The Braves have stolen their share of wins this season, including throughout their recent eight-game winning streak. On Saturday, they had a victory snatched away in a familiar manner.
Up 5-4 in the ninth, reliever Luke Jackson couldn’t seal the game. The Phillies used two hits and an error to go up 6-5 and defeat the Braves in front of a record SunTrust Park crowd. The loss snapped the Braves’ MLB-long winning streak and prevented them from an opportunity to sweep their rivals Sunday.
Scott Kingery singled off Jackson’s slider to begin the inning. Sean Rodriguez attempted to bunt him over, and Jackson fielded the ball and threw beyond first base, allowing Rodriguez to reach and advance while moving Kingery to third.
Seven pitches later – and on Jackson’s fifth consecutive slider – Cesar Hernandez singled in the game-tying and go-ahead runs. Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman went quietly in the bottom of the frame.
“He was his own worst enemy there because you don’t know what might happen if he gets an out,” manager Brian Snitker said, referencing Jackson’s error. “It’s just the life of a closer or guy pitching in the ninth inning. You have to have a short memory, that’s for sure.”
It was Jackson’s sixth blown save and seventh time allowing a run in his past 11 outings. The right-hander was among the team’s best stories earlier in the season, but his regression has left the team again scrambling when the ninth inning rolls around.
His inconsistency could open the door for other options in the ninth. Anthony Swarzak, who’s pitched admirably since joining the team in May, could be worth a look. Displaced closer A.J. Minter might re-earn his role. The lefty has been sharp in his three appearances back in the majors since being optioned to Triple-A. He impressed again Saturday, with Snitker saying it was the best he’d looked since spring.
The Braves’ leaky bullpen stands alone atop the team’s needs, especially with Dallas Keuchel joining the rotation as soon as five days from now. Whomever they rely on for the final three outs, it’s expected they’ll pursue outside help before the July 31 trade deadline.
“Tonight it was just two breaking balls and an error,” said catcher Tyler Flowers, evaluating Jackson’s evening. “He relies on his breaking ball a fair bit but he has the fastball velocity to go with it. That’s the challenge. Everyone knows you have a good breaking ball so they have two choices: Look for it or make sure they hit the fastball. So it’s our job to make sure they execute the breaking balls when we think they’re looking for them, and try to keep them off balance with some fastballs up in the zone.”
Sean Newcomb, who’s bolstered the bullpen, made a spot start but exited in the third inning after he was hit by a liner in the back of the head. He went through concussion protocol and said he never lost consciousness. The Braves will follow up on him Sunday.
In more positive developments, Josh Donaldson had a three-hit night, including a double and go-ahead three-run shot in the fifth, his second home run in as many days. Donaldson did make a crucial fielding error – his 10th, tied for sixth most in the majors – but the Braves were pleased with how his bat has looked the past two nights.
“Really, in Miami (last weekend) I started to feel myself, my body really start working how I’m used to it working,” Donaldson said. “I’ve been trying to find the proper sequences and probably sometimes overthinking it. Just really trying to get back to the fundamentals of my swing and allow myself to do what I do.”
Mike Foltynewicz, still trying to rediscover himself, faces the Phillies in the finale as the Braves try to exit the series leading the National League East by 2-1/2 games.