Despite leading 2-0 after five innings against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, for what seems like too many times to count, the Braves found a way to lose, snapping their winning streak at just two games. And though there have been plenty of issues throughout this young season that have contributed to several spoiled games for Atlanta, last night’s loss just felt extra rotten.
To me, it’s never been more clear: the Braves desperately need right-handed reliever, Chris Martin.
The loss versus Toronto was nearly the perfect illustration of how one or two decisions can dramatically impact a ballgame. First of all, starter Bryse Wilson probably never should’ve come out to pitch the 6th inning last night. Sure, Wilson had only faced two more than the minimum through five frames, surrendering two measly singles to go with four strikeouts. But historically, we know Bryse isn’t usually successful deep into games. I mean, just look at his best MLB starts so far during his career; of his best outings — per Game Score — from each season since 2018 (when he debuted), Wilson has surpassed the 5th inning just twice. So it’s really not all that surprising the Blue Jays got to him once he faced their lineup for the third time. That was a mistake manager Brian Snitker shouldn’t have made.
But perhaps the worst part of Tuesday’s loss, and something that was completely avoidable, was how Snitker managed after Wilson left the game.
In case you missed it, after the Blue Jays big 6th inning, featuring a game-tying two-run home run by Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. off Wilson, the Braves quickly answered back with a run of their own in the bottom half of the frame, from a solo-homer off the bat of Marcell Ozuna.
Mar-Selfie time!#ForTheA pic.twitter.com/7e6oWlEtv8
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 12, 2021
As a result, Atlanta entered the top of the 7th inning leading 3-2.
Now obviously, Wilson’s night is done at this point. He had gone from tossing a gem through his first five innings to allowing a homer and a pair of singles in the 6th. And with a lefty, righty, and lefty up to bat for Toronto, Snitker rightfully went with southpaw reliever Tyler Matzek, who was just fine as he struck out Biggio, got Gurriel to ground out, and then struck out Jansen. Easy peasy.
Unfortunately, though, in the Braves half of the 7th, Dansby Swanson and William Contreras both grounded out, and despite a much-needed double by Cristian Pache, the pinch-hitting Johan Camargo (another questionable call) couldn’t muster any magic and flew out to right to end the inning.
Now, this is where things get messed up. The Blue Jays are coming to bat in the top of the 8th with the top of the order looming. With the no. 9 batter due up, Toronto’s lineup is obviously guaranteed to turn over. This means that no matter what, the Braves will face at the very least some kind of pinch-hitter (which wound up being right-handed hitter Jonathan Davis), righty Marcus Semien and righty Bo Bichette; and there’s also the real possibility that even another righty comes to the plate in Vlad Jr. (who just cranked one over the wall in his last at-bat!).
The Blue Jays platoon splits for this season are essentially a wash. Versus righty pitchers the offense has a .709 OPS, and against lefties, it’s .724. But if you’re Snitker and you know you have that many right-handed batters due up, why in the world would you go with a lefty-pitcher? Well… that’s exactly what Snitker did as he called upon A.J. Minter.
Minter proceeded to allow four consecutive batted-balls in play: a double to center by Davis, a fielder’s choice by Siemen, a single by Bichette, and a game-tying RBI single off the bat of Vlad Jr. before Snitker finally came and got him out of there.
Minter never recorded an out and was tagged with both the loss and a blown save as Toronto tied the game and loaded the bases, presenting a nearly impossible assignment for the next Braves reliever, Jacob Webb…
Poor Webb made a solid pitch to the first batter he faced (Teoscar Hernandez), and it was softly hit… only to score the go-ahead run from third.
Allowing one run from a bases-loaded situation is nothing to scoff at, and following the Hernandez RBI shown above, Webb struck out Randal Grichuk for the first out of the inning. But a bases-loaded walk to Biggio gifted the Jays yet another run and eventually the 5-3 win.
While criticizing Snitker’s decision to go with Minter for the 8th inning of Tuesday’s loss has been a rather popular thing to do over the last 12 hours (I just did!), the real problem here is simply the absence of Martin, who held opposing right-handed batters to a .147 AVG last season. Snitker just doesn’t have many options when it comes to dependable righty relievers, and even Webb — who was probably the preferable pitcher in that 8th-inning situation — has struggled to the tune of a 6.00 ERA so far this season.
Regardless, Atlanta’s bullpen certainly isn’t what it was a season ago, and that’s just something the team must deal with for right now until perhaps GM Alex Anthopoulos can make some moves at the trade deadline.
And anyways, it appears Martin could be back in the Braves bullpen any day now as he’s now made three rehab appearances down at Triple-A Gwinnett, including one on Tuesday night in which he worked the 8th inning of the Stripers game, allowing one hit to go with two strikeouts.
Atlanta will get its dependable right-handed reliever back, that’s for sure. But it’s losses like last night’s that really make it easy to appreciate the caliber of this team’s bullpen from the 2020 season. Whether or not the 2021 relief core improves to those levels again, at least one thing’s for sure right now: this team needs Chris Martin back.
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