As has been the case on many Sundays this year (trust me, Iâ€™ve had to write recaps for all of them), the Braves dropped the final game of their weekend series with the defending American League champion Houston Astros. The visitors won 5-4 at Truist Park this afternoon. That and the fact that the Phillies let the Mets come back and win combined to make it a not-great day, dropping the Braves four games back of first place in the NL East. For the record, they remain 9 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee, whoâ€™s currently the last team out of the playoffs, and 7 1/2 games up on San Diego for the top wild card spot, so they appear to be all but safely in the playoffs (FiveThirtyEight has them at greater than 99% to make them) and very likely to host a wild card series if it they donâ€™t win the division.
As for today, Matt Olson got things started well enough with a two-run homer in the first inning off of Houston starter Jose Urquidy. That was all the home side would get until the ninth though.
Charlie Morton racked up the strikeouts for the Braves, collecting 11 in 97 pitches over six innings. He allowed five hits and two walks, but three of the hits and one of the walks came in the third inning. A bases-loaded, two-run single by Yordan Alvarez (who it was nice to see back out there after Friday nightâ€™s health scare) tied the game at 2-2.
Frankly the bullpen usage today kind of screamed, â€œWell, weâ€™ve won the first two games of this seriesâ€¦I think we can safely rest our best guys today and see how it goes.â€ Tyler Matzek got through the seventh inning in 14 pitches, and it might have been worth running him back out there for the start of the eighth. Alas, it was the overworked Dylan Lee instead and Dylan didnâ€™t have it today. He recorded only one out and allowed two runs (only of them was earned, as Guillermo Heredia compounded the problems by kicking a ball in right field on Kyle Tuckerâ€™s RBI single). A sac fly extended the Houston lead to 4-2 before Jackson Stephens came in to get the Braves out of the inning. Stephens then allowed a run in the ninth, as well, which turned out to be big when the Braves scored two in the bottom half of the frame to make it a one-run game again.
The unwillingness to use the best relievers in close games where the Braves are behind does continue to be frustrating, though again, it seemed that today it was more a matter of all the good relievers being down. I did see some talk in the game thread wondering how Snitkerâ€™s bullpen management seemed so good in the playoffs when heâ€™s unwilling to use his best relievers in a game where the Braves are losing. The answer is that he does use those relievers when weâ€™re behind in the playoffs. At least he does so more often than he does in the regular season. Itâ€™s an obviously valid criticism of Brian Snitkerâ€™s regular season bullpen management, though, especially when you had Kenley Jansen pointlessly pitching with a four-run lead in the ninth on Friday. I said this earlier in the week, but to act like a four-run lead needs the all-hands-on-deck treatment while a one or two run deficit is time to throw out the B team and hope for the best makes no sense.
Regardless, it remained a good week. The Braves went 5-2 on this homestand, which featured a division showdown and a World Series rematch, and lopped a game-and-a-half off their deficit in the NL East. They go on a six-game NL Central road swing this coming week: three in Pittsburgh and three in St. Louis with an off day on Thursday.