On paper, the Braves looked to be in a tough spot this weekend. Already trailing in the division by four games, they were tasked with a matchup against the defending AL champions while the division-leading Mets opened up the second half with the lowly Pirates. However, the Braves got some help from Pittsburgh, who won their first two games versus New York, leaving the door wide open for the rest of the NL East. Unfortunately, Atlanta couldn’t take advantage.
In Game 1 against the Rays, the Braves held multiple two-run leads but ultimately couldn’t shut the door. Four hits in the eighth led two runs, tying the game on the way to extras, where the Braves have had a ton of problems scoring runs this season. That was the case again on Friday, as Tampa managed to get their runner in from second, and Atlanta was held scoreless, resulting in a 7-6 loss.
The Braves were able to bounce back on Saturday with a 9-0 win, led by Max Fried, Freddie Freeman, and the newly acquired Joc Pederson, but unfortunately, their bullpen demons revealed themselves again on Sunday. Drew Smyly put together another quality performance, allowing just three runs over 5.2 innings, but A.J. Minter and Luke Jackson found trouble in the seventh, surrendering four runs in what ended in a 7-5 loss.
At the beginning of the series, most would have expected the Braves to lose two out of three. The Rays have been the much better team all season, and Atlanta is playing without half of their starting lineup. But it’s the way this series panned out that was so disappointing… even if it should be expected at this point. For some reason, Brian Snitker continued to turn to A.J. Minter not once but twice in high-leverage situations, and he was heavily involved in both losses, surrendering just as many runs as outs recorded (3).
For the life of me, I don’t know how Snitker can justify putting Minter in with the game in the line, but it won’t be an issue any longer. After the game, the Braves announced that he had been optioned to Gwinnett.
The #Braves optioned LHP A.J. Minter to Triple-A Gwinnett following today’s game.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) July 19, 2021
Bullpen woes have been the story of the Braves season. They’re now responsible for 22 of 47 losses on the season. Now, it isn’t realistic to expect them to have zero losses, but let’s just say they win half of those games; they would have a firm grip on the division lead. The Braves scored 20 runs in this series, their starters only gave up six runs total, yet they still found a way to lose the series. That’s unacceptable. Fortunately, the Mets couldn’t take care of business against the Pirates. The Braves still sit four games back in the NL East with the Padres coming to town for a three-game set.
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