Braves: Injuries are mounting after offensive breakout game against Cubs

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I’m going to toot my own horn for a minute, but roughly ten hours before first pitch at Wrigley Field on Sunday, I tweeted the following regarding the Braves matchup with Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.


I know bragging isn’t beloved, but this is the second time this season I’ve predicted a breakout performance for Atlanta’s lineup — the first coming back on April 6 against Max Scherzer and the Nationals when the Braves offense tallied four runs from five hits on the veteran righty. Atlanta still lost that early-April game, but after scoring just three runs combined in its first three games up to that point, I believed the Braves lineup would flourish versus Scherzer’s declining fastball. And by golly, it did.

But this Sunday night against Kyle Hendricks? Yeah, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind… but I’ll, of course, take the credit nonetheless. In Sunday’s 13-4 win over Chicago, Atlanta opened up the game with four home runs in the first inning. Last season’s MVP, Freddie Freeman, went first…


Then, Travis d’Arnaud joined the fun…


Two batters later, it was Ehire Adrianza’s turn, who was filling in for an injured Ozzie Albies at second base…


And lastly, on Hendrick’s 33rd pitch of the inning, outfielder Guillermo Heredia took a 1-0 offering deep for the fourth homer of the inning.


Bryse Wilson mercifully grounded out to end the onslaught against Hendricks. But in all, the Braves sent nine batters to the plate in the first frame, totaling six runs. But what’s incredible is that every batted-ball hit by Atlanta’s lineup in that opening frame was hit with a 90+ MPH exit velocity, including three that topped 100 MPH — including Wilson’s groundout (99.4 MPH). Seven balls in play to open the game, for an average exit velocity of 99.8 MPH. 

With his first start of 2021, and a nice six-run lead to work from, Wilson took the bump in the bottom of the first, and despite his fastball appearing sharp from the get-go, he — like Hendricks — ran into some early trouble. The Braves righty left an 80-MPH curveball right down the middle of the zone versus Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and the lefty slugger was all over it for a first-inning dinger.


Rizzo’s solo homer cut Atlanta’s lead to 6-1, although after a walk, mixed in with a pair of singles, Wilson got Jason Heyward to ground out to end the inning without any further damage. 

Both offenses were quiet in the second as Wilson worked around a lead-off double by David Bote. In the third, a pair of singles by Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley put runners on with one out for Heredia, but the back-up outfielder struck out swinging, followed by a groundout by Wilson to end Atlanta’s half of the frame. Chicago led off the bottom of the third with that pesky Rizzo, and again Wilson’s breaking ball didn’t quite break enough as the Cubs’ first baseman belted his second long ball of the game to cut the Braves lead to 6-3.


The fourth inning wound up being costly for Atlanta, despite the offense tacking on another run. Ronald Acuna and Freeman both walked to lead off the frame, and the former later scored on a sac-fly from d’Arnaud. However, Acuna’s head-first slide at home caused the star outfielder to experience pain in his abdomen, ending his night prematurely. Seemingly settling in at this point, Wilson worked around a popout and a pair of groundouts in the Cubs half of the fourth.

Fast-forward to the sixth inning, and Atlanta’s offense rallied again, putting up six more runs. The trio of Freeman (double), Marcell Ozuna (single), and d’Arnaud (fan interference / ground-rule double) all reached base to open the frame off Chicago’s reliever, Alec Mills. Ryan Tepera then replaced Mills and immediately hit Swanson with a pitch to load the bases, in which Adrianza then knocked in Ozuna with a sac-fly to center field. Tepera then hit Riley with a pitch (Riley’s second time being hit in the game) before Heredia drove a line-drive over the left-center wall for his second home run of the night, breaking the game open and giving the Braves a 13-3 lead.


Reliever Luke Jackson replaced Wilson to start Chicago’s half of the sixth, giving Bryse a chance for a win despite a not-so-flashy final line (6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, BB, K, 2 HR). Jackson’s scoreless frame plus Grant Dayton’s hitless seventh inning gave Atlanta a more-than-healthy lead going into the eighth. 

Veteran Josh Tomlin was tasked with mop-up duties in the eighth frame. Still, after getting back-to-back outs to start the inning, he spoiled the Braves scoreless bullpen work for the night, surrendering a triple to the Cubs’ Joc Pederson and an RBI-double by the scuffling Javier Baez to give us the game’s final score, 13-4. Tyler Matzek came in for the ninth, and after a lead-off walk, flew through Chicago’s hitters with back-to-back-to-back punchouts. Other than Tomlin’s earned run, the Braves ‘pen had a much-needed drama-free night, combining for seven strikeouts and just two walks in four innings of work. 


Main takeaways from Sunday’s win



With Acuna’s abdomen ailment suffered on Sunday night, entering Monday’s off-day, the Braves could have up to ten players on the injured list. Albies’s calf issue doesn’t appear serious, and on Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the second baseman could be back as soon as Tuesday against the Yankees. But still, it’s only April!

  1. Touki Toussaint, P — 60-day IL (shoulder)
  2. Cristian Pache, OF — 10-day IL (left groin)
  3. Chris Martin, P — 10-day IL (shoulder)
  4. Max Fried, P — 10-day IL (right hamstring)
  5. Mike Soroka, P — 10-day IL (shoulder)
  6. Drew Smyly, P — 10-day IL (left forearm)
  7. Ender Inciarte, OF — 10-day IL (left hamstring)
  8. Sean Newcomb, P — 10-day IL (undisclosed)
  9. Ronald Acuna, OF — (abdomen) 
  10. Ozzie Albies, 2B — (calf)

As you can see, that’s three players from the starting staff in Soroka, Fried and Smyly, a key reliever in Martin (two if you consider Newk a top arm given his hot start to 2021), and of course two of the young core position-players in Albies and Acuna, with the latter currently the hottest hitter in the sport.

We always knew injuries would strike, as is the case every season. But at this rate, general manager Alex Anthopoulos will be forced to make some moves soon to keep the team in contention because of too many absences from the Braves’ key contributors, and those four-game losing streaks could become a lot more prevalent than we’d like. 


Another surprise performance from a non-regular

Guillermo Heredia, 30-years-old, had hit just 19 home runs in his 1,147 career PA entering Sunday’s game. With a 162-game average of eight homers per season over his six years in MLB, Heredia was probably the least likely Brave to knock two out in a game; he hit just two long balls in 36 PA in 2020 and only five in 231 PA the year before. 

Sunday’s start versus the Cubs was the outfielder’s second-straight start in center field for Atlanta and the third start overall — entered in the fourth inning of the first game of the series on Friday. Heredia appears to be just the latest Braves bench player that’s doing a respectable job of contributing when given a chance. He’s hitting .273 so far, and his six RBI on Sunday was by far the most of his career in a single game — his best prior was a 3-RBI game while with Seattle back in 2017. Of course, Heredia has never hit two homers in a game, either, so the whole thing is surprising. For some reason, Atlanta has just brought out the best in its bench bats this season. 


Bryse Wilson getting a much-needed win for an ultra-thin rotation 

With the Braves rotation incredibly thin at the moment, Wilson answered the call, but like Wright on Friday of the Cubs series, Wilson was far from perfect in his outing on Sunday, only managing one strikeout in six innings. The lack of swing and miss put a lot of pressure on himself, and there’s a very real scenario — perhaps pitching against a better performing lineup — where Wilson could’ve been lit up. But you have to give the kid some credit for limiting the damage and containing those seven hits allowed into just two earned runs. 

Wilson’s four-seam fastball was electric Sunday, and at an average velocity of 93.5 MPH, it was by far his most effective offering during his start, getting six of his eight overall whiffs against Chicago. Wilson was back and forth, going four-seamer up in the zone, then the sinker down in the zone, but it was evident his feel for anything other than his heater was middling at best.

And with Rizzo hitting those two homers off Wilson’s curveball, a pitch that, of the six he threw Sunday, four were put in play, I’m not really sure why it’s part of his repertoire. Wilson just started throwing the curve back in 2019, and it got hit at a .500 AVG clip that year, then last season, he barely went to it, only throwing 21 overall with all but four coming against righties. Personally, I feel that his changeup is a better change-of-pace offering against lefty-hitters and that Wilson should perhaps scrap the curve altogether. 

Regardless, it was great to see Wilson pick up the win, which hasn’t happened very regularly for him in the majors. Despite being a former top-tier prospect with tons of upside coming up through the organization, Wilson’s win on Sunday was just the fourth big league win of his career in the regular season. With most of Atlanta’s starting staff banged up, hopefully, he’ll get some more opportunities to add to that total in 2021.

Up next: The Braves are off on Monday, which is a much-needed day of rest as the team assesses the damage that’s been done, injury-wise, to its roster over the last several games. 

Tuesday begins a two-game interleague series with the Yankees in New York, which appears to be at just the right time as the Bombers aren’t doing much bombing with the bats this season. The Yankees lineup enters Monday with just a collective 89 wRC+ so far in 2021, ranking 17th in the majors and a few points below the Braves 93 wRC+. And on top of New York’s light-hitting, its starting rotation has also struggled this year, posting a 4.94 ERA so far, good for 20th in MLB, though nearly a run better than Atlanta’s third-worst starter ERA (5.74). 

After a pair of evening games with the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Braves will be back at Truist Park for a weekend series with the Diamondbacks, for what will be the start of a seven-game homestand and an eventual rematch with the Cubs next week.

It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Braves rotation. At the moment, Drew Smyly and Max Fried are slated to return to the staff for Saturday’s game against the D’Backs. With Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson expected to start the two Yankees matchups, we could see Wright one more time on Friday for the first game against Arizona before either Fried or Smyly makes a return start this weekend.

Either way, with Mike Soroka not due back until July and Touki Toussaint currently on the 60-day IL, once Fried and Smyly return to the rotation, one of Ynoa, Wright or Wilson will be needed for that fifth-starter spot, which is exactly the situation Atlanta was in to start the 2021 season. 

The rotation may very well be sorted out in-house, but I expect some moves made if both Albies and Acuna hit the IL. Stay tuned. 


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