Hey, would you look at that? Four in a row now -- it's called a winning streak, and it has happened before. (Specifically, once before this season, in mid-April.)
A complete effort from much of the team gave the Braves the edge they needed to trump the Mets at Citi Field. Let's go aspect by aspect.
Aaron Blair wasn't great, but his effort was a marked improvement from his previous turns in the rotation. In the end, his final line was six innings, three runs on five hits and a walk, and four strikeouts, allowing two home runs in the process. It wasn't a great start as far as ERA (4.50) or FIP (6.63) are concerned, but Blair worked fairly efficiently and was not plagued by a lack of command as he had been in earlier starts. He managed only five three-ball counts on the night, and got a lot of poor contact on early-count pitches, which gave him an economical pitch count of just 82 through his six innings of work.
The three runs he allowed came in the third and fourth innings. In the third, Yoenis Cespedes drove a curveball out to left center for the first run of the game. The next inning, Wilmer Flores hit a Blair full count fastball out to left, doubling the Mets' run total. The next batter, James Loney, tripled, and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Rene Rivera. That was all the Mets would manage, as Blair sat down the next seven batters he faced without incident, and was pulled for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh. Speaking of hitting...
The Braves haven't had much success against Steven Matz in the past, but they managed some reasonable improvements against him this time around. Matz lasted six innings (99 pitches) and allowed four hits, two walks, and two runs, though he did notch seven strikeouts.He managed the Braves pretty well until the fifth, but then they did something that apparently rarely happens this season: clawed their way back into the game.
Brandon Snyder, making his first start as a Brave, started the fifth with a double to right. Despite a wild pitch, the Braves weren't able to bring him home until Chase d'Arnaud did so with a line drive single in a two-out, two-strike situation. The next inning, after carving up Freddie Freeman on three pitches, Matz threw a first pitch changeup on the outer edge of the plate. Jeff Francoeur did what he does best: try to pull everything, but managed to succeed in this case, hitting a towering homer on the pitch to bring the Atlanta deficit to within one.
Matz, given his pitch count, left the game after the sixth. Jim Henderson took over, and his very first pitch of the game was absolutely demolished by Tyler Flowers, who hit a screaming line drive to left center to tie the game.
That then set the Braves up for...
Baserunning (and a lucky break)
The Braves had scored in three straight frames, and found themselves tied in the top of the eighth with the top of their lineup coming up and Addison Reed, who's having a great 2016 for the Mets, on the hill. Undaunted, Ender Inciarte greeted Reed with an opposite field slicer that went for a hustle double. The Mets elected to intentionally walk Freeman with a righty on the mound. Francoeur then hit a sinking liner to right fielder Curtis Granderson... who caught the play and made a fairly lackadaisical throw back to the infield. Inciarte, visibly pumped up both at the plate and on the bases, read the throw correctly and, after returning to second base, made a mad dash for third, sliding in safely before a tag could be applied.
The aggressive baserunning was then vindicated thanks to a little luck. Nick Markakis, with a chance to give the Braves a lead, struck out. But, with Flowers at the dish, Addison Reed threw a wild pitch that went through Rene Rivera's wickets, letting Inciarte scamper home for the go-ahead run.
Fast-forward to the ninth, with Jim Johnson on the hill trying to nail down the series win. First, some bad defense: Wilmer Flores reached base on a grounder mishandled and booted by Erick Aybar. The next batter, Loney, drove a Johnson pitch deep to left center, and it looked like it might tie the game. But Inciarte got over quickly and threw an absolute bullet to Aybar, who made up for his gaffe by making another strong relay throw to Flowers, beating Flores to the plate and preserving the lead. A huge, huge play, and one of the differences in the game.
Despite the hot water into which Jim Johnson waded, the relief corps made it through unscathed. The procession of Alexi Ogando, Dario Alvarez, Chris Withrow, and Hunter Cervenka pitched two innings, allowing just two baserunners. After the excitement described above, Jim Johnson got a harmless flyout and then struck out Granderson on a curveball to deliver the game, and series, win.
An all-around great game, and one the Braves should feel very pleased with. Inciarte, in particular, displayed some real jubilation and energy as he played a critical role in the win. The Braves go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon.