I don’t know about you, but I find the period between when a team clinches the division and when the playoffs start to be a strange interregnum, especially when it lasts for a period of longer than five or six days. It has a sort of spring training vibe, but I feel I can safely ignore spring training games as those results literally don’t matter at all (I don’t find this to be debatable, frankly…though we wind up debating it every year anyway). These post-clinch games do literally matter in a lot of cases, though, even if their importance pales in comparison to the games you were just playing before you clinched and will play in the playoffs. You’re playing for seeding and home-field advantage, and the stats count, and the games count towards your record.
So one of two things tends to happen. Either you find yourself getting bored with your baseball team just prior to the most important games of the season or you don’t change your mindset much from how you were watching games before and wind up freaking out over the lackadaisical play. As I tend to fall into the former category, I’ve kind of struggled with how to follow this team since the final game in Philadelphia a week and a half ago. I really don’t buy the “playing your best going into the playoffs” thing, particularly with a weeklong break coming up.
For their part, the team has seemed to use this period to evaluate a bunch of folks for bullpen and back-end rotation spots. I’d say that’s the proper way to go about it, even if it results in some sub-optimal results. Those results don’t really concern me.
What does concern me are injuries, and there have been a couple of those. The most concerning one seems to be that of Charlie Morton, who suddenly won’t be able to play in the Division Series. Then there’s also the Max Fried situation, which seems like it will be fine for him to pitch Game 1 of the Division Series (assuming they’re not slow-playing a more serious situation). As long as Fried is fine to pitch in the playoffs, there are worse fates than having Bryce Elder pitch Game 3 instead of Morton. But if there’s a concern, I’d say that’s it.
As for today’s games, Game 1 was probably the most notable of the two, as it featured Kyle Wright pitching out of the bullpen in what seems to be a preview of his playoff assignment, assuming he’s indeed added to the roster. He threw the final three innings of a 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals and it generally went well. He allowed a run on three hits while striking out a couple. It wasn’t an earth-shattering performance or anything, but it seemed to go better than his recent starts and was something to build on. With Kyle being moved out of the starting role for the game, Allen Winans dutifully filled that spot and allowed two runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings. I don’t think he’s a candidate for a playoff spot, though I suppose stranger things have happened.
The three runs the Nats got held up as the Braves didn’t get much of anything going offensively, save for a crazy Sean Murphy solo homer in the ninth inning on which he shattered his bat and somehow still hit the ball 400 feet.
Nothing as relevant as Wright’s relief turn happened in Game 2, a game the Braves won 8-5.
Spencer Strider was OK but not great, allowing four runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings. Freak out over that outing if you want to, but I’m just completely uninterested in joining you. He’ll be fine in the playoffs or he won’t, but this game will have zero to do with it either way.
The offense awoke even without Ronald Acuna in the lineup. After falling behind 3-0 in the third, they stormed back for a four-run fourth that was capped by a two-run Kevin Pillar homer. Later, Forrest Wall hit his first major league home run into the bullpen down the right-field line, a two-run shot that gave the Braves a 6-3 edge. Atlanta extended their lead out to 8-4 in the seventh.
You likely won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t care that Raisel Iglesias gave up a homer and let the tying run come to the plate in the ninth. Again, meaningless game, just trying to stay sharp, etc., etc.
The week ahead
Lamentably, we have six more days of this crap. The Braves will host the Cubs for three midweek games in a series that will mean everything to the visitors and nothing to the home team (I might suggest adjusting your expectations accordingly). Then these same Nats will make the return trip for the final three games of the season next weekend. Lord knows what I’m gonna say next Sunday after another week of this. Tune in to find out!