After three straight victories buoyed by quality pitching, the Atlanta Braves encountered an inauspicious start on Friday evening against the San Diego Padres. From there, moments of optimism arrived but, in short order, they were met by the reality of a bullpen implosion and a 9-3 defeat to even the series.
Brandon McCarthy, making the start for the Braves, allowed a lead-off double in the opening frame and, after securing the first out of the evening moments later, things got dangerous. The veteran right-hander allowed a two-run home run to Jose Pirela, his first (!) of the season, and Atlanta was in a 2-0 hole with haste.
After the Braves went quietly in their side of the first innings, McCarthy again encountered trouble in the top of the second. He allowed three consecutive singles to load the bases but, on cue, McCarthy induced a strikeout by opposing pitcher Clayton Richard and a well-timed double play to escape without further blemish. That proved to be a very important sequence and that became clear quickly in the bottom of the second.
Kurt Suzuki and Charlie Culberson produced singles to place two runners on base and Ender Inciarte grounded into a fielder’s choice. However, the Braves caught a break with an error from San Diego that allowed Culberson and Suzuki to advance and, moments later, Johan Camargo brought them to the plate with a one-out single to knot the score at 2-2.
With McCarthy settling down and settling in, the Braves threatened to take the lead in the bottom of the third inning. Dansby Swanson led the frame off with a lead-off triple and Freddie Freeman walked to put Atlanta in a fantastic position. However, Nick Markakis and Suzuki both grounded into fielder’s choices that did not net runs and, after a Culberson walk, Inciarte struck out to ensure an empty inning.
A quiet fourth inning ensued but the fireworks would soon arrive again, courtesy of the bat of Freddie Freeman. The NL MVP front-runner blasted a one-out, solo home run in the fifth inning to give the Braves their first lead of the night.
Though there was some danger in the sixth inning when a two-out double chased McCarthy to the dugout, Shane Carle emerged from the bullpen and provided backup. Despite allowing a walk, he picked up a strikeout to strand two and extinguish the threat while preserving the advantage.
Unfortunately, the lead would eventually evaporate, as the seventh inning was not kind to Sam Freeman, who replaced Carle after just one out. The left-hander allowed two singles, sandwiched around a walk, to load the bases with no outs but Freeman managed to induce a double play at the perfect time to give Atlanta a chance to keep the Padres at bay. Still, he was unable to get the elusive third out (while facing three consecutive right-handed hitters), allowing a two-run single and, in a flash, Atlanta’s lead flipped to a 4-3 deficit.
That was the end of the evening for Freeman, who was relieved by Peter Moylan. Things did not improve, though, as Moylan immediately issued a walk and allowed a three-run home run to place the Braves in a precarious position with a 7-3 deficit and only nine outs to work with offensively.
The final three innings then came and went without great incident and that spelled doom for the home team. Luiz Gohara, operating in a (bizarre) mop-up role for reasons passing understanding, finished the game for Atlanta on the mound, but allowed two runs on the heels of a questionable replay review of a double play that would have ended the ninth in scoreless fashion. Atlanta managed only one base-runner over the final three frames and that was the end of that.
There were bright spots, including the nice recovery from McCarthy, another home run from Freeman and a significant timely hit from Camargo. Still, a sour taste looms on the heels of (highly) questionable bullpen management and less than spectacular execution in the late innings.
The Braves and Padres will continue their four-game series on Saturday evening, with Atlanta’s Sean Newcomb taking on San Diego’s Jordan Lyles with a 5:10 pm ET first pitch. Stay tuned.