I have always been a fan of when players return “home”. We saw it earlier this year with Albert Pujols, and have seen it time and time again over the years. Typically, the host team gets it right when honoring their former star (in fact, I believe all that I have witnessed have done it right.) However, few have done better than Toronto in welcoming back Josh Donaldson. The effort and quality that went into multiple moments of honor was amazing. To the Blue Jays and their fans, well done.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, that was about the only highlight to really speak of tonight. Another frustrating evening with missed opportunities and poor execution was the Braves undoing in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays. Mike Soroka looked decent besides his first inning struggles, but just simply had no support. With the way the Blue Jays are hitting the ball, it is hard to win with a struggling offense.
The night got off to a fun start with a Ronald Acuna Jr. double, but three straight missed RISP opportunities would foreshadow the rest of the game. The Blue Jays, however, took advantage of their opportunities from the start. Singles by Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made the score 1-0. Two outs later, Justin Smoak joined in on the fun with another RBI single to put Toronto ahead by two.
Run on Ronald Acuña Jr. at your own risk. pic.twitter.com/c1Wmrgcrxb— FOX Sports South (@FOXSportsSouth) August 28, 2019
Both teams would remain quiet over the next three innings, as Soroka kept the Blue Jays in check while Wilmer Font and Zack Godley worked their way through Atlanta’s lineup. Biggio tried to create an opportunity on a long single in the top of the third, but as he as done several times in August, Acuna Jr. made sure that would not happen. An absolute missile from the right field warning track nailed Biggio to keep him out of scoring position.
The Braves finally showed some life in the top of the fifth, as Rafael Ortega and Billy Hamilton both singled. After a stolen base by Hamilton, Atlanta had runners at second and third with one out. Unfortunately, Acuna Jr. went down on strikes and Albies grounded out to end the threat. The Braves again threatened in the top of the sixth, as Matt Joyce reached second with a two out double. Unfortunately, Dansby Swanson’s sinking liner sailed right into the glove of Billy McKinney for the third out.
Atlanta once again put the pressure on in the top of the seventh as Tyler Flowers singled and Billy Hamilton walked. After another Acuna Jr. strikeout, Ozzie Albies finally delivered a big hit with an RBI double. After Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked to load the bases, Josh Donaldson popped out on a 3-2 pitch. While the Braves finally scored a run, only having one to show for their efforts in three straight innings was disappointing.
A Justin Smoak home run made the score 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh, as Sean Newcomb struggled through the inning. A bases loaded ground out by Guerrero Jr. kept things much closer than they could have been.
The Blue Jays evidently have a short memory, as Acuna Jr. put his arm on display again. This time, Rowdy Tellez, hitting the ball in almost the exact same spot as Biggio did earlier, tried to test the phenom. The result was the same. A perfect strike retired Tellez and the Blue Jays went quietly in the eighth.
Billy Hamilton got on base for the fourth time of the night to lead off the ninth. It seems Brian Snitker chose well with his decision to start Hamilton, as his offense and defense certainly helped the Braves cause all night. Unfortunately, Acuna Jr., Albies, and Freeman all were retired to end the game.
Overall, the stats in this graphic certainly show that the Braves top of the order has been producing. However, it also is a bit misleading. The main sources of that production have been Freeman and Donaldson, and they have been complimented by great performances from the Island of Misfit toys that has been the bottom of the Braves order. Over the past 14 days, Acuna Jr. has an OPS of .745, which shrinks to .664 over the past week. Over the same time frame, Alblies has an OPS of .466. which shrinks to .390 over the past week. The Braves recent offensive struggles seem to be simple, as their young dynamic duo have not set the table or executed well with runners on base.
Many have astutely pointed out that both may simply be going through a stretch of fatigue, and it makes sense. Both players have played a ton of baseball this year with very little rest, and this road trip certainly has not helped remedy that. This funk is to be expected for young players who are playing more and longer than they have before, but Atlanta has to hope its young stars break out of their funks quickly. For the Braves to be at their bast, they must have their top two hitters producing. Hopefully, with a day off and a return home after tomorrow, both Acuna Jr. and Albies will be ready to produce to even the series.