There’s been a lot of angst on this board and throughout Braves country about the poor starting pitching of late. It’s a fact that the starters had turned in five stinkers in a row. Charlie Morton, for his part, had lost his last four starts with an ERA over 7. He’s been walking more and more batters; he walked 5 batters in his last start.
But Braves fans can breathe a sigh of relief—Morton came through and stemmed the tide. Uncle Charlie twirled a shutout as the Braves defeated the Mets 7-0. In fact, Morton pitched one of the most incredible games I remember seeing.
To be scrupulously accurate, Morton’s start was not incredible because he mowed them down in short order. No, it was incredible in the literal sense—I still can’t believe what I just saw.
To convey what was so unbelievable about this pitching performance, from Morton and the relievers, I’ll summarize this outing inning by inning:
1st: Morton issued a leadoff walk to Nimmo—an ominous sign of things to come. Fortunately for his pitch count he got first pitch outs to the next two batters. Then he issued a second walk. But a strikeout of Vogelbach ended the inning.
2nd: First two hitters single, but then he induced a 6-4-3 DP erases one of them. Morton then walked the 9 hole hitter, but got Nimmo on a fly ball to left to strand both runners. Through 2 innings: 37 pitches, 18 strikes. Yikes! But still scoreless.
3rd: After getting Alvarez to fly out on a 2-0 count, Morton issued back to back walks to McNeil and Alonso. At that point he’d thrown 52, pitches, only 22 of them strikes. But he managed to K Vogelbach again to end the inning. Through 3 innings: 62 pitches, 28 strikes. Double yikes! Five walks and two hits in three innings. But still scoreless.
4th: Charlie walks Ortega to begin the frame. So at that point 71 pitches, just 31 strikes. Gets next two, but walks Nimmo. That’s seven walks, a new career high for Morton. Ends 4th with 88 pitches, just 42 strikes. Again I say, Yikes!
5th: Finally, a 1-2-3 inning. Ended by striking out Vogelbach for the third time, on a pitch that hit the batter on the back foot. That’s the kind of luck Morton had on this night. Still 100 pitches, 49 strikes. That’s the first time this season that any pitcher in MLB has thrown at least 100 pitches with fewer than half of them strikes.
6th: Believe it or not, Morton came back out for the 6th. But when he surrendered a leadoff single, Snit had finally seen enough. Pierce Johnson got a flyout, and struck out the next two on six pitches. Johnson threw 8 pitches, and all 8 of them were strikes. That ratio is more like it.
7th: Brad Hand surrendered 2 singles and a walk, but did not surrender a run thanks in part to a ground ball double play.
8th: Kirby Yates allowed a couple of baserunners on a single and a walk, but he also left them stranded.
9th: A.J. Minter surrendered a leadoff double, but got the next three in order.
So, a shutout! On the night, Morton walked 7, his career high, and gave up 3 hits. The relievers gave up 4 hits and 2 walks. But, incredibly, no runs. All told, the Mets stranded 14 baserunners, and they were 0-12 with runners in scoring position.
Of course I was facetious early on when I said that Morton had turned it around. Give him credit, I guess, for keeping them off the board, but it is time to be concerned. His command just keeps getting worse. He still throws hard, and his curve moves a lot, but he cannot put it where he wants. I still have faith, though, that Charlie can turn this around. Perhaps that’s irrational on my part, but I’m a big Morton fan. I’m guessing this isn’t an injury, but rather something mechanical. If anyone can figure this out he can.
On the offensive side of things, the Braves had 11 hits and 7 runs. Ho hum, another night with double digit hits.
Tylor (sic) Megill (sic) was demoted to AAA in late June, because his ERA was over 5. At AAA, he was 0-3 with an ERA over 8. First start back last week, he gave up 5 runs in 4.2 innings.
So naturally enough, for the first three innings he looked like Tom Seaver. He retired 9 of the first 10 batters, surrendering only a 1st inning single to Riley. In the second, Megill struck out MHII on a 99mph heater. I’ve seen an awful lot of Megill over the last few years, and he’s never thrown that hard.
In the fourth, though, the Tylor we’ve known finally showed up. Riley doubled, and Olson singled on a bloop that fell in front of the leftfielder. But Riley stayed on second because he thought the left fielder caught it—tough break. TDA lined one on the nose but right at the center fielder. So Megill was one batter from getting out of this. Marcell tapped a very slow roller halfway down the third base line that stayed fair to load the bases. Eddie Rosario cleared them. He singled on a soft liner to center, but Nimmo booted the one hopper so badly that Ozuna scored from first. So they took a 3-0 lead. You’ll understand, though, why I was anxious, given Morton’s control issues and the fact that they had squandered 4-0 leads in the last two games.
But the Hammers were far from finished scoring. They plated two more runs in the 5th, on an rbi single by Ozzie and sac fly by Riley, and scored another run in the 6th, on a d’Arnaud single and Rosario double. They scored the 7th and final run in the 7th on a solo shot by Riley.
Riley had a single, double, homer, and sacrifice fly on the night, and Rosario had single, a double, and 3 rbi.
This Braves’ offense has yet to slow down. The OPS in August is a .935. Everyone is talking about the strength of the Braves lineup, and for good reason. Every regular has an OPS+ of over 100, save Rosario, and his is just barely under. From top to bottom, they are one of the best ever.
How’s this comparison? All eight regulars on The Big Red Machine in 1976 had an OPS+ over 100, ranging from Joe Morgan’s 187 down to Dave Concepcion’s 107. Although they didn’t have the DH, of course, they did use Dan Driessen as a super sub, and his OPS+ was 116 in 268 plate appearances. That was the best offensive team top to bottom I ever saw. As I look at the current Braves from 1-9, they compare pretty favorably to those Reds.
Often in my recaps I note the birthday of a former Brave or some significant event in Braves history on this date. Today is the birthday of Melky Cabrera. I’d rather not write anything about him. Can we all just agree that the Melk Man is our least favorite Brave of all time?
Tomorrow these teams play two. Strider goes in the nightcap, and Allan Winans was just announced as the starter in the first game. I hope Winans was not watching tonight’s game. I wouldn’t want him to get the idea that throwing more balls than strikes is a formula for success.