It’s crucial the first-place Braves perform well over their current nine-game homestand against three losing teams. After a seventh-inning scare, they defeated the woeful Nationals 8-5 Tuesday to start the homestand 1-0.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday:
1. Second baseman Ozzie Albies, hitting right-handed against Nationals soft-tossing righty Ryan Harper, blasted a two-run shot in the eighth that spoiled the Nationals’ comeback. Albies has homered in four consecutive games since returning from a two-game absence after getting hit in the left knee with a foul ball.
“All I was telling myself is to get the pitch in the zone and try to drive in the runner so (we can take the lead),” Albies said.
The All-Star has 27 home runs. His 67 extra-base hits lead the National League.
2. The Braves required Albies’ heroics because of a rare clunker from Tyler Matzek. The lefty was arguably the best reliever in the majors not too long ago. He had a 20-game scoreless streak from July 1 to Aug. 29, striking out 23 against seven walks while allowing only five hits in 17-2/3 innings.
He’d become mortal in the past week, allowing runs in consecutive games in Los Angeles. But he hasn’t had an outing worse than Tuesday: Matzek entered with a 5-1 lead in the seventh. He exited with the game tied.
Matzek issued a lead-off walk and surrendered three hits in the Nationals’ four-run frame. The rally was capped by Yadiel Hernandez’s three-run homer with two outs.
“It was just one of those outings,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He’d been so good for so long. (Hernandez) ambushed him on the homer. But even so, he was an out away from it not being real crisp but getting out of it with one run, which would’ve been great. It’s going to happen. Those guys keep towing that rubber, and guys like Matzek who will take that ball anytime you want to give it to him. He comes into my office all the time if we have him down and says, ‘I can pitch. I feel great.’ He does nothing but want to get the ball. Every now and then, (bad showings) are going to happen.”
3. Max Fried surrendered two hits and walked a batter in the first, putting the Braves in a 1-0 hole. He was superb afterwards, allowing four hits and no runs over the next five innings. He struck out five and walked four.
“He really had to work,” Snitker said. “He had a lot of traffic out there. To his credit, he bent but he didn’t break. But he really had to work tonight. I think the sixth was probably his best inning. He kept fighting and didn’t give in, staying with things and making pitches. That’s part of it. You’re not going to have everything every game. You just see the growth and maturity of the pitcher, I feel.
Through two September outings against the Dodgers and Nationals, Fried has allowed three runs on nine hits over 12 innings while posting a 14:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In the season’s second half, he has a 1.97 ERA over 10 starts.
“I’d say my mentality (is different in the second half),” Fried said. “Going after guys a little bit more. I’ve been in a really good rhythm. Mechanically, I’ve spread out my base a little more and tried to be a little bit more balanced so I can just make some more pitches. Beyond that, I feel like I’ve gotten into a really good groove and have worked really well with (catcher) Travis (d’Arnaud).”
4. Outfielder Adam Duvall took the NL lead in RBIs Sunday. After a day off, he extended his RBI total with a three-run shot off Nationals starter Paolo Espino in the first inning. Duvall’s 97 RBIs are tied with Rays outfielder (and Atlanta native) Austin Meadows for fifth most in the majors.
5. The Braves moved to 34-32 at Truist Park. They’re 39-32 on the road. The Braves are one of five NL teams that own winning records at home and on the road, joining the Brewers, Reds, Giants and Dodgers.
Stat to know
13-4 (The Braves are 13-4 against the Nationals this season.)
“I kind of want to go around with my fungo (bat) and beat a couple of these guys on the knee.” – Snitker said jokingly when asked about how well Albies has played since fouling a ball off his knee last week
The Braves will start Touki Toussaint against Nationals lefty Sean Nolin in Wednesday’s matchup.