Ender Inciarte striped a triple to start the game and scored when Freddie Freeman singled, Dansby Swanson smashed a two-run homer in the next inning, and I’m thinking this is just what the Braves needed.
Pound out some early runs to give rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson a cushion against the Phillies. Get a big-enough lead that their thin bullpen didn’t matter. Remind everyone that they have enough bats to keep them afloat until pitching help arrives from the injured list.
And then Wilson gave a run back in the bottom of the second before surrendering three more in the fourth. The Braves tied the score in the fifth before the Phillies answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning off reliever Wes Parsons. The Braves were still in it until Bryce Harper put them away with a homer off Jesse Biddle, which rendered moot Charlie Culberson’s two-run homer in the ninth.
You get the picture. This 8-6 loss looked much the same as the opener. The Braves have issued 11 walks in two games. The Phillies have clubbed seven homers. That’s two losses in two games for the Braves because their pitchers couldn’t get the Phillies out.
Maybe it gets better for the Braves once the pitching staff is whole. No. 2 starter Kevin Gausman is pointed to a Friday return. Co-closer A.J. Minter could be close behind. Mike Foltynewicz will start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Thursday, and the normal protocol is at least two more starts in the minors.
“We’ll get things straightened out eventually,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I guess losing those guys probably is not a real good thing for us.”
No need to rush “Folty” when he’s dealing with elbow soreness, an issue he worked around for parts of last season. The staff will stabilize once Foltynewicz, Gausman, Minter and veteran reliever Darren O’Day rejoin it. The lineup will have more pop once new third baseman Josh Donaldson gets it going (he’s hitless so far).
Until all that happens, the Braves will try to survive. It won’t be easy. After finishing with the Phillies on Sunday night, they get the Cubs, Marlins, Rockies and Mets. Only one pushover among those teams, and nothing is certain for the Braves considering the state of their pitching.
As I mentioned on opening day, it’s silly to panic about an underachieving baseball team until it gets closer to June. As mentioned above, it’s reasonable to wonder if the Braves have enough pitching to win the East again. They like to talk about their “organizational depth,” but that’s just another way of saying they have a bunch of unproven pitchers they might need because they didn’t spend money on any proven ones.
Pretty much every internal move the Braves can make would just mean swapping one inexperienced pitcher for another. Things are bad enough now. A setback for any of their injured pitchers, a real possibility, could be too much to overcome.
“We’ll probably go through it again before this six months is over,” Snitker said. “Until we get those three guys back and it kind of solidifies things, we are going to have to just keep fighting.”
The Phillies have quickly revealed the Braves’ issues. They have that kind of lineup. It won’t be easy for good pitching staffs to navigate all their mashers. The Braves probably will have an average staff when their four top guys are healthy, and they’ve been overmatched without them.
Wilson was fine through three innings Saturday. He limited the damage to one run in the second after Rhys Hoskins doubled to lead off. Wilson came apart in the fourth. He walked Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez laced a triple and Maikel Franco hammered a first pitch out of the park.
That was the end of Wilson’s second career start. It didn’t take long for Parsons to follow him. He walked Hoskins with two outs in the fifth before J.T. Realmuto put the Phillies ahead for good with a homer. Harper extended the lead by pulling Biddle’s inside fastball 465 feet into the right-center stands.
“We’re just having a hard time keeping them in the ballpark,” Snitker said.
Parsons is, like Wilson, a rookie who got a taste of the big leagues before this season. The same goes for Biddle. Reliever Shane Carle, who gave up a three-run homer in the opener, has pitched less than 70 innings in the big leagues. The Braves hope the on-the-job training for those players pays dividends in the future but, right now, it’s costing them games.
The Braves are in a defensive posture with their bullpen. They can’t trust that they’ll get lengthy starts consistently, so the pen is full of pitchers who can go long. Parsons is one of those guys, but he made it only 1-1/3 innings Saturday. Biddle lasted 1-2/3.
The Braves on will start another rookie Sunday, right-hander Kyle Wright. Who knows what they’ll get for him, and now their bullpen is a bit taxed after relievers working 5-2/3 innings Saturday. The Braves’ pitching is a mess right now and it’s not clear when it will get better.
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