I’m on record as believing the Braves are a very good team, and I’ve been around long enough not to overreact — or at least to try not to overreact — to any single regular-season baseball game. (They play 162 of them, after all.) That said, a couple of things about last night’s loss in Washington bothered me.
They bothered me because they fly in the face of what I’ve come to believe — and, truth to tell, what some in the Braves’ organization have come to believe — about this team vis-a-vis the Nationals. I (and certain Braves folks) believe the local nine is better than Washington everywhere but in the starting rotation, and here let’s concede that starting pitching has an outsize importance. And that’s the root of my unease.
The Braves and Nationals were tied at 4 by the top of the fifth inning. Jordan Zimmermann, the Nats’ starter, was gone after five. Tim Hudson was pulled after six. The Braves worked eight innings — almost a full game — against a Washington bullpen that has begun to fray, and they couldn’t score a run. They mustered only four hits in those eight innings, but when you add six walks you get 10 baserunners. They had runners aboard in six of the eight innings, and four times their leadoff man reached. Still couldn’t score.
The game ended in the 13th, when Washington plied three infield hits into the walk-off winner. The game-ending single — it was originally scored a error, which seemed the sensible call — was a grounder hit to a drawn-in Dan Uggla. He should have been able to throw out Danny Espinosa at the plate, but Uggla bobbled the ball.
If we return to GM Frank Wren’s words of Saturday, we’ll note that he emphasized how well the Braves “catch the ball” — and it’s true; they lead the National League in fielding percentage — and also that “we’re also really good in situational hitting.” Alas, they didn’t catch the ball, at least not cleanly, when it mattered, and they couldn’t get the knock that would have given them a precious late-inning lead. And their strength (situational hitting) was trumped by what has become a perceived Washington weakness (relief pitching).
Again, it’s one game. The Braves could well win tonight and tomorrow and leave D.C. closer to first place than when they arrived. But this one game, I’m forced to confess, troubled me. It was a game of some magnitude that the Braves coulda/shoulda won.
By Mark Bradley