Atlanta Braves: three Friday night takeways

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Drew Smyly throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning tonight (6/25/2021). Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Drew Smyly throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning tonight (6/25/2021). Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

Friday night on the banks of the Ohio River, the Atlanta Braves tried to put enough offense together to set their ship aright.

We’ve been watching this Atlanta Braves team struggle to put together their pitching over the past week, between their troubles with both injuries and double-headers.

Tonight, there are a few points to ponder about how this club is progressing.  Let’s take a look.

3. The Braves are now happy with Drew Smyly

It has taken a while, but veteran starter Drew Smyly has finally figured out what it takes for him to be successful on the mound… and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Atlanta.

His first four starts of the year were genuinely forgettable:  a total of 21 runs allowed (17 earned) in 19 innings pitched.

Even after a pair of excellent outings, things weren’t completely squared away when a pair of three-run outings were sandwiched around an ugly start in Boston.

Then again, there’s quite another way to look at it… he has only yielded more than three runs once since May 6.

In May, his ERA was 4.24.  In June — before tonight’s game — it was 3.26. The addition of six one-run innings on Friday drops that figure to 2.84. The Reds got 6 hits, but he walked no one… so Cincy had to earn everything they got.

Brace yourself for this next stat:  Not counting Kyle Muller‘s 4 inning outing, Smyly’s June ERA is now second on the team among the available starting pitchers (to Charlie Morton‘s 2.28).

That’s better than Anderson.  Better than Fried.  Better than Davidson before he was hurt.

Couldn’t be happening at a better time.

2. Freddie Freeman is trying to put the Braves on his back

Since an 0-for-4 night on June 3rd, Freddie Freeman has 27 hits in his last 90 plate appearances.  Subtract off the 7 walks and that appears to be a .325 batting average (doesn’t include the entire game).

8 of those hits have gone for extra bases, and 5 of those have left the yard.

For the full month of June, Freeman is now second on the club in OPS (Acuna) while leading in homers and is now second in RBI.  edit:  maybe 3rd… Albies hit a late ground-rule double.

It’s not all about Freeman, of course:  Acuna and Albies are right there with him.  But for the first time all season, all three are finally getting their bats going simultaneously.

The Braves have the right to be concerned that their homers have been largely responsible for their run-scoring (notwithstanding dingers from Heredia and Swanson tonight).  Their offense has tended to live and die with the home run.

With this trio getting in gear together, we’re starting to see more runs generated by singles and doubles… extending innings and being much more competitive on offense.  Alas, that ground-rule double by Albies didn’t produce an extra run tonight, because “rules”.  That would have been helpful.

It’s not yet enough — particularly given the state of the bullpen — but Freeman’s work is certainly welcomed.

1.  Gotta Break Through

This part is all about the bullpen and their need to hold a lead… let’s see how it worked out.

BOTTOM OF SEVENTH INNING.  Once Smyly was excused from further competition, the bottom of the seventh inning opened with Luke Jackson throwing a cookie to Eugenio Suarez that was deposited into the Reds bullpen, bringing the home team within a run:  3-2 Braves.

Two popped outs preceded a near-spectacular catch in center on an Akiyama single, but Jackson got India to ground out to Swanson on the first pitch to escape the inning.

EIGHTH INNING.  The Braves went relatively meekly, bringing up the meat part of the Cincy order for A.J. Minter to deal with.

Then there was the play by Heredia:  Jesse Winker killed a ball to dead center and Heredia slammed into the wall after making a crazy-great catch.  He fell to the ground — still somehow holding onto the ball — and lay they for a full minute-plus before getting to his feet.  He appeared to be okay, choosing to stay in the game.

Think the Mets would love to have had him back on their outfield-depleted roster?  Yeah.

Castellanos ripped a rocket past Swanson — and out to Heredia — for a single.  He’s only hitting close to .350 now.  Stevenson — another right-handed hitter against the southpaw Minter — singled Castellanos to second.

But then, Minter made his pitches against the lefty Joey Votto and got him to ground into an inning-ending double play to second.  Perfect execution by the Atlanta defense.

NINTH INNING. Well, here we go… still leading 3-2.

After surviving the Nissan runaway bride commercial again, Josh Osich hit the mound for the Reds… and of course it’s Heredia leading off, looking no worse for the wear.

He doubled.  He’ll be sore tomorrow, but right now it’s all feeling good.

Adrianza bounced one to the right side to advance the runner with one out to bring up Ronald Acuna Jr.  Infield in… hope their life insurance is paid up.  The lefty Osich clearly started pitching around Acuna, but got him to chase two pitches off the plate for a strikeout.  His patience was good to start, but didn’t last.

That meant Freddie Freeman needed another hit to bring in the run… in a left/lefty matchup.  Alas… a long fly to the center-field warning track ended the threat.

LAST CHANCE FOR THE REDS.  Will Smith to face Suarez, Naquin, and Farmer.

  • Suarez:  worked a strikeout on a steady diet of breaking pitches.
  • Naquin:  hit a first pitch liner to center, but it was run down and caught by… Guillermo Heredia, of course.
  • Farmer:  spoiled some good pitches by fouling them off, then took a close fastball low and just outside.  Farmer then drove a ball to the right-center gap for a double.  Nice AB.

So now it’s Scott Heineman to pinch hit… a righty.  Strike one on a big swing.  Strike two on a pop foul over the home dugout.

Then the big breaker… strikeout to end the drama!  Braves win 3-2.  The breakthrough happened!

Mocking the Braves again. dark. Next

Saturday’s third game pits Ian Anderson against Luis Castillo.  It’s a 4:10PM Eastern time zone start.