Here’s what I saw in last night’s game:
Jared Shuster had another strong start. He held the Phils scoreless in the first two innings, largely because he was pounding the strike zone: 28 pitches with 23 strikes. no walks and one K.
In the third Jared had a mini episode. After striking out Harrison on a full count, he walked Bryson Stott on four pitches. Stott’s OPS this year is .737, which is better than his career OPS of .679. Putting this guy on with Trea Turner and Bryce Harper coming up was not a good move. He walked Turner on 3-2 pitch, and went to 3-1 on Harper before retiring him on a weak fly ball. But Nick Castellanos stroked a two rbi triple high off the wall in right center (only his second triple in last three years). Shuster managed to strike out Schwarber to get out of it with no further damage.
So Shuster’s third inning was quite unlike his first two: 30 pitches, only 12 of which were strikes. But then he rediscovered the strike zone. In the 4th and 5th, he retired all six batters; through five he had thrown 79 pitches, with 51 strikes. Not as good as his last start, but pretty solid.
Meanwhile, the Braves offense wasted an excellent early opportunity in the second. Marcell Ozuna singled and Eddie Rosario doubled high off the wall, to put runners on second and third with no outs. Ozzie Albies rapped a sharp grounder to first. Bohm stepped on first, while Ozuna found himself in no man’s land off third. Instead of either breaking for home or going back to third, he just stood there. When Bohm threw back to third, Marcell was easily run down for a double play. Frenchy said if Ozuna had just dived back into third, he could have beaten the throw, but he just stood there. Simply terrible baserunning.
The Braves offense broke through in the fourth. Austin Riley nearly hit one out to left but it was caught at the wall. TDA doubled to the gap in right, and Marcell had sharp single to hole, knocked down by Stitt. Eddie plated Travis with a sac fly to left.
In the fifth, the Braves took the lead on a single by Arcia and a two run homer by Money Mike. So it’s 3-2 after 5 and things are looking good.
The Braves tacked on a run in the 8th on yet another May homer by Ozuna. McHugh pitched a scoreless 8th and Uncle Jesse set them down in order in the 9th.
Wait a minute, you say. What about the sixth and seventh innings? As I told you at the outset, the above is what I saw. I did not watch the sixth and seventh innings. Did anything interesting happen then?
I missed that portion of the game, as I was in the other room on a zoom call with several good friends from around the country. My wife and I spent many a Friday night during the worst of the pandemic with this group. They decided to get back together last night for old time’s sake. I decided that once the Braves took the lead I should join that conversation to greet these folks. By the time I returned to the game, it was the middle of the seventh. I knew immediately that something was off. Some guy who isn’t Timothy Miller was singing God Bless America. I don’t care who you are—never try to take Timothy Miller’s place.
When I checked the score, I saw that it was 6-3 Phillies. Suffice it to say that Joe Jimenez and Lucas Luetge did not get the job done. Joe entered with two outs and a man on in the 6th. He promptly walked two (Oh, dem bases on balls!) and then allowed a two run single, to give the lead back to the Phillies.
The seventh was worse. Lucas gave up, in order, a single, SB, double, WP, sac fly, single, and walk. They were lucky it wasn’t worse than 6-3 by the time McHugh mercifully came on to end the inning.
So, other than the part I missed, another good game by the Braves! (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….)
Really, there were several positives in this game. Shuster has shown that he may be able to eat some innings at the back of the rotation. Ozuna continues to crush the ball. MHII may just be coming out of his funk. Riley is fully out of his.
And a little perspective: going into last night’s game, the Braves were off to their best start after 50 games since 2003. Last year they were 4 under .500 after 50 games. In 2021 they were 24-26. Yes, I know they need to shore up the bullpen. And it will help if some combination of Shuster, Dodd, and Soroka (it excites me just to type his name!) can put in consistent solid starts. But I’d rather be the Braves than any other team in the league.
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Yesterday was the birthday of Darrell Evans. A couple of weeks ago Ryan asked us in the Bar who was the most underrated Braves player over the last 30 years. If you extend that to the last 50 years, the answer is Evans. I know that’s true because Bill James has called Evans the most underrated player in all of baseball history. His strength was in good on base percentage despite low batting averages: he regularly walked 100 times a season. And he did so with considerable power; he had over 400 home runs in his career. But back in the 70’s and 80’s many folks thought BA was more important than getting on base. Evans also made himself into a very good defensive third baseman. It was a shame when the Braves traded him in 1976. This was just a little over a year after he had put in 9.0 bWAR and 7.2 bWAR seasons for the Braves. Of course they didn’t know about WAR then (War, huh; what is it good for?); they did know his batting average was under .250. Evans went on to have another dozen good to excellent seasons after that with the Giants and the Tigers. Happy Birthday, Howdy Doody!
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