It took less than 20 minutes to deflate the enthusiasm and energy of a high-voltage crowd at SunTrust Park on Wednesday. On the heals of the Braves announcing the 2021 All-Star game would be held in Atlanta, Kevin Gausman couldn't keep the good vibes going.
The Braves were beaten mercilessly by the Nationals, 14-4, in one of their worst losses of the season. They allowed four runs in the first and second innings, respectively, in route to being swept in a two-game series against their rivals.
“Obviously not a good time to have one of the worst starts of my career,” Gausman said. “But the only positive is maybe we get the bad one out of the way.”
Anibal Sanchez, who played such an important role in the Braves’ division title a season ago, carried a no-hitter into the sixth in his first game back from the injured list. Sanchez entered the game with an 0-6 record and 5.10 ERA.
Life wasn’t as kind to Gausman. After retiring Trae Turner for the first out of the game, he couldn’t catch a break. Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon singled before Juan Soto walked. Howie Kendrick flew out to drive in the Nationals’ first run, and former Brave Matt Adams singled to score the second.
Keeping with the theme, ex-Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki collected his second consecutive night with an RBI against his former team. Victor Robles’ single made it 4-0. Gausman was a victim of soft hits and perfect placement by Nationals hitters.
“The stuff looked good in the first inning, then it just got away from him,” manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s a rough first inning, but a lot of guys give up four runs in the first inning, stay around and win the game. It still felt like we had a long way to go, then in the second inning it just collapsed.”
As Snitker alluded, it only got worse. Turner singled and stole second to open the next frame. Eaton walked on five pitches. Rendon tripled to right field, scoring both. Soto knocked in the third run of the inning, chasing Gausman, and Robles’ grounder scored the fourth.
The line on Gausman’s disaster: 1 inning, 8 hits, 8 earned runs. He walked two and struck out just one. The night bumped his ERA to 5.56.
“I have to try not to get too discouraged,” he said. “But it wasn’t very good tonight. … The M.O. on me is out. You’re going to get a lot of fastballs, a good amount of splits. When I can throw them for strikes, it’s good. But today I got in some hitters’ counts. That first inning was some bad luck but I let it carry over to the second.”
In a rotation stocked with competitors, Gausman can’t afford outings like Wednesday. The Braves have rotation options, and as Gausman’s living-on-the-edge pitching persists, the team may eventually opt for alternatives.
That’s a significant step downwards for the righty, who was crucial in his 10 second-half starts for the team last season. The Braves are counting on Gausman and Julio Teheran as the veteran innings eaters of an uber young staff. Gausman was expected to be a steady presence; instead he’s been unpredictable, one reason the Braves will explore the starter market over the next two months.
“I feel confident in myself and my abilities,” Gausman said. “I know I’m way better than giving up eight runs in an inning. It wasn’t my best tonight but I have another start in five days. Sometimes in this game you have to be able to forget things quickly, learn from them.”
Touki Toussaint replaced Gausman, pitching the next three innings and allowing only a run. The Nationals struck Dan Winkler hard, however, plating five against the right-hander, prompting a chorus of boos from those remaining in the crowd.
“It was rough,” Snitker said of Winkler, whose outing was the worst of his career. “He had a really good run for an extended period, so hopefully he can shake it off and get back going.”
When Sean Newcomb replaced Winkler, it was 14-0. The Braves have survived these beatdowns before – recall the San Diego 11-2 meltdown earlier this month – but laying an egg against a struggling rival was a disappointing way to return from a successful road trip.
Washington, despite winning a series over Miami, put itself into a corner with a horrid start. The Braves had a chance to suffocate the Nats, and instead aided their case for a revival. Even with the last two nights, Washington is 24-32, nine games behind the Phillies and six behind the Braves. The Nationals couldn’t afford to fall much further behind.
The lone spec of optimism: Austin Riley hit his first career grand slam in the seventh inning. It was his seventh homer of the season in just 14 games. He has 20 RBIs, already seventh-most on the team (Dansby Swanson leads the Braves with 35).
Riley’s seven homers are tied for the second-most in MLB history through 14 games, trailing Colorado’s Trevor Story (eight, 2016).
The Braves are off Thursday before opening a weekend interleague series against the Tigers. Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka and Julio Teheran will start that trio of games. The Braves embark on a road trip to Pittsburgh and Miami afterwards.