Brian Snitker and Freddie Freeman were walking up the tunnel to the clubhouse after a mess of a game that, for the Atlanta Braves, turned out OK. According to Freeman, his manager said, “We’ve seen that before.” And they had.
Over the past three seasons, Braves publicists have taken to using the heading “Never Quit With Snit” when counting the comebacks his teams generate, this tracing back to the days when the Braves weren’t very good. They had 19 last at-bat wins in 2016 and 20 each of the past two seasons. They authored the first of 2019 on Wednesday night, beating the Cubs 6-4 after trailing 4-2 in the eighth.
Said Ozzie Albies: “We did that a lot last season. We’d like to eliminate that this year and be leading already.”
With the Braves’ bullpen, that mightn’t always (or ever) be possible. In his second start of 2019, Julio Teheran demonstrated yet again that he’s turning into Russ Ortiz, who as a Brave in 2003 led the National League in wins (21) and in walks (102). Ortiz seemed to start every inning by loading the bases; then he’d strike out somebody and induce a double play, and then he’d do it again the next inning.
It was a perilous way to live — coming after a decade of Maddux and Glavine and Smoltz, the inefficient Ortiz drove Bobby Cox half-crazy — but, at least that year, the Braves won a lot when Big Russ worked. Maybe 2019 will be that way for Teheran. Six of the first eight Cubs reached base Wednesday, five via singles. But Javier Baez lined into a DP, Kyle Schwarber got thrown out trying to steal and Jason Heyward, who would bat four times without hitting the ball out of the infield, popped out to catcher Tyler Flowers. Ben Zobrist struck out looking. Total damage: one run.
Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies hoisted opposite-field home runs in the third off Jon Lester, Albies having been moved to the leadoff slot this night. (Said Snitker: “We’ve got a nice little lineup we can run at [left-handers].”) Teheran would exit with 2-1 lead after five innings and 91 pitches — Snitker explained the early hook by saying he was trying to increase the pitcher’s workload incrementally — and there the real fun began.
Two batters into the sixth, the Braves trailed again. Jonny Venters walked the left-handed Schwarber and yielded a monstrous homer to the righty Willson Contreras on a sinker that didn’t sink. (Snitker again: “I thought the inning matched up pretty good for Jonny.”) The Cubs added another run off Jesse Biddle in the seventh, Anthony Rizzo scoring on a wild pitch that didn’t bounce beyond the dirt part in front of the plate.
Just when you were thinking, not for the first time this young season, that these Braves’ relievers might be the worst in the history of baseball, up jumped the Cubs to object. Their bullpen entered the night with an ERA of 7.63, 28th-best in MLB; the Braves, at 7.16, were a robust-by-comparison 27th. Sure enough, the Cubs made the Braves look like the Nasty Boys reincarnate.
Steve Chisek, who used to bedevil the Braves when he was a Marlin, faced three men. He walked all three, throwing three strikes against 12 balls. Randy Rosario was summoned to face Johan Camargo, batting .000 on the year. Carmago drove a three-run double into the right-field gap. Two more pitchers would be needed for the Cubs to end an inning that saw them walk five and yield two hits. And here we remind you: Not so long ago, the Cubs considered themselves a budding dynasty.
Arodys Vizcaino walked Rizzo in the ninth but struck out Baez and Schwarber, both on sliders, to end it. Afterward, Snitker was asked if he was thinking about Cox, the former boss he’d visited in the hospital earlier Wednesday. “I wish I was,” Snitker said. “I was mostly thinking how these guys never quit and are never out of a game.”
Said Freeman: “We know Bobby is smiling after that one. We knew he was watching us tonight.”
Having suffered what has been reported as a stroke and been hospitalized Tuesday, Cox was alert enough Wednesday to do as he always does — watch baseball. A member of the Braves’ IT crew took a fully rigged iPad to the hospital; by mid-afternoon, the skipper was able to catch the Nationals and Phillies staging their own version of Bullpen Follies, which seems the theme of this nascent season.
From 0-3 after a lost weekend in Philadelphia, the Braves are 2-3 after twice beating a team that won 387 games over the past four years. Yes, it’s still ridiculously early, and yes, this bullpen absolutely needs to get better posthaste. But there might actually be worse bullpens, which is kind of a comfort. Kind of.
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