When glancing at the 2019 MLB schedule last winter, Braves-Twins probably wasn’t pinpointed as a series between two of baseball’s five best clubs. But as Monday showed, it very much was.
The interleague opponents both looked the part of star-studded, deep first-place teams during their series opener in Minneapolis, when the Twins won 5-3 on Miguel Sano’s pinch-hit two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
But the focus in Atlanta will not center on a competitive ballgame between two strong clubs. Or Mike Soroka’s seven strong. Or Freddie Freeman’s 27th home run. Or even an offense that stranded nine men on base.
The emphasis: A new-look bullpen that hasn’t yet appeared new at all. Monday marked the Braves’ third loss in five games since retooling the unit with veteran righties Shane Greene, Chris Martin and Mark Melancon.
Staked a 3-3 tie, Martin couldn’t send the game to extras. Sano obliterated an ill-placed cutter that wrapped up the Twins’ 70th win. And with that swing came the expected emotional reactions from Braves fans who’ve seen this show before.
“I just didn’t execute the pitch,” Martin said. “It was supposed to be off the plate, get him leaning out a little bit and go from there. Obviously you saw what happened. I left it out over the plate. He’s got long arms. He’s got leverage. I faced him a lot (they’ve faced each other twice) and try to attack him the same way every time. I think he finally figured it out and got good wood on it.”
Luke Jackson, who blew seven saves during his time as closer, cannot be blamed for what’s happened lately. The Braves’ greatest weakness appeared to at least be at least solid after injected the trio acquired at the trade deadline. Thus far, everyone is waiting to see the bullpen match the hype.
This loss followed a pair of underwhelming outings from Greene, who wasn’t the beneficiary of luck but withstood a blown save and loss in the recent homestand. Greene, who allowed five runs in 38 games for the Tigers, has already allowed four in two games for the Braves.
Martin’s debut went swimmingly, when he threw 11 pitches in a scoreless frame Friday. This appearance will erase those good feelings, instead introducing more questions about Martin’s expected regression from his absurd production in Texas, where he’d walk only one hitter since late May.
On a positive note, Melancon was outstanding in relief of Soroka, tossing 17 pitches in a scoreless eighth and keeping the Braves within two runs. In due time, the Braves expect their other two relievers to show why they were considered difference makers too.
“Those guys have been around,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s different when guys get traded. It’s a different mindset. You have to give them a chance to get settled in, get comfortable. I don’t care how long you’ve been around, it’s still a big ordeal to move your families and have all that going on. These guys are really good relievers. You just have to give it time and everything will be fine.”
Mike Foltynewicz returns from his Triple-A relegation Tuesday to face Twins righty Jose Berrios, who owns a 2.80 ERA. It will be Foltynewicz’s first start since June 22, when he allowed eight runs in four innings against the Nationals and was demoted the next day.
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