The Braves still have the best record in MLB, as well as a number of personal and team records to play for, but at this point, they’re largely set to just play out the string and get ready for the postseason. As part of that preparation, the Braves tried a few pitching stratagems early and late in this game, and suffice to say, they didn’t work out. Bryce Elder tinkered with his pitch mix and sequencing in a way he probably wouldn’t in a game that mattered and got hit hard early, and the Braves let Brad Hand, well... hand the game to Miami in the seventh, as they lost 9-6.
This game really had three phases.
Phase 1: Bryce Elder tinkers. This was a very strange thing to watch. To date this season, Elder has thrown his four-seam fastball just 13 percent of the time, the same rate as his changeup. Yet, he was clearly just messing around with pitching approach in this game, at least early on. After giving up a leadoff homer to Luis Arraez on a middle-middle sinker, his pitch mix got really weird.
- After Arraez, he threw only four-seamers and one changeup to Josh Bell (strikeout).
- Jake Burger doubled on the sixth of six straight sliders.
- Jazz Chisholm Jr. also saw one changeup and struck out on three other four-seamers.
- Bryan de la Cruz singled home Burger on a middle-middle sinker.
- Jesus Sanchez hit a triple on the third of three straight sliders, all below the zone.
I won’t go through every plate appearance like this, especially since Elder started going to a weird slider-plus-four-seamer combination the second time through. But, in the end, this was Elder’s pitch mix for the game: 26 percent sliders, 25 percent four-seamers, 25 percent sinkers, 24 percent changeups. Suffice to say, he was not treating this like a normal outing, and I kind of wonder if results were ancillary to whatever he and the Braves were trying to achieve tonight.
In the end, Elder was charged with four runs in five frames, including a homer. The results were bad, but he had a 6/0 K/BB ratio, and whatever he was doing, it didn’t quite not work. It was just strange to see.
Phase 2: Well-Oiled Offensive Machine
The offense got off to a bit of a slow start. Ronald Acuña Jr. collected his 200th hit to start the game, but the Braves wasted a two-on, none out situation in the first. They then went 1-2-3 in the second, which was kind of lame given that they were facing Johnny Cueto.
But, they roared back afterwards. Michael Harris II hit a bomb to lead off the third, and Acuña followed with a single. After a groundout to first moved him to second, he scored with a picture-perfect slide on Austin Riley’s single to right. The Braves then proceeded to load the bases with a single and a hit-by-pitch, but both Eddie Rosario and Travis d’Arnaud made outs to keep it a 4-2 game in favor of Miami.
In the fourth, Acuña hit a deep sac fly to right to score Orlando Arcia, who had a leadoff double. Cueto left after four frames with another weak pitching effort, collecting just two strikeouts to his HBP and homer yielded. In the fifth, it was Riley’s turn to connect for a leadoff double, and Rosario’s turn to hit a sac fly, which tied the game against JT Chargois. In the sixth, with the very-demoted David Robertson on the hill for Miami, Arcia again hit a leadoff double, and Acuña later walked. Ozzie Albies then followed with a flare over the infield that ended up being a two-run single. Acuña was running on the pitch and scored standing up as the throw home was cut off (and off the mark).
Phase 3: Bad Hand. Pierce Johnson worked a 1-2-3 sixth despite a leadoff walk, but gave up Arraez’ second homer of the game to start the seventh. After getting two more outs, Johnson gave way to Hand, and then things really went south. Hand was really there to get out of the inning by retiring the lefty-batting Chisholm, but instead, he gave up a hard single that was only not an extra-base hit because of the cannon patrolling right field. Garrett Hampson (a righty batter, though part of the three-batter minimum) then connected for an RBI double to center. After an intentional walk to pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel, the Braves didn’t yank Hand, instead leaving him in to face the switch-hitting Xavier Edwards. Hand plunked him on the foot (the reverse Charlie Morton special) in a two-strike count, loading the bases. The Braves then let Hand stay in to face another righty batter, Jacob Stallings, and despite his 64 wRC+ with a xwOBA to match on the year, Stallings hit a bases-clearing double to cap the scoring at 9-6 in Miami’s favor.
The Braves may want to reconsider how they deploy Hand in the future, in light of this game. They couldn’t do much about Hampson tying the game given the current rules, but you probably don’t want to let Hand face any avoidable righties when the stakes are higher.
The only real notable thing that happened after the Marlins pulled ahead was Acuña leaving the game in the bottom of the eighth. He hit into an inning-ending double play to end the prior half-inning and seemed to lose his balance out of the box. Franco Garcia and the Braves’ trainer came out to right field before the bottom of the eighth commenced and took him out as a precaution with calf tightness. We’ll see what that means for his availability going forward.