TORONTO — The Braves blew a lead in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, losing 6-5 to complete a sweep by the Blue Jays. It was their fourth consecutive loss.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday:
1. Manager Brian Snitker said he considered his team fortunate to carry a one-run lead into the ninth given how they had played. The Braves had committed three errors and looked nothing like their usually fundamentally sound selves. They did enough, though, to avoid seeing the game spiral out of control, even as the Blue Jays piled up base runners.
But living on the edge comes with a lot of risk. Closer Raisel Iglesias gave up a 363-foot single to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to start the ninth. Right fielder Ronald Acuna appeared to think the ball was gone, but it bounced off the wall and Guerrero held at first. An out later, Matt Chapman drew a walk.
Iglesias retired Whit Merrifield on a flyout, but Brandon Belt’s single – a 61-mph grounder that didn’t allow shortstop Orlando Arcia to make a play – set the stage for the game-ending play. Danny Jansen hit an Iglesias fastball to left field, scoring two runs to end the game.
“It’s just kind of the way we’re going right now,” Snitker said. “We had a (weak chopper) there with two outs instead of a ground ball at somebody. But we have to make it happen. We didn’t. I felt we were lucky, with the way we’d played, to have a lead in the ninth inning. Just couldn’t close it out.”
2. There haven’t been many more frustrating series for the Braves in recent seasons than what they endured in Toronto this weekend. In the first game, Spencer Strider’s 12 strikeouts were rendered a footnote as the Braves were shut out 3-0. In the second contest, the Braves mustered only two runs, and the bullpen had a forgettable showing as the Blue Jays won again.
Then Sunday capped it off, an uncharacteristically poor performance from one of MLB’s more consistent clubs. At the root of it: The Braves were 2-for-20 with runners in scoring position during the series.
“There were missed opportunities, and you can’t do that against a good team,” third baseman Austin Riley said. “You also have to capitalize on mistakes. We didn’t do that as well. Tough one to swallow.”
The Braves scored only two runs across the first two games leading into Sunday’s madness, when outfield miscommunication was a large part of the story (Acuna and second baseman Ozzie Albies and outfielders Kevin Pillar and Michael Harris had miscues; first baseman Matt Olson also dropped a pop-up). Wind was a factor, but the Braves weren’t making excuses.
“You have to play the elements, too,” Snitker said. “We have to do a better job of communicating. We work on it in spring training; we’re really good at it. The ball in left-center, both guys (Harris and Pillar) called it at the same time. It’s tough. You can’t give teams more than 27 outs. ... These are things we can control, but it does happen. It was rough out there. I had no idea until I went to the mound what the elements were. But still, it’s not an excuse. We have to be better.”
3. The Braves started Pillar in left field. Pillar, who spent parts of seven seasons with the Blue Jays, received a standing ovation before his first at-bat. He stepped back and tipped his helmet to the crowd. He then homered in his second at-bat, extending the Braves’ lead to 5-2. It was his 30th homer at Rogers Centre.
“You go four years without stepping foot in this country, in this stadium, it’s definitely really special to come back that many years later and be remembered and appreciated,” said Pillar, who first returned in 2019 with the Giants, a few weeks after he was traded. “It was overwhelming. It’s definitely a tough at-bat to follow up. There’s a lot of emotions going through your head. It was really nice.
Snitker had fielded multiple questions from Toronto media about Pillar this weekend. The Blue Jays fan base has a lot of appreciation for a player they watched mature in their uniform. Pillar debuted when Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays’ general manager. Pillar helped two playoff teams in Toronto, including the 2015 club that won the American League East for the first time in its current format.
The Braves have seen why he’s so highly regarded. Pillar has been a key contributor off the bench. “He’s been a great teammate,” Riley said.
4. For the second time in four contests, the Braves used a bullpen game because of their short-handed rotation. Collin McHugh started, allowing three unearned runs on six hits in 1-2/3 innings while not getting much help from his defense.
Michael Tonkin followed, covering 3-1/3 innings while allowing one run – a George Springer homer – on three hits. Tonkin hadn’t allowed a run over his past five games (9-1/3 innings) and gave the Braves desperately needed length and stability for a team that had been featuring early offense. Jesse Chavez, Kirby Yates and Nick Anderson pitched three scoreless innings to preserve the lead going into the ninth.
Blue Jays 6, Braves 5
5. The Braves have lost nine consecutive games to the Blue Jays. They were 0-6 against Toronto in 2021 – their championship season – and were swept this weekend. It’s their longest skid against one opponent since the 2015 Braves lost nine consecutive to the Nationals.
Now, the Braves move forward with an important stretch. They’ll face the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, before beginning a long homestand against the Mariners, Dodgers and Phillies. Each of those four teams is a postseason contender.
“This team has seen it all, whatever it may be,” Riley said. “Games, injuries, we’ve been through it all. There’s no panic. You have to swallow it and tip your cap to them for coming out and getting three wins against us. Just looking forward to tomorrow.”
Stat to know
Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2021 (The Braves were swept in a three-game road series for the first time since the Dodgers swept them in Los Angeles on Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2021.)
“It was a weird weekend. A weekend that we’ll forget.” – Riley
The Braves will start Charlie Morton (4-3, 3.32 ERA) in the series opener Monday against the Rangers.
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