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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 1

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June 2016 started with a Freddie Freeman walkoff homer

San Francisco Giants v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Before we hop into this one, let’s take stock: we’ve covered 59 games so far — 58 to match the regular-season games the Braves would have played in 2020 if not for the whole pandemic thing, and one extra because of two great improbable comebacks and walkoff wins that happened on the same day. In May, our flashback/recap array featured 22 wins and just six losses, a pretty good month. Some of that is luck of the draw, but some of it is really just the fact that most Braves teams, even the ones with crappy Aprils, started to really get going in May. The past two decades have been good to Atlanta, which is why most days have far more wins to choose from than losses. In any case, “we” are a stellar 35-24 after May, and we’re keeping it going in June with a walkoff win.

For anyone keeping track, we’ve covered every team but the 2015 one at this point, which is partly luck of the draw, partly the fact that that team just sucked and didn’t play many good games, and partly the fact that I personally loathe that team and am not inclined to pick it in case of an algorithm tie. However, you know the old Stalin saw: the first time (2015) was tragedy; the second time (2016) was farce. And this was the best kind of farce, one in which the San Francisco Giants lose. The Braves somehow beat a playoff-bound team in a game started by Williams Perez, courtesy of a Freddie Freeman walkoff homer and a very weird rally to tie the game two innings prior.

The gist: Facing a guy making his first-ever major league start, the Braves kept it close enough with Williams Perez on the hill to tie it on a wild pitch in the ninth. Freddie Freeman walked them off with a solo homer leading off the bottom of the 11th.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: The Braves were bad. They came into this game 15-36, tied for the worst record in the majors. Their disaster of a start had already gotten Fredi Gonzalez fired, which was a really weird example of cause and effect. They’d actually gone 3-2 to finish out May, though, which was at least something, including splitting the first two games of this set with the Giants. They were starting Williams Perez, for no reason other than him existing; Perez had been replacement level in over 115 innings in 2015, but was amusingly putting up a 90 ERA, 96 FIP-, and 109 xFIP- through his first six starts of 2016. (For those wondering, a replacement-level line as a starter has an FIP- in the 120s, so Perez was “better” to this point in his small 2016 sample.)

The Giants, meanwhile, were in the “good” part of their long ping-ponging chain, which would end after the 2016 season. From 2009 through 2016, they alternated missing and making the playoffs; due for another playoff appearance this year, they had the third-best record in the majors at 33-21, holding a 4.5-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. They’d actually gone under .500 in April but busted out with a 21-7 May so far, giving them their best calendar month since 2003, as well as a third straight May with 20 or more victories. When the Braves won the series opener, 5-3, it was only the Giants’ third loss in 18 games. They would be giving the ball to Albert Suarez, filling in for an injured-and-long-past-the-point-of-usefulness Matt Cain, the first time all season the Giants would be giving a start to someone not in their Opening Day five-man rotation. (The Braves had used eight starters to this point.) Suarez was in his third organization in three years and had made his major league debut earlier in the month, working some short and long relief roles before sliding in for spot start duty here. He wasn’t a prospect or anything, having switched organizations via minor league free agency.

How it happened: As bad as the 2016 Braves were, especially at this point, this was another game where they looked largely like a real baseball team (or made their opposition play down to their level, take your pick). Perez started the game with a strikeout, and despite giving up a two-out walk, picked off the runner (Matt Duffy) to face the minimum. Suarez cruised through an 11-pitch first of his own, getting two groundouts before getting Freeman to wave through a sinker away.

Perez gave up his first hit in the second, courtesy of Brandon Belt, but ended the inning on Brandon Crawford’s lineout to Freeman. Suarez started his second with two near-identical PAs, both featuring looking strikeouts on the fifth pitch in a 2-2 count, with both of the final pitches being sinkers in exactly the same place. Perez responded with a his first perfect frame, including a strikeout of Suarez in which the latter’s bat went flying out of his hands. Suarez returned the favor the next half-inning, striking out Perez as part of his own perfect inning.

Now facing the Giants for a second time through the order, Perez’ effectiveness quickly evaporated. (This probably shouldn’t have been surprising; Perez had an xFIP 0.60 higher the second time through the order compared to the first, about twice as high as the league split.) Duffy dinked a one-out double between Freeman and Nick Markakis that spurted into foul territory. Buster Posey followed with a lineout caught by Markakis right at the line, and then Belt completed the assault on right field with something near no one but the fans:

The play immediately after Belt’s homer was gruesome in a different way. Hunter Pence hit a grounder to third and straight-up tore his hamstring during his run down the line. Adonis Garcia made a nice play to barehand the ball and throw it to first, but it was kind of irrelevant given that Pence had stopped just a few steps in. He’d go on to miss two months after surgery, giving him a second straight injury-marred campaign after a career that featured no real missed time between 2008 and 2014.

The Braves, though, got right back into it, getting their second looks at Suarez. Ender Inciarte got one of the silliest triples you’ll ever see to lead off the bottom of the fourth: he hit basically a pop-up into shallow right-center that center fielder Denard Span overran. The ball ended up hitting Span on the wrist, and bouncing away from every other fielder. Inciarte was just jogging to first, but after Span botched the play, he turned on the jets and ended up on third uncontested by the time a Giants fielder actually got the ball. (As a side note, all videos featuring weakly-hit triples are inherently hilarious. Start here. The Tanner Roark one is just a guffawing good time.) Gordon Beckham, hitting second for some reason, brought Inciarte in with a groundout. Suarez then walked Freeman, but Garcia hit into a pretty nifty 1-4-3 double play to end the inning.

(Actually, Beckham was hitting second because he had a 131 wRC+ through the first two months of 2016, and it wasn’t a case of BABIP shenanigans not supported by his xwOBA. He was legitimately good in those first 100 PAs... and was horrifically putrid thereafter.)

In the fifth, Perez gave up another run as part of a very messy inning. Former Brave Gregor Blanco led off with a bunt single that should have been an out but for A.J. Pierzynski failing to pick up the ball. Kelby Tomlinson followed with a disaster of a ball in play — it bounced off Perez’ glove but went right to Kelly Johnson at second, who grabbed it and tried to flip to Beckham, but instead somehow just spun the ball upward. (Seriously, watch the six-minute mark of the condensed game video below. Bizarre, Barves-y stuff.) After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Joe Panik lined one into deep left for a sacrifice fly. Duffy followed with another deep drive, but it was caught by Inciarte in right-center to keep the score at 3-1 in San Francisco’s favor. Suarez then had a super-easy, eight-pitch inning with three groundouts, though he was assisted by Duffy robbing Markakis with a diving play.

After a seven-pitch Posey at-bat ended in a groundout to start the sixth, Perez had reached the 100-pitch plateau, getting just 16 outs in the process. After an easy 2-0 flyout from Belt and a 2-0 single by Jarrett Parker (who came on in Pence’s stead), he was removed for Ian Krol. (This was confusing if inconsequential. The Giants had three straight lefties coming up given Parker’s insertion, yet the Braves waited until Perez had faced two of the lefties before pulling him for the lefty-throwing Krol.)

Krol got Blanco into an 0-2 hole, and then allowed what should have been a routine lineout into left. However, Mallex Smith slipped when approaching the ball and wasn’t able to make the catch. Krol then pitched around Tomlinson to bring up Suarez, which backfired when the pitcher collected his first major league hit and RBI:

Boy, that 2016 Braves defense in this one. Beckham actually made a great play, but couldn’t actually complete it, and a fourth run scored. A groundout to second that was successfully fielded and lobbed to first ended the inning.

But, once again, the Braves began to storm back. Chase d’Arnaud (did you know he has a band?) pinch hit for Krol to start the bottom of the sixth, and banged a double high off the left-field fence. That brought up Smith, who atoned for his slip in the top half of the inning in a big way, with an assist to Parker out in right field:

Maybe it’s just triples that are always funny? That was it for Suarez, who really did quite well in his first start. He was only at 75 pitches with a 4/2 K/BB ratio when he was replaced by George Kontos. After a walk to Inciarte, Beckham once again managed to hit a run-scoring grounder, though it came at the cost of two outs and an injury:

Beckham also hurt his hamstring, though not as badly as Pence earlier in the game. He’d only miss about a month of action. (He was also traded to the Giants later in the season.) Kontos struck out Freeman to end the inning, but the Braves were now within a run of the Giants.

And there they would stay, at least for a while. Alexi Ogando came on for Atlanta, issued a leadoff walk, was helped by Kelly Johnson properly timing his jump (no Tyler Pastornicky stuff here) to snare a Panik liner, and then got Posey to pop out after a wild pitch. Hunter Cervenka came on to match up lefty-lefty with Belt but walked him instead. Parker hit a weak grounder to Johnson to end the inning. Kontos and LOOGY Javier Lopez did pretty much the same thing in the bottom of the seventh, minus the baserunners. Cervenka stayed in for the top of the eighth and had a scoreless, 1-2-3 inning, bookending it with strikeouts. The Giants let Lopez bat for himself with two outs to have him pitch to Pierzynski to start the bottom part of the inning, but manager Brian Snitker forced the issue by pinch-hitting Tyler Flowers. That led to the Giants removing Lopez for Hunter Strickland, which was a pretty amusing and convoluted way to get the “advantage” of having the other team waste a single PA with two outs, while they were leading. Strickland struck Flowers out, anyway.

The Braves then started to threaten. d’Arnaud stayed in the game after his pinch-hit double as Beckham’s replacement and collected his second hit of the night, a single back up the middle that forced Strickland to do an evasive barrel roll on the mound. The Giants then went to southpaw Josh Osich to face Smith, but Snitker again pressed the pinch-hit button, subbing in Jeff Francoeur. (As a side note, Osich has some seriously garish career stats for a reliever in this day and age, with nearly -2.0 fWAR in 188 innings over five seasons of work. It’s weird that he keeps being used — while his FIP is inflated relative to his xFIP, the latter stat isn’t any good either.) This time, the Giants couldn’t counter by immediately inserting a righty, as Osich hadn’t yet faced any batters, and Francoeur came through with the platoon advantage, bouncing a single into right. But, this was not where the Braves tied the game. Instead, Inciarte shot a grounder down the left-field line, exactly where Duffy was playing. The Giants’ third baseman stepped on the third-base bag and nearly doubled up Inciarte, but his throw was way high. With the pitcher’s spot coming up for the Braves (d’Arnaud had been double-switched in), the Giants got Osich out of there for former Brave Cory Gearrin, who struck out pinch-hitter Daniel Castro to thwart the rally.

(I know no one was seriously asking this question, but Erick “Chicken Bone” “Better Offense at Every Position” Aybar was on the shelf with a foot contusion, hence why the Braves were having Beckham/d’Arnaud play shortstop and why Castro was coming in to pinch hit.)

Bud Norris, who had a very confusing 2016 season, came on for the top of the ninth and threw a perfect, nine-pitch frame. Norris began 2016 as a starter, was banished to long relief, then was granted the chance to work more meaningful, short relief... and after this outing, would go back into the rotation before being traded to the Dodgers, where he would once again implode. So, for the bottom of the ninth, up by a run, the Giants went with closer Santiago Casilla.

Casilla started his inning by blowing away Freeman on an outside pitch. He followed that up by plunking Garcia in a 2-2 count, putting the tying run on base. On the very next pitch, Markakis flared one into left-center, in between three San Francisco fielders, allowing Garcia to move up to third. One pitch after that, the Braves tied the game:

Now, the Braves were in a decent position to perhaps walk it off right then and there. With Markakis also having moved up, the Giants intentionally walked Johnson. But, Flowers struck out and d’Arnaud grounded out. Right then, extra innings it is (was?).

The Braves used Arodys Vizcaino for the tenth. (Jim Johnson was also on the team, but Vizcaino was the designated closer at this point.) Vizcaino’s inning started in scary fashion. First, there was this, which would’ve been bad if not for Garcia’s acrobatics:

Then, Belt singled through the shift. Vizcaino struck out Parker and Blanco, getting each to swing over a slider, to send the game to the bottom of the tenth.

The Giants inserted Derek Law (not Derek Lowe) for extra-inning duties. To this point, Law had great numbers all around (and he would finish 2016 with 1.0 fWAR in 55 innings, his only positive value of his career). Using a funky delivery, he sat down the Braves in order, including striking out pinch-hitter Julio Teheran (yes, Julio Teheran) for the final out of the tenth.

Chris Withrow was the man for the Braves in the 11th. He’d been pretty terrible in a couple of stints with the Braves so far, and had as many walks and strikeouts coming into the game, but hey, what are you gonna do? This outing, though, was one of his best of the season: a first pitch groundout, and then two strikeouts, both on cutters that jutted in towards the hands of the two left-handed batters.

Law stayed in for the 11th, and the Giants probably wish that he hadn’t. He literally threw just one pitch in the inning, and it ended the game, courtesy of Freddie Freeman:

That was quite a hanger of a curve, and Freeman, who had been 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk coming into this PA, didn’t miss it. It was his third career walkoff homer.

Game MVP: Freeman’s walkoff was great, but he hadn’t done much of anything otherwise until that point. Let’s go with Brandon Belt, who only made one out in the game and hit the two-run homer to start the scoring. Belt’s out came with a two-run lead; during his PAs with a one-run lead or when tied, he reached base. Belt finished 2016 with 3.9 fWAR for a second consecutive season. It was his last above-average season to date; he hasn’t eclipsed 2.3 fWAR since.

Game LVP: Santiago Casilla. The Markakis flare wasn’t really his fault, but the hit by pitch and the wild pitch were not great. Random fact: Casilla has put up exactly 0.1 fWAR in each of the last four seasons.

Biggest play: The walkoff homer by Freeman, of course.

The game, in context of the season: Immediately after this game, the Braves would drop the fourth game of this series as part of a five-game losing streak. It was their fifth losing streak of five-plus games already, with the season not even being halfway through. This 68-win team only had one winning month. Because of this win, this series was the first time all season that the Braves didn’t lose two consecutive series. They wouldn’t actually win back-to-back series until August.

For the Giants, this was the start of a mini-skid. They last lost a series on May 9-11; this series was the first in a span of three where they would come away without a series victory. However, they went 17-10 in June overall and led the division by eight games on June 26. The swoon came immediately after the All-Star Break: a 6.5-game lead became just two games by the end of July, and a 1.5-game deficit at the end of August. August 20 was the last day the Giants led the division; they’d win a Wild Card spot and advance to the NLDS after finishing the season with 87 wins, going just 30-42 in the season’s “second half.”

For Perez, this start was kind of the teeter before the collapse. He made just one more start before missing most of the rest of the year with a rotator cuff strain — he was annihilated so badly in his remaining three starts of the year that he went from 93/102/110 to 145/119/113 on a minus basis. He finished with 0.1 fWAR in 11 starts, and never appeared in a major league game again.

Suarez finished 2016 with 0.0 fWAR, bouncing around like a true swingman. He had some good outings and some bad ones, but couldn’t generally mitigate homers enough against real offenses to produce value for the Giants. After another replacement level-y year in 2017, this time entirely in relief, he was claimed in the Rule 5 draft, didn’t make the majors, and has since pitched in Japan.

Here’s the real season-context thing, though — this game can be thought of as the beginning of Berserk Freeman. Up through 2015, Freeman had been mostly a 130s wRC+-type hitter; his 2013 was driven by a BABIP around .370. In 2015, Freeman started well but ended up in the 130s again due to some weak weeks in July and August. Freeman started 2016 with a 99 wRC+ through his first two months — driven by some bad luck (.323 wOBA, .368 xwOBA), but still not dominant. With this walkoff homer, though, the era of Berserk Freeman dawned. Through the rest of the season, he had a wOBA and xwOBA in excess of .420, amounting to a 175 wRC+. His wRC+s, by month in 2016 for June-September: 175, 136, 198, 192. Or, to put it another way — Freeman had a .351 wOBA/.399 xwOBA from the start of 2015 through May 2016. Between June 1, 2016 and his Aaron Loup-caused wrist injury, he had a .449 wOBA/.434 xwOBA. His full-season marks in those years, as well as 2018 and 2019 don’t approach this June 2016-May 2017 range.

Video? So much.

Condensed game:

Recap:

All the highlights: click here

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2016/6/1/11836928/freemans-blast-gives-braves-first-walkoff-win-of-season-5-4 (hey, I wrote this one!)

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2016/6/1/11835616/giants-braves-game-thread-6-1-2016

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Walkoffs are fun, beating the Giants is fun. Hard to disagree here.

Anything else? Chris Withrow collected his first pitching “W” as a Brave, and his first since September 2013. He finished 2016 with -0.4 fWAR and never appeared in the majors again, as it appears that injuries have kept him from making any affiliated appearances for anyone.

Through the first three innings against Suarez, the Braves literally did not hit a ball out of the infield. Inciarte’s weirdo triple was their first ball into the outfield, and the Braves wouldn’t have another until d’Arnaud’s more legitimate double.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 1: While the Heimlich maneuver seems kind of ubiquitous today, it was first described in a medical journal on this day in 1974. Notably, the Heimlich maneuver is kind of controversial, in that eponymous proponent Henry Heimlich basically threw money rather than science into getting the maneuver to be the main protocol for airway obstruction. That’s not to say that it’s junk science, just that the emphasis placed on it perhaps crowded out other valid approaches, i.e., blows to the back. (I’m not a doctor.)