5 takeaways from Braves’ 6-5 loss to Nationals

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek walks off the field after being relieved by Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, right, in the seventh inning of an opening day baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Tyler Matzek walks off the field after being relieved by Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, right, in the seventh inning of an opening day baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Braves wasted four homers Tuesday, losing 6-5 in Washington on Juan Soto’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth. They’re off to an 0-4 start for the first time since 2016.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday:

1. The Braves’ bullpen surrendered six hits and walked three. It was an uncharacteristic showing from a group that was strong last season and started this one well in Philadelphia. Lefties Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter weren’t at their best. Will Smith, the Braves’ most important southpaw, didn’t record an out in the ninth.

Smith was phenomenal in the spring and in his first appearance opening day, so the Braves will hope it’s just a bump in the road. It’s not as though Smith was pummeled: To open the inning, Victor Robles singled to right. A pitch got away that hit Turner, putting another runner on. Then Soto, who was 0-for-4 entering the at-bat, laced one to center that ended it.

Matzek allowed a hit and walked two in his outing. Minter allowed a run on three hits. As manager Brian Snitker said, sometimes it’s just not your day.

“They were really good for us last year, and they’re going to be big for us again this year,” Snitker said. “But sometimes they have bad days, too.”

2. While the Braves have had modest success against Nationals ace Max Scherzer, it’s rare to see them tee off as they did early in Tuesday’s game. They homered four times before recording an out in the third inning. Ronald Acuna provided two, while Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson had the others.

The Braves led off the first, second and third innings with home runs. By that time, they had scored more Tuesday (four runs) than they did in the previous series against the Phillies (three runs). Snitker felt that was the one positive, seeing the offense finally break out against one of the sport’s premier pitchers.

“I have confidence in my abilities; with that, I also have confidence in my teammates,” Acuna said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “I know what we’re capable of and what we can do as a team. I have all the confidence in the world that we’ll keep getting after it and get it.”

3. Acuna is a historically great leadoff hitter. MLB statistician Sarah Langs pointed out on Twitter (@SlangsOnSports) that Acuna’s 20 leadoff homers are the most for any player before turning 24, outpacing Hanley Ramirez (15) and Barry Bonds (13). Acuna’s 20 leadoff shots are the most in MLB since he debuted in April 2018. Rickey Henderson is the all-time leader with 81 leadoff home runs, for the record.

4. Nobody is chalking up the Braves’ rough start to just bad luck, but even Snitker admits that’s a factor. The Braves haven’t had many breaks in any facet of the game.

“In this road trip, I’ve never seen so many ground balls just right out of our reach, and balls that weren’t hit hard,” Snitker said. “We haven’t been blasted, other than that game-winner that was probably 100 (mph). Balls were just right out of our reach, beating the shift. … Those things are going to happen. Doesn’t matter if it’s the first four or the 104th. You’re going to have to deal with situations like that throughout the course of the year.”

5. Drew Smyly allowed four runs (two earned) over six innings in his first start. Snitker thought the southpaw was “really good, effortless.” Smyly struck out eight and walked one. He made a mistake on a pitch to Trea Turner, who homered, and surrendered a double to Jonathan Lucroy that scored a pair of unearned runs. Otherwise, he missed bats and retired the final 10 hitters he faced to cover six full innings. That should leave the Braves optimistic.

Stat of the game

4 (The Braves homered four times off Scherzer, the most they’ve hit in one game off the three-time Cy Young winner)

Quotable

“No one wants to start 0-4, but we could easily be 3-1 right now. I think everybody sees that. Everyone talks about the Phillies sweeping us, I don’t really think they hit a ball hard that whole series. They just had timely hits and the balls went their way. We’re just on to tomorrow and hopefully we can win both those games and be right back on track.” -- Smyly on the Braves’ 0-4 start

Next up

The Braves and Nationals wrap up their series Wednesday with a doubleheader that begins at 12:05 p.m. Both games will be seven innings. Max Fried will start the first game, and the Braves will use a bullpen game, started by Huascar Ynoa, for the second contest.

In Other News