The Braves’ loss on Wednesday night was one of those that just hurts a little more than usual. Never mind the fact that the team has now lost two in a row, or five of 10… or even the fact that its playoff odds currently sit at less than 20%, per FanGraphs. Those reasons alone are frustrating enough. But what makes it hurt the most is the fact that, once again, Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Nationals seemed very much preventable.
As we’re all very much aware, the Braves have had a rough 2021 season. Rotation woes magnified by injuries, horrible luck from the lineup, inconsistent bullpen play, and then the most recent off-the-field tragedy, outfielder Marcell Ozuna’s domestic violence charge, have all led to this, and it’s safe to say that, while there is still time to turn some of these issues around, this season probably won’t end exactly as we hoped.
But Wednesday’s defeat also marked yet another occurrence in which manager Brian Snitker could’ve, or perhaps should’ve, made a rather simple decision that maybe would have increased Atlanta’s chances of winning.
With the Braves and Nats tied at one apiece after four innings, for what feels like the 10th time this season, Snitker chose to send his starting pitcher, Drew Smyly, back out to face the opposing lineup… for a third time. Now, through those first four frames, the left-handed Smyly had pitched pretty respectably. With six strikeouts to that point, just three straight singles in the 2nd (which had resulted in a run for Washington) to go with a pair of walks in the 3rd was really the only damage against the veteran as he did a nice job of keeping the ball on the ground for much of the outing. But as I’m sure you know by now, after watching Smyly pitch for the Braves so far in 2021, his performance drastically changes after laboring through a lineup a couple of times. And if you and I are plenty aware of that fact, Snitker and the Braves certainly are.
But as he has so many times this season, Atlanta’s skipper decided to “ride the hot hand”, and with the top of the Nationals lineup due up, Smyly attempted to do something that he very rarely has been able to do in 2021: pitch successfully to a bunch of opposing batters that have already seen him twice.
Trea Turner doubled to lead off the 5th; then Josh Harrison grounded into a fielder’s choice for a much-needed out; but then, as if we all knew it was coming but just simply couldn’t look away, Juan Soto absolutely destroyed a high fastball thrown by Smyly to put the Nats ahead…
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 3, 2021
With Smyly still in the game at this point, he faced yet another batter, and Josh Bell slapped a line drive single to right. Finally, Snitker came and got his guy. But, of course, not before the Braves were already trailing 3-1.
Why?! Why does this continue to happen?
Let me be clear. I tend to characterize myself as more “old school” in terms of my views of the evolution of the game. And when it comes to starting pitchers, I still prefer to see a guy go deep into games as opposed to a bunch of situational relievers and LOOGYS and all that jazz. However, I also prefer the Braves to win. And right now, wins are incredibly crucial given the team’s sluggish start, so if that means capping Atlanta’s starters to just two times through the order… so be it. Of course, there will be times it winds up not working out. The bullpen will give a game up, or the offense will suddenly go cold. But doing something so simple, that is widely known as a way to at least extend the team’s odds of pulling out a victory… man yeah, let’s do that!
Because the numbers are already there. In fact, entering Wednesday’s start, Smyly’s ERA when facing a lineup for the third time was 7.00 in nine innings this season. And save for an injured Huascar Ynoa, really none of the Braves starters should have much leash this year when going up against a team’s lineup for the third time.
ATL starters 3rd TTO (2021)
Drew Smyly – 7.00 ERA / 9 IP
Ian Anderson – 5.56 ERA / 11 ⅓ IP
Charlie Morton – 5.11 ERA / 12 ⅓ IP
Max Fried – 11.05 ERA / 7 ⅓ IP
Huascar Ynoa – 3.68 ERA / 7 ⅓ IP
Of course, it’s normal for a starter to become worse at run prevention deeper into his start, for obvious reasons. But when Atlanta’s rotation has struggled the way it has this season and the data is this evident, you would think Snitker and the Braves would be more hesitant to just keep running these guys out there for the third time.
Snitker’s issue with times through the order is only one reason out of many that have contributed to Atlanta’s woes in 2021. And I’m definitely not blaming him for all of the team’s problems; in fact, if the Braves were a first-place team at this point, his managerial decisions probably wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion (you know… kind of like the last three seasons). But when you’re underperforming, and one frustrating loss starts to pile on top of another, it’s these types of decisions that tend to get criticized, which is exactly what has happened within Braves Country recently.
The Braves certainly have a ways to go to get this season turned around, from both a player’s and manager’s standpoint. But to me, it seems like at least a few of these losses should’ve been prevented. If there was ever a time for Snitker to start focusing more on times through the order, it’s definitely now.