Braves’ ninth-inning comeback falls short as Marlins take series

As the Braves headed toward the regular season, pundits and baseball fans alike viewed them as one of the sport’s best teams. This was deserved: Not only had the Braves completed an improbable run to win a World Series last year, but their roster looked better on paper this time around.

They often haven’t looked like the dominant team everyone expected them to be this season.

The Braves on Sunday nearly mounted an incredible comeback with three ninth-inning runs but fell to the Marlins 5-4 at Truist Park. After dropping two of three to Miami, Atlanta (7-10) has not won any of its five series this season.

“Any time you show fight late like that, it’s something to be happy with,” Matt Olson said. “Obviously we didn’t complete it and you want to come out with the win, but it says a lot having a team that’s kind of always in it.”

It’s important to remember last year’s Braves struggled until August. These Braves are less than a month into this season. They have plenty of talent and will almost certainly begin playing better at some point. Sunday’s ninth inning seemed encouraging going forward.

Last season, the Braves were 7-10 through 17 games. They have the same record this year.

In their latest loss, the Braves didn’t play well in any phase of the game until they scored three runs in the ninth.

Austin Riley’s home run off Tanner Scott, which traveled 437 feet, brought the Braves to within a run with one out. It followed Olson’s sacrifice fly that scored the first run of the inning.

Marcell Ozuna doubled and represented the tying run. Adam Duvall struck out for the second out. Eddie Rosario struck out to end the game.

“We were right there,” Riley said. “Just a few key hits and at-bats, and that game could be a totally different ballgame. It’s just one of those things.”

Perhaps the toughest statistics to swallow: The Braves were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.

Atlanta trailed by four runs in the seventh inning when Olson walked to load the bases with one out. Facing Marlins right-hander Anthony Bass with a chance to cut into the lead, Riley, who also doubled twice in the loss, grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the eighth, the first two Braves reached. The next three at-bats: Rosario strikeout, Dansby Swanson strikeout, Manny Piña groundout.

Marlins starter Jesus Luzardo tossed five innings of one-run baseball against the Braves. Atlanta didn’t score until Luzardo pitched himself into trouble in the fifth, when three walks loaded the bases and the Braves scored on Olson’s groundout to first base.

Bryce Elder limited damage but issued six walks over 4 ⅔ innings. Orlando Arcia didn’t help him out much as Elder would’ve completed five scoreless innings had Arcia squeezed a ball in his glove on the warning track. Instead, it popped out for the game’s first run. The next batter singled to score another, which ended Elder’s day.

“He just seems like he’s always pitching out of trouble and (has) a lot of guys on, but he never gives in,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I give him credit for that. Thought his stuff coming out of the gate looked really, really good too.

“We forget he’s a young guy. He’s just figuring this thing out. What I really like about him is he doesn’t let the roof cave in on him. He keeps the thing manageable and never stops pitching.”

The Braves’ bullpen has, for the most part, pitched well this season. These last two games have been exceptions.

In the sixth inning, Darren O’Day, who finished the fifth for Elder, surrendered a run on a triple and a sacrifice fly. In the seventh, A.J. Minter allowed a pair of two-out doubles – the second was a blooper that fell between everyone in the outfield – as the Marlins scored two more to give themselves a four-run lead.

The Braves are off Monday, then face the Cubs in a three-game series that begins Tuesday. They are still searching for their footing. They have the talent but haven’t yet played up to their potential.

They hope that changes soon, but they know they must stay level until then.

“You have to,” Snitker said. “If you don’t, you’ll drive yourself crazy. It’s a six-month grind here and you have to take each day as a separate entity, and if you get caught up in that whole thing, you’ll drive yourself nuts.”