The Braves once again made outstanding use of the Gwinnett Stripers rotation today, pulling a great start from Bryce Elder and coming back from a run down in the ninth for a 3-1 win.

Elder capped off a weekend of cribbing the Gwinnett rotation for spot starts that seemed like a bit of a shaky proposition when they announced it but looks like a genius move now that it worked. The receipts line up as such: Kyle Muller – 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 73 pitches; Ian Anderson (who yes, is technically a AAA pitcher right now) – 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 101 pitches; and today’s start from Elder, the best of the bunch – 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 10 K, 104 pitches. And three wins in those three games. And now the A team is lined up for the Mets series: Strider on Monday, Morton Tuesday, Odirizzi Wednesday (YMMV on whether he’s a part of the A team) and TBD Thursday, which is clearly being held open for Fried if he’s completed his recovery by then.

Despite the fantastic start by Elder, it looked for a long while as though the Braves were going to manage to lose this game 1-0. The visitors had baserunners all over the place while Elder held the Marlins in check, but the Braves got nothing over the first eight innings and left 13 men on base. Meanwhile, the Marlins got a double and a single in the fourth and took a 1-0 lead into the final frame.

The Braves turned the game on its head in the ninth, though. Michael Harris tied the game on the first pitch he saw, launching a long ball over the left-center field wall. Dansby singled and Vaughn Grissom walked to put runners at first and second with nobody out. Austin Riley flew out and Dansby took off too early on a ball that hit the catcher’s foot rather than trickling to the backstop and got caught in a rundown, making it seem like Atlanta was not destined to take the lead in this inning. However, Matt Olson walked to put the go-ahead run back in scoring position and William Contreras followed with a slow-roller up the middle. Marlins second baseman John Berti was able to dive and get to it, but Grissom was rounding third and heading home by that time, and the throw to the plate was late…2-1 Atlanta. As JonathanF pointed out in the game thread, they had Matt Olson dead to rights at third base on this play if they’d been willing to concede the run. That turned out to be a potentially big deal as Olson scored an insurance run on a wild pitch.

Kenley Jansen picked up his third save in as many days (and in the last four games), meaning he’s probably out of commission for the opener against the Mets. Speaking of the Mets, the Braves will enter that four-game series 5 1/2 games back of New York, meaning if they manage to take three of four, they’ll have shrunk the deficit to a much more manageable 3 1/2 games. We’ve also gained some ground in the wild card race with these six straight wins, opening up a 7 1/2 game lead for the final playoff spot and a 5 1/2 game lead for the No. 1 wild card spot.

The Will Smith epitaph I promised but forgot about last week (and even if I’d remembered, I very well might have elected to postpone given last week’s bloodbath)

Seldom, possibly if ever, do I remember a guy who was more important to his team winning a championship who his team’s fans hated so much. Honestly, it was kind of an impressive thing to behold. The man did not allow a run in 11 innings of postseason baseball last year, compiling a WHIP under 1.00. If you go by cWPA, he and Matzek came close to sharing the most valuable reliever moniker in the Division Series (Matzek had a very slight edge), he and A.J. Minter shared second place in the LCS with only Matzek more valuable, and only Luke Jackson pipped him in the World Series (Smith was actually considerably more valuable than Matzek in that series). Do the Braves win the World Series last year without Will Smith? While he’s not up there in the Matzek/Jorge Soler/Eddie Rosario stratosphere on this question, he’s pretty high up there. After all, if he blows a save somewhere in there, that could mean a loss and a loss means that we’re in a winner-take-all game in one of these series (and that’s assuming everything else is the same).

So it was a point of some consternation to me that, virtually with the first baserunner he allowed this year, everybody immediately turned on him like all of that hadn’t happened. Look, was he good this year? No. Would I have pulled the trigger on the trade for Odirizzi in a “let’s try a swap of potential change-of-scenery guys?” Yes. But I do wish that there was a little more respect for this major pillar of our first World Series title in a generation. By all accounts, he was a good clubhouse guy as well…despite Rob’s protestations that he seemed like a douche (Hi Rob!).

So farewell, Will! You’re certainly welcome back for the reunions. And hopefully by then, folks will have forgotten how annoying it was to watch you during the regular season and just focus on one of the best postseasons by a relief pitcher in franchise history.