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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 13

The Braves suffered quite a relief meltdown to lose a whiplash-inducing affair

Cincinnati Reds v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

I know it seems kind of hard to believe given that we’re all still in a bit of a time trap, but it was only around 13 months ago that the Braves traded Arodys Vizcaino, ending his second stint with the team after four-plus seasons. The oft-injured reliever was never dominant, but he was never terrible, either. Like pretty much all relievers, though, he had his meltdowns, and the one on June 13, 2016, came as a very unsatisfying capper to a wild game.

The gist: The Braves and Reds “enjoyed” some terrible pitching all game, with the two starters combining to give up 11 runs in just eight innings, and the bullpens not doing much to stem the tide. Down by one, the Braves got a go-ahead two-run homer from Freddie Freeman in the fifth; down by one once again in the eighth, it was Adonis Garcia’s turn to go deep and tie the game. But, it was all for naught, as Arodys Vizcaino had the mother of all meltdowns, walking three batters after a leadoff double, with the last two coming with two outs, to drive in the eventual winning run.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: This was not a matchup of good teams. The Braves came into the game with the majors’ worst record at 18-44, already 20.5 games back in the division. They had won just two of their last ten games, a mark even worse than their season win rate, and just three games in June overall. The Reds were the second-worst team in the NL, and third-worst overall, 24-39. Both teams were terrible in general, but the flavor of rotten baseball differed a bit. The Braves had the worst position player group in baseball coming into this game, collectively below replacement level. The Reds had the same, but for pitching. In this game, both offenses actually showed up, while the pitching faltered.

Speaking of the pitching, this was not a matchup of good hurlers, either. The Reds had little-known Daniel Wright going for them, making his second career start and fourth career MLB appearance. Every one of his outings so far had gone pretty terribly, and he allowed 16 runs in 13 innings to start his career (though only 11 were earned, as some minor consolation). His peripherals weren’t any good either (6/2 K/BB ratio in those 13 innings), and pretty much the only thing he had going for him was a not-super-terrible homer rate (two in 13 innings, both allowed at Coors Field). Wright had been promoted due to a really strong minor league run over his first six weeks, but six weeks... isn’t much to hang one’s hat on. The Braves were giving Aaron Blair his ninth career start; the rookie came into the game with a tough 172 ERA-, 137 FIP-, 144 xFIP- line and had really struggled in each of his last two starts, failing to last five innings in either while allowing a combined 7/7 K/BB ratio.

How it happened: So many runs and other things happened in this game. It was kind of exhausting. The game started, inauspiciously, with a walk to Zack Cozart. Blair then got a couple of outs (including a cool strikeout of Joey Votto on a great changeup), but on an 0-2 pitch, Jay Bruce somehow caught up to this nowhere-near-the-plate fastball and hit it for an RBI triple, courtesy of some terrible route-running in right field by Nick Markakis:

Adam Duvall was up next, and uh, wow. Also, look how empty those stands are! Poor last season of Turner Field...

Not that Daniel Wright fared much better in his first inning. His night too started with a walk. The Braves then executed a great hit-and-run with Ender Inciarte at the plate, as the runner in motion forced the shortstop to move right past where Inciarte sprayed the ball. With runners on the corners and no shift, Freddie Freeman knocked in the first Atlanta run:

Markakis followed with a 4-6-3 double play that brought in Inciarte to make it a one-run game.

Blair had a good, easy second, needing just ten pitches to grab two strikeouts and an infield pop and send the game into the bottom of the inning. Wright’s inning was quick but not good. He wrapped it up in eight pitches, but allowed a one-out slow roller up the middle to Jace Peterson, and then a game-tying RBI double to Erick Aybar down the right-field line. The game-tying part was cool; Aybar getting thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple was awful.

The Reds, though, didn’t let that tie last for very long. Now facing Blair a second time, they just went right back to tormenting him. Or, perhaps, Blair was tormenting himself at this point. Zack Cozart started the inning with a 2-0 single into left. Votto worked a seven-pitch walk, and then Blair just lost it and walked Brandon Phillips on four pitches. Something even worse than loading the bases with none out followed, as Blair then also walked Jay Bruce to drive in the go-ahead run. None of the three ball fours in the inning were remotely close. Duvall and Eugenio Suarez each followed with a fly ball into center that scored a run. It was 6-3 Reds a half-inning after the Braves had tied it.

But, the Braves just came right back, again. This time, it happened with two outs. Freeman doubled over Votto, and Markakis followed with a weak bouncer that somehow got under Votto, allowing Freeman to score easily. Adonis Garcia then came very close to tying the game, but had to settle for just an RBI double:

The Braves couldn’t complete the comeback here, though, as A.J. Pierzynski lined out to center. This was it for Wright — five runs (three earned) in three innings, one walk, zero strikeouts. He was sent back down to the minors after this game, and wouldn’t make it back to the majors until September, with another team, after he was claimed on waivers.

Blair gave his team an easy, 1-2-3 fourth. The Reds went to sub-replacement-level-in-every-year-of-his-career-so-far J.C. Ramirez, and at least his first inning was an easy, eight-pitch affair. Blair wrapped up his evening with a scoreless frame, allowing a leadoff single to Votto but then getting two pops and a groundout to end it. It wasn’t a good outing for Blair, once again — six runs in five innings, a homer, and a 3/4 K/BB ratio. It was the second time in three starts that Blair had allowed six runs and more walks than strikeouts, but on the flip side, it was only his fifth time in nine starts lasting five innings.

At this point, the Braves (or at least Freeman) remembered that it was, in fact, J.C. Ramirez pitching. Mallex Smith bounced a leadoff single, immediately stole second, and then moved to third on a groundout. He could’ve just stayed at first, though, because Freeman went ahead and did this, giving his team the lead for the first time in the game:

This dinger, Freeman’s tenth of the year, was actually his longest of the season to date.

The Braves, though, were not really allowed to have nice things in this game. First on in relief of Blair was Ryan Weber, who made five fine starts for the Braves late in 2015, and was being used as a Gwinnett shuttle long reliever guy in 2016. Weber had just been called up prior to the game. The Reds didn’t care. Suarez started the sixth with an 0-2 flare into right for a hit. After that came a single bounced through the right side, and then a fly ball to left that allowed the runners to tag up on Smith’s weak arm. The Reds pinch-hit with Kyle Waldrop, who collected his first major league RBI in his eighth major league PA, tying the game in the process:

Two pitches later, Weber threw a crazy wild pitch that hit the dirt, bounced up, and deflected wildly off of the knee part of Pierzynski’s right shinguard, flying all the way towards the visitor’s dugout. The go-ahead run scored easily in the form of Tyler Holt, who had the second single of the inning. Weber eventually got out of the inning, but the Braves were once again losing.

At this point, the scoring stopped for a while. New Cincy reliever Blake Wood threw two innings of scoreless, hitless baseball. They weren’t perfect, as he hit Aybar with a pitch in the sixth and then gave up a leadoff walk to Smith in the seventh, but he also struck out three batters and the Braves couldn’t find a hole otherwise. Meanwhile, Casey Kelly threw a scoreless seventh for the Braves, and Jim Johnson did the same in the eighth.

For the bottom of the eighth, the Reds replaced Wood with veteran Ross Ohlendorf, who was on his fifth team in five years. Ohlendorf hadn’t really had any success at all since 2010, but the Reds had already used set-up guy Blake Wood, and really, to this point in the season, Wood and Ohlendorf were their only two good relievers. (Closer Tony Cingrani was really struggling to this point and wouldn’t really recover — a far cry from his great rookie half-season in 2013.) Ohlendorf, though, couldn’t even get through one batter without surrendering the lead, courtesy of Adonis Garcia:

The Braves also had a great chance to take the lead after the game-tying homer, as Pierzynski followed with a single, and Ohlendorf walked Peterson on four pitches. But, Aybar bunted (why?) and it was terrible, getting Pierzynski thrown out at third. Ohlendorf followed with another walk, this time to pinch-hitter Jeff Francoeur, loading the bases. Unfortunately for the Braves, Smith lined out right to Phillips at second with the infield in, and all Inciarte could do was bounce out, keeping the game tied.

So, with the game knotted up in the ninth, the Braves gave the ball to then-closer Arodys Vizcaino. The righty finally had his first healthy half-season in 2015 after making his debut in 2011 (yes, he didn’t even manage a full healthy season), and had become the closer by season’s end, finishing with a great 0.8 fWAR in just 33 innings, a role he retained heading into 2016 despite the Braves re-signing Jim Johnson before the season. To date, he’d been great — a top 25 reliever in baseball by fWAR, with no WPA issues as well. He’d only melted down three times to date, and only one (coming a few days before this game), was horrible — turning a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 walkoff loss.

Well, chalk this game up into the horrible category. Only the first part wasn’t his fault — Votto, the first batter of the inning, hit a routine, arcing fly into left. All three of Francoeur, Garcia, and new shortstop Chase d’Arnaud converged on the ball (Inciarte was removed after making the last out of the eighth, Smith moved to center, which seems like a ridiculously awful tactical move to make in a tie game late). In the end, the ball ended up bouncing off of Garcia’s glove while he slid with his back to the plate, and bouncing past Francoeur. Votto ended up on second. So, not great, but it happens. Vizcaino immediately battled back to destroy Brandon Phillips on four pitches, all strikes. But then, cue the meltdown. The Braves intentionally walked Bruce to set up a righty-righty matchup with Duvall. At first, that was fine, as Duvall popped out. But then, Vizcaino walked Suarez on five pitches. Up next was Holt, a fifth outfielder type who, to this point, had an 84 wRC+ despite a .373 BABIP. In short, Holt no hit good, and yet, Vizcaino missed badly with four of his five pitches to him. The Reds had another lead, this time courtesy of a third walk in the inning. A grounder to first ended the inning, but it didn’t really matter at this point.

The Reds brought on the aforementioned Cingrani to close out the game. Freeman, Markakis, and Garcia all grounded out on just seven pitches, ending the game.

Game MVP: Tyler Holt, for having the presence of mind to stand there as Vizcaino walked the game away. He didn’t even swing at a pitch in his game-winning PA. He went 1-for-4 with that walk and a strikeout; his single came during the Reds’ rally to take the lead from behind in the sixth. Holt finished out 2016 with the Reds, getting 208 PAs of -0.6 fWAR ball, and then never appeared in a major league game again, finishing his career with pretty much the same -0.6 fWAR in around 300 PAs. This was Holt’s highest WPA total of his career (.433), and while I want to say he’s one of the rare players whose highest career WPA play was a walk, that’s actually not the case, as he had a more meaningful double in 2014.

Game LVP: It’s pretty tempting to give this to Arodys Vizcaino, but the double wasn’t his fault, and it’s hard to overlook Aaron Blair giving up two three-spots in just five innings, along with four walks to three strikeouts. This was past the halfway point of Blair’s career-to-date; his line currently sits at -0.7 fWAR in 73 career innings spanning 16 starts, with 15 of those coming in 2016. After another brutal June outing, two games after this one, the Braves sent Blair back to the minors for a couple of months before recalling him to finish out the season in the rotation. He made just one spot start in 2017.

Biggest play: The Tyler Holt walk. I mean, really? That’s how you’re gonna lose a game? This was the first three-walk outing of his career, but weirdly enough, it wasn’t the worse. A year later, he’d have a game that was just insane in how bad it was — he entered with the bases loaded and a one-run lead, walked three straight, and then left, as the Braves ended up losing by four. That makes this outing seem tame by comparison. His other three-walk game resulted in a walkoff walk loss to the Rockies in 2018.

The game, in context of the season: Look, these two teams were bad. They both finished with 68 wins, the second-lowest win total in baseball when all was said and done. The Braves actually finished a half-game ahead of the Reds, because they only played 161 games. The 2016 season was not a good one for parity, as seven different teams (23 percent of the league) finished below 70 wins. They split this four-game series, however, and both teams went 12-16 in June.

Daniel Wright went to the Angels in September, where he made a few more appearances over the course of his career. He finished it with 0.2 fWAR in 59 innings, including nine starts.

Vizcaino went on to have a pretty generic 0.3 fWAR in 39 innings. He had a better 2017 and then a 2018 that looked pretty much like 2016.

Video?

Condensed game:

Recap:

Highlights: click here

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2016/6/13/11928716/braves-falter-late-as-reds-win-nail-biter-9-8

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2016/6/13/11925614/game-thread-6-13-braves-vs-reds

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: People were still very hopeful about Adonis Garcia, who had a good game for sure, but was still just an 88 wRC+ hitter for his career after this game, which is where he ended up (89 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR in 944 PAs). Other than that, not much, as the commentariat was largely inured to losing at this point. Weirdly enough, not much castigation of Vizcaino at this point.

Anything else? Freeman finished a triple shy of the cycle. As a testament to just how bad the offense had been, this was the first time Freeman was able to drive in multiple runs at home during the 2016 season.

Adam Duvall’s 2016 was his career year, with 2.4 fWAR and 33 longballs. This game was part of a great stretch for him where he put up a 145 wRC+ in 123 PAs, along with 14 homers. However, he really faded in September to end with just a 104 wRC+ on the year.

Falling to 18-45 after this game, the Braves had their worst record through 63 games since the 1911 Boston Rustlers, who started 14-49.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 13: In 1983, Pioneer 10 became the first artificial (manmade) object to leave our current solar system. It had been launched 11 years earlier. Radio communications with it would not be lost until 20 years after it passed beyond Neptune’s orbit on this day in 1983.