These Braves have those 10th-inning blues

052021 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves base-runner Ronald Acuna walks off the field from third base as Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Richard Rodriguez and catcher Jacob Stallings celebrate a 6-4 victory in 10 innings in a baseball game Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
052021 Atlanta: Atlanta Braves base-runner Ronald Acuna walks off the field from third base as Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Richard Rodriguez and catcher Jacob Stallings celebrate a 6-4 victory in 10 innings in a baseball game Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Braves are 1-5 in extra-inning games. Were they 5-1, they would be leading the National League East. Some of this is because of luck. (Much of baseball is because of luck.) But here’s a chilling stat: The Braves, who are batting .227 as a team, are hitting .174 in extra innings. And that’s not the worst of it.

The worst: All four of the Braves’ extra-inning hits came in the same game, which not coincidentally was the one they won. (They beat the Phillies 8-7 in 12 innings.) In the five losses, they’re hitless.

As we know, MLB changed how regular-season games – though not postseason games – are played if they’re tied after nine innings. (Or if you’re playing a doubleheader and a game is tied after seven innings. MLB has been busy.) The home team still gets the final at-bat, which is never a bad thing, but the home team is much more apt to be behind when the bottom of the 10th arrives.

Come the 10th, the visitor starts with a runner on second – in scoring position – and none out. The visiting team is therefore two productive outs from taking the lead. A sac bunt and a sac fly will suffice. Heck, two wild pitches would do it.

Yes, the same applies to the home side in the bottom of the inning, but the pressure is heightened when you’re behind. In all five of the Braves’ extra-inning losses, they yielded a 10th-inning run. Four of the five came at Truist Park, the most recent Thursday against last-place Pittsburgh.

With a runner on second and nobody out, you SHOULD score. Even MLB’s statisticians concede the point: If the runner who starts on second scores, that run isn’t counted against the pitcher’s ERA. The Braves have played six 10th innings this season. They haven’t scored. They haven’t had a hit. They’re 0-for-17, which is nuts.

Maybe we should have seen this coming. The season opener went to bonus cantos, Pablo Sandoval having tied the score with a pinch-hit homer. Ozzie Albies, who’s fast, was the 10th-inning ghost runner. Freddie Freeman moved him to third with a grounder. (One of those productive outs, or so we thought.) Marcell Ozuna lifted a fly ball to not-deep center field. Roman Quinn threw out Albies, who hadn’t gotten the world’s greatest jump, at home. The Phillies won on Jean Segura’s walk-off single.

The only Braves pitcher to make through a 10th inning without yielding a run is Will Smith. Jacob Webb has failed twice, Thursday included. Nate Jones failed twice, Tyler Matzek once. The 10th inning, we concede, is unfair to the pitcher, but it must be noted that opposing pitchers have gotten through it unscathed six times against these Braves.

Apologies if this seems a picking of nits, but 13.6 percent of the Braves’ games have been tied after nine innings. They’ve lost 83.3 percent of those. Manager Brian Snitker has noted that, for all the bullpen’s failings – eight blown saves in 16 chances – his hitters haven’t done much hitting apart from home runs. Thursday’s game offered another case study.

The Braves led 3-2 after two innings. Drew Smyly yielded two home runs. (He leads the National League with 11.) The Braves managed one hit in five innings off four Pittsburgh relievers. The Pirates managed six hits in five innings off six Braves relievers. On Wednesday, Ronald Acuna settled a game against the first-place Mets with a climactic home run. On Thursday, the Braves again failed to consolidate gains. We’re closing in on Memorial Day, and they haven’t broken .500.

“We’re a winning streak from being in first place,” Snitker said Thursday, and that’s true. He also said, “We’ve got a lot of time to get really good,” and they do. But they’re 20-24. I didn’t expect this. Pretty sure Snitker didn’t, either.

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