Bad news: The Atlanta Braves’ pitching has collapsed.
Good news: They’ll still win the division.
The Philadelphia Phillies must be kicking themselves, although if they kick the way they hit, they’d miss their own rear ends. Philly has lost consecutive games to the Marlins and the Mets, teams playing for nothing, and has been outhit 23-11 over the two. The Braves have somehow seen their magic number shrink from nine to seven even as they’ve lost three in a row.
Still, that ray of sunshine can’t hide the gloom. These three losses have been horrid. Braves pitchers walked 14, six of those by Julio Teheran, in a 7-1 loss to Washington on Saturday. Sean Newcomb yielded five runs in three innings in a 6-4 loss on Sunday. If anything, the All-Star Mike Foltynewicz was even worse Monday night.
He walked four and hit a batter in a first inning that saw St. Louis score three. He left midway through the fifth with his team down 6-2. The Braves closed within a run, whereupon manager Brian Snitker … well, he forgot to manage.
Jesse Biddle, the fourth Braves’ pitcher on the night, got two out in the eighth but walked Matt Carpenter to put runners on first and second. Next up was Harrison Bader, who has hit 10 homers as a rookie. He bats right-handed. Biddle is a lefty. He should have been pulled when he walked the left-handed Carpenter. He was unaccountably allowed to face a right-handed hitter – even as Snitker had SEVEN righties in the bullpen. (Rosters have expanded, y’know.)
Biddle fell behind Bader 3-0. Allowed to swing at the next pitch, Bader hoisted a scary-looking drive that sliced foul. He swung again on 3-1 and crushed a four-seamer over the wall in left-center. That made it 9-5. The Cardinals would win 11-6. (Arodys Vizcaino yielded a two-run shot to Yadier Molina in the ninth. As noted, this was a wretched night from start to finish.)
Snitker’s thinking on leaving the lefty to face the righty: “(Biddle) hasn’t been a matchup guy the whole time. His breaking ball is kind of an equalizer for him (against righties). He got caught. He got behind in the count. He’s been a clean-inning guy for us all year. In hindsight, I wish I wouldn’t have (left him in); I wish I’d have done something different. But he’s as good against right-handers as he is against left-handers.”
Just not this time, and not after two walks. That’s pretty much how it’s going for the Braves. They play a hunch and they see the ball fly over the fence. Over three games, they’ve been outscored 24-11. If this weren’t already a first-place team, you wouldn’t have guessed it from current events.
You know the saying, it’s better to be lucky than good? The Braves have been good virtually all season – hence that first-place thing – and now they’ve gotten lucky. The Phillies have cratered. They’re 8-19 since Aug. 17. They’re getting clobbered by terrible teams. They mightn’t finish above .500, let alone win the National League East. You’d hate for it to be said that the Braves backed into what should be a signal accomplishment, but darned if that’s not how it’s looking.
Over the past three days, no Braves starting pitcher has gone even five innings. Teheran needed 90 pitches to get through four Saturday. Newcomb threw 73 in three Sunday. Foltynewicz loosed 87 in 4 2/3 Monday. The collective line for the three starters – 14 earned runs, 13 hits, 10 walks. As a staff, the Braves have issued 26 bases on balls over the past 27 innings. They’ve walked 39 over the past five games. To suggest that’s not going to cut it come the playoffs will, I feel certain, earn me a battlefield promotion from Capt. Obvious to Lt. Col. Obvious.
I don’t mean to be unduly harsh. The Braves have given us all a ride this summer, and it’s almost certainly going to continue beyond September. And it could be that the weight of working something approaching a full season of mostly splendid baseball has begun to show on a team that hasn’t played for anything of note since 2013. But starting pitching is why this team is where it is, and that starting pitching has gone suddenly south, metaphorically speaking.
And, since you asked: It is not mathematically possible for the Braves to lose every remaining game and still win the East. They’re six ahead in the loss column, and they play Philadelphia seven more times. They’ll have to win at least once over their 12 remaining games to be champs, and surely they’ll win more than that. Right now, though, this fine team looks as discombobulated as it has all year. Walking people can have that effect. Bad starting pitching can have that effect.