The Atlanta Braves drop Game 1 of the NLDS with the St. Louis Cardinals. It a late-inning bullpen implosion and questionable managerial decisions that would lead to the Braves downfall that now sees the team in a 1-0 hold in the best-of-five series.
Everything started great for the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS. Dallas Keuchel retired the first five batters to start the game before Paul DeJong would reach with a single in the second inning. The Braves offense got the day started early by scoring a first-inning run off Miles Mikolas after he looked to have some nerves to start the game.
Both teams would settle in after the turbulent first inning, until the Cardinals offense woke up in the 5th inning by scoring their first run of the game from a well-produced team run, tying the game in the 5th at 1-1. Brian Snitker would go on to pull Keuchel in the 5th with two outs. This is when things started to get weird for the Braves.
Darren O’Day was brought and got the Braves out of the inning without any more damage done. With the game being tied at 1-1 in the 6th inning, Snitker opted to bring Shane Greene, normally the Braves 8th inning guy, on in the 6th. Greene would give a leadoff double to Marcell Ozuna but shut down the Cardinals after to get out of the inning.
The Braves would retake the lead during the bottom of the 6th after Josh Donaldson was hit by a pitch then Nick Markakis hit a double to get runners to 2nd and 3rd with one out. Adam Duvall, replacing Matt Joyce, would be intentionally walked. With two outs and the bases loaded, Dansby Swanson would reach on an infield single and a DeJong throwing error would bring home two runs. Going into the 7th, the Braves led 3-1.
Max Fried, the Game 4 starter, came on to pitch the 7th inning. Fried completely dominated the Cardinals, striking out two and getting one very slow groundball to end the inning. Fried looked very dialed in for his inning of work, however, he would not come back out for the 8th.
Before we get to the top of the 8th inning, when things started to implode for the Braves, there was a mini-controversy in the 7th. Ronald Acuna led off the inning with a deep fly ball to right that looked like it had a chance to leave the ballpark. Well, it didn’t, and Acuna didn’t sprint out of the box, only getting a single off the very deep fly ball. It was a terrible look for Acuna, who was pulled from a game in the regular season for the same thing. However, there are some Braves fans out there blaming this loss on Acuna’s lack of hustle. Acuna deserves blame, but there is a myriad of other things that went wrong for this Braves team down the stretch.
After Max Fried’s marvelous inning, Chris Martin was brought on to pitch the 8th. This is out of the ordinary for Martin, who normally pitches the 7th, but was called on in the 8th since Shane Greene came in for the 6th. Martin, a very capable pitcher, would exit the game before he ever faced a batter for an oblique issue in his right arm. Luke Jackson would come in to pitch the 8th.
Braves fans are accustomed to the up-and-down nature of Luke Jackson after dealing with him so much this season. Well, things got bad almost right away, when Paul Goldschmidt blasted a ball to the upper deck on Jackson’s second pitch of the game. Jackson would settle in, somewhat, retiring the next two batters. However, DeJong and Kolten Wong would get on base, forcing Snitker to replace Jackson with Mark Melancon to get the final four outs.
After Melancon was brought in the game, the Cardinals would make their countermove, bring Matt Carpenter, a left-handed batter, off the bench to face Melancon. After getting Carpenter to a full count, Melancon gave up a blop single that could not have been placed any better than it was. DeJong would score to tie the game and Wong would be thrown out by Adam Duvall to salvage the 3-3 tie going into the bottom of the 8th.
After the Braves rally fizzled out in the 8th, Melancon came back to pitch the 9th inning. Melancon would retire the first batter to get out one and get Dexter Fowler down 0-2 before Fowler reached on a single. Tommy Edman would single to reach and Goldschmidt would walk to load the bases. Ozuna reached with a double to score two runs, making the score 5-3.
After the big hit, Melancon walked Yadier Molina to get to DeJong. DeJong hit a double down the right-field line, scoring two more runs to make the score 7-3. Sean Newcomb was brought into the game to close the 9th, which he did with a strikeout.
The Braves would start a mini-rally in the bottom of the 9th when Billy Hamilton got walked to start the inning. Acuna blasted a two-run home run to make the score 7-5. Ozzie Ablies just missed a home run that went foul before grounding out to 3rd. Freddie Freeman was next up and he went deep to center to make the game 7-6. Josh Donaldson and Nick Markakis would come up short, killing the rally and ending the game.
A lot was going on in the second half of this game. A lot of fans wanted to blame Acuna or Luke Jackson or Brian Snitker, and all three deserve some blame. Acuna for not hustling. Jackson for not being able to hold a lead. Snitker for pulling Fried and using Greene too soon. There is a case for all of them.
However, for Brian Snitker, how could he have predicted what would happen to Chris Martin. If Martin would have been the guy pitching the 8th, things could have gone a lot different for the Braves. Was Luke the right choice in the situation? Probably not, but I’m not surprised Snitker stuck with him. That’s what Snitker has done the entire season. Josh Tomlin and Sean Newcomb for available, but Snitker chose Luke. That’s the move that likely cost the Braves this game.
With Chris Martin, likely, done for the series, Julio Teheran, Jerry Blevins, and Anthony Swarzak are all candidates to be called up. I would love to see Julio get called up for the veteran presence and in case anything gets weird in the next two games with the starters. However, with Julio’s walk numbers, I don’t see him slotting into the bullpen. The move I see coming is Jerry Blevins. He brings another lefty arm to the bullpen that is now somewhat depleted.
The Braves will have little time to focus on last night’s loss with Game 2 happening Friday at 4:37 p.m. Mike Foltynewicz will be facing off with Jack Flaherty, the ace of the Cardinals staff. The Braves will need a huge game from Folty and the offense to continue scoring to avoid the 0-2 hole going back to St. Louis. If the Braves go down 2-0, at home, this series could be over very quickly.