heavily early on, and paid the price a bit. Now up 4-2, the next play had plenty of drama: Kevin Pillar snagged a flyout in foul territory and left and fired home, but his throw went past the plate and forced d’Arnaud to dive back to try and tag out the runner coming home. The play was initially ruled out, which would’ve been a big boon for the Braves, but a long replay review overturned that, and the lead was down to a run.
That’s how it stayed until the sixth, when the Braves rolled the dice and paid the price, given the aforementioned single-double-single combo that tied the game. The Pirates took the lead on a weakly hit grounder that Riley opted to throw to first rather gambling on a tag play at the plate.
The Braves easily dispatched Falter, who only lasted four innings and gave up two homers in addition to two other runs, but then came Thomas Hatch, a guy just claimed on waivers and added to the roster in the last week. The Braves could do nothing with Hatch. d’Arnaud greeted him with a single but was erased on a double play, and they only got one more single off of him in a total of four innings of work. You could probably point to this as the reason the Braves lost this game, given that Hatch has zero career fWAR in 46 2⁄3 innings spanning parts of the last four seasons... but something that has to be noted here is that they actually rocketed the ball, and it just found gloves. Ronald Acuña Jr. ended the top of the sixth with a barreled out (because of course he did), Olson had a 102 mph liner not fall for a hit due to a leaping catch in right with a man on in a one-run game, and in the eighth, a nice play at short and a sliding catch in left took away two more potential singles.
The Pirates busted the game open a bit in the seventh by scoring two more off Brad Hand. After a leadoff single, Hayes hit a ball to right-center. Harris dove for it, but was nowhere near, and it ended up being an RBI triple. Hand actually retired the next two batters without letting Hayes score from third, but an RBI single from a righty made it a three-run deficit.
When Colin Holderman came in for the ninth, the Braves started off promisingly — Harris singled and stole second, and came home on an Acuña single. The tying run was now at the plate, and the Braves would have three cracks at it with Albies, Riley, and Olson. But, Albies struck out on an obvious ball four after putting up a fight, Riley just got straight bamboozled into a strikeout, and Olson also battled but took a called strike three on a cutter right across the top edge of the zone.
So it goes.
The Braves will now head to New York to play the Mets in a pretty anticlimactic five-game set. What was supposed to be a key summer showdown for the division is, well, just kind of sad. The Braves are now 5-4 in August and 12-12 in the season’s “second half,” but still have the league’s best record and will, at worst, have a 9.5-game division lead by the end of the day. They’ll see if they can figure out a way to avoid the usual suspects tripping them up in the Big Apple over the weekend. Stay tuned.