A minor skid which fazed few outside the scarred denizens of this comment board came and went like the dew. One evening hence, and all was as it ought.
- Spencer Strider did the two things he does a lot of: struck out nearly everybody, and gave up a three-run-homer the one time he didn’t punch somebody out.
- The Braves lineup did the two things it does a lot of: Ronald Acuña Jr. led off the game with a solo homer, and the offense just kept pouring it on. (Acuña hit another one in the sixth, and somewhat astonishingly, those were the only two taters the team tallied.)
- The Braves bullpen did the one thing we’ve been a little bit leery of: retired all six men they faced in the 8th and 9th, half by strikeout, without a single baserunner allowed.
To paraphrase Dennis Green, when it comes to these Braves, I think we can safely say: they were who we thought they were.
Hard as it may be for the team to have found their motivation to continue playing at full intensity when the regular season has already been won and the only achievements left to pursue are statistical records – most home runs by a team, most stolen bases in a 40-homer season, most strikeouts by a starting pitcher in team history. If the team goes 10-1 over its next 11 games, they’ll set a franchise record for wins, too.
But what matters most is what happens next. The Braves are three games ahead of the Dodgers in the loss column, which is a healthy margin though not an unsurmountable one. The Phillies are two and a half games up on the Diamondbacks for the first wild card slot, so while they’re virtually assured a ticket to the playoffs they’ve still got to angle for positioning just like we did last year.
We’ve seen them enough to know their strengths and weaknesses: their outfield defense is no longer the pitiful liability it once was, with Rojas and Marsh out there. Their offense is deep and respectable. Their bullpen actually has the fourth-most WAR in baseball. However, their starting pitching is relatively thin. After the Braves’ first-round bye, there’s a pretty reasonable likelihood that we’ll see them again, and if we want to beat them, we’ll need to outslug them.
Today’s early game between Aaron Nola and Bryce Elder will be a good chance for the bats to shake the sleep out of their eyes and greet Aaron Nola rudely. In his career, he’s basically pitched a season’s worth of innings against us: 32 starts, 200 2/3 IP, 3.41 ERA, 3.42 K/BB. We’ve also hit 28 homers against him, and that’s no surprise; he’s got a career HR/9 of 1.1, and this year it’s 1.5, which is a big part of why his ERA is an unsightly 4.62. Not the walk year performance he was hoping for. So while his team is doing all they can to make a deep playoff run, Aaron personally needs to finish the year strong, as it could make tens of millions of dollars of difference.
Will this be the afternoon that Ronald hits 40? He certainly couldn’t pick a better time to do it!