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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 2

Mike Foltynewicz was dominant, but this is another Braves-Reds walkoff special that ended poorly for Atlanta

Atlanta Braves v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Okay, I don’t know what it is with these end-on-a-walkoff games against the Reds. Even moreso, this game ended with a 3-2 score. As you might recall, Chipper Jones’ walkoff homer to beat the Reds in 2003 also ended that game with a 3-2 score, as we covered a few days ago. And, two days ago, we covered an 8-7 walkoff loss to the Reds in 2008... that was preceded by a 3-2 walkoff loss to the Reds. So yeah, this is a 3-2 walkoff loss to the Reds, albeit more recent. We’re going to 2017 once again, where Mike Foltynewicz was great, but the Braves lost anyway.

The gist: Mike Foltynewicz was straight-up filthy for seven innings, while the Braves were looking to cruise to a 2-0 lead thanks to a sacrifice fly and a Dansby Swanson homer. But, in true Braves-Reds late-game dramatics fashion, Jim Johnson blew the save by giving up the tying run on a wild pitch. The first Cincinnati batter in extra innings was Devin Mesoraco, who ended the game with a walkoff homer.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: Again, this was not a battle of juggernauts. The 2017 Braves were going nowhere slowly, coming into this game at 22-29, already 10.5 games out in the division. The Reds were similar, 24-28, having just been swept in Toronto, though somehow only 3.5 games back despite being in fourth place.

Starting for the Reds was Bronson Arroyo, a last hurrah slash comeback attempt for the veteran after he had gone two full seasons without appearing in a major league game. Arroyo had been horrendous up to this point, in a way we’ve barely seen in these recaps so far: 149 ERA-, 166 FIP-, 132 xFIP-. So far on the season, he’d had one decent outing in ten tries, maybe two if you count three runs in five innings against the Orioles as “decent.” He’d been hammered in the rest.

Perhaps the one somewhat interesting part of this matchup was the Braves’ scheduled starter, Mike Foltynewicz. 2017 was to be Foltynewicz’ fourth major league season, and his third as a starter in Atlanta. 2015 was a replacement-level wreck, but in 2016, the tall right-hander had basically been an average starter across 22 starts and 123 innings. Unfortunately, 2017 was looking like a bit of a step back for him, as his strikeouts were down without any corresponding drop in walks. He was still showing flashes, like a 7 IP, 2 BB, 9 K game against the Phillies where he allowed just one run, but he was also showing the opposite, like the start before this one, where the Giants tagged him for five runs, including two homers, in four innings. This, though, was going to be his flashiest game yet.

How it happened: The Freddie Freeman-less Braves went down easily in the first inning. The thing that took the longest was the large standing ovation Brandon Phillips received in his return to Cincinnati; he struck out swinging on four pitches, missing a curveball in the zone. That meant it was Mike Foltynewicz time, and boy, this was a fun one for him. His first strikeout of the game came against Zack Cozart, who was caught starting at a full-count four-seamer well over the plate. The other two batters grounded out harmlessly. The Braves didn’t do anything in the second, either, unless you count making Arroyo throw just nine pitches or making Adam Duvall run really far to catch a pop-up in left as an achievement. Foltynewicz gave the Reds the game’s first baserunner with a leadoff walk to Duvall in the bottom of the second, but a foulout and two breezy strikeouts on elevated fastballs ended the inning.

The third started with Adonis Garcia somehow looping a curveball that had basically hit the dirt into center for a single. Dansby Swanson followed by looping another low pitch over the infield into right, putting two men on. Foltynewicz, whose batting is oft-lamented and used as an example for the need for a designated hitter in the National League, managed to get a sacrifice bunt down to advance the runners, though he was helped by the fact that Arroyo threw him two curveballs on which to do it (for some reason?). Ender Inciarte followed with a routine fly to center that scored Garcia thanks to Billy Hamilton’s puny throwing arm; a legitimate arm would have at least contested the run. Brandon Phillips followed by clubbing a liner into the right-field gap, but Scott Schebler made a nice running catch to rob him of extra bases, and the Braves of another run.

Foltynewicz went back to work and immediately allowed his first hit, a liner into right by Tucker Barnhart. Arroyo also got a bunt down, but Foltynewicz froze Hamilton with a high two-seamer that grooved back over the plate and then ended the inning on a groundout.

With one out in the fourth, Matt Kemp collected the game’s first extra-base hit, an opposite field double that just evaded a diving Schebler’s glove. That ended up not mattering, though, due to a bonehead play from Kemp. (Remember that recap where Kemp made all those bonehead plays for the Dodgers? Yeahhhh.) After an intentional walk to Matt Adams and another out, Garcia bounced one up the middle and beat the awkward, backward throw to first from second baseman Jose Peraza. For some reason, Kemp just kept running, and was easily thrown out at home by Joey Votto. Foltynewicz responded with another leadoff walk, this time to Votto, but then caught two more Reds staring on strikeouts and mixed in a first-pitch flyout as well. The first strikeout of the inning was a nice framing job by Tyler Flowers on a slider off the plate; the second was a changeup that badly missed its target and floated up around the letters, but apparently nowhere near anything that Schebler was expecting.

In some ways, that goof by Kemp hurt more to start the fifth, because Swanson led off the inning with this:

Swanson’s fifth homer of the season came on the eight-pitch of the at-bat. The funny thing is, Swanson had swung through and fouled off three other worse curveballs, real hangers, earlier in the sequence. The Braves had a two-run lead, but Arroyo cruised through the rest of the inning.

Foltynewicz overpowered the first two Reds of the bottom of the fifth, throwing stuff down the pipe and having the batters just wave ineffectually at it. Arroyo blooped a first-pitch single into center, but Hamilton bounced out weakly to first.

The sixth was Arroyo’s last inning, and featured alternating flyouts and singles, all of them very weakly hit. He wouldn’t come back out for the seventh after 93 pitches, and had managed his second-best start of his comeback tour on the night: two runs in six innings, just one homer (by the end of his season, he’d have as many multihomer games as games in which he allowed fewer than two homers, and only went homerless in a start once all year), and a 2/1 K/BB ratio. Foltynewicz, though, had more in the tank. Facing the heart of the Cincinnati order for a third time, he started by striking out Cozart and Votto, and then getting Duvall to ground out. Both Cozart and Votto were visibly fazed by their strikeouts — Cozart because he had a legitimate beef with the umpire and/or Flowers’ framing on a fastball low and away, Votto because he choked up with two strikes and got bamboozled by a high slider that he half-swung at. If you haven’t been keeping track, the punchout of Votto was Foltynewicz’ tenth of the night.

Austin Brice came on for Arroyo in the seventh and got a couple of groundouts, but then yielded a double to Inciarte, who hit one over Hamilton’s head in center. Inciarte then stole third entirely uncontested (Barnhart, behind the plate, didn’t even flinch or make a move), but Phillips fouled out to Votto. Foltynewicz finished his night with a hilariously easy bottom of the seventh in which he didn’t even get a chance for an 11th strikeout: Eugenio Suarez grounded out on three pitches, and then both Schebler and Peraza made first-pitch outs. Before this final inning, Foltynewicz’ quickest inning was his first, in which he threw 14 pitches. Schebler’s groundout was at least hit hard, while Peraza’s out was a pop-up to second.

Southpaw Wandy Peralta replaced Brice for the eighth, and gave up Kemp’s third hit of the night, a one-out bouncer past Cozart at short. He then struck out Adams, but a Flowers pop-up into shallow right resulted in miscommunication between Peraza and Schebler, allowing the ball to drop as Schebler basically did an unintentional takeout slide of his teammate. Through no fault of his own, Peralta was then yanked for Blake Wood (imagine using a pitcher specifically to face Adonis Garcia when already down two runs), who got a second-pitch popout to strand both runners.

The first Atlanta reliever of the night was Arodys Vizcaino, who had a real sitcom-esque will-they-won’t-they thing with Jim Johnson and the closer’s role in 2016 and 2017. Vizcaino’s inning didn’t start well, as he lost Barnhart with a 99 mph pitch and issued a leadoff walk. He hit 100 on the next pitch, getting pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett to pop out. Billy Hamilton then stood still for six straight 98 mph fastballs. Three were balls, but three were (at least close enough for Tyler Flowers to get them called) strikes. Cozart then pulled 99 through the left side for a single, putting the tying runs on base, and setting up a platoon-advantaged matchup with Votto against Vizcaino. But, the Braves stayed the course, and in an 0-2 count, Vizcaino threw just his second slider of the inning. Votto skied it weakly to left to send the game to the ninth.

Like the other Cincinnati relievers in this game, Drew Storen didn’t give up anything either. Inciarte collected an infield single on a check-swing tapper to third, but Phillips struck out to end the inning.

So, the bottom of the ninth, featuring Jim Johnson, in his third year with the Braves. Johnson’s last few seasons were weird. After six years of being an at least serviceable, generally dominant reliever, Johnson imploded in 2014. The Braves signed him in 2015, where he was good, but then traded to the Dodgers, where he was terrible. They then signed him again in 2016, and he had his best season, peripherals-wise, ever. But then came 2017, and things were rotten in the state of his stats. Or, more specifically, he had a case of the extreme Luke Jacksons: his peripherals through April and May were hilariously dominant — 76 ERA-, 52 FIP-, 57 xFIP- — but somehow, he had -0.45 WPA, driven in very large part by two outings where he turned a lead into a deficit (we covered one of them, the Jordy Mercer homer/go-ahead single game that the Braves won anyway). This outing ended up being pretty similar to those.

Duvall got the inning started with a hard-hit grounder to Garcia’s left that turned into a double because Matt Kemp was in left field. Suarez followed with another groundball double of his own, this time right near Adams but unfielded:

The Reds were on the board, and the tying run was on second with none out, thanks to two ground balls and slow outfielders. Johnson very much battled back, striking out Schebler and getting Peraza to ground out to short. The latter play moved Suarez to third, which ended up being a big deal because of this nonsense:

With the game now tied, Johnson had no trouble retiring Barnhart on a bunt-for-hit try, sending the game to the tenth. Johnson’s seasonal WPA tumbled to -0.85.

For the tenth, the Braves were now privy to facing Raisel Iglesias, starting his second (and first full) season as a dominant reliever. The inning started well, with Nick Markakis smacking one off the left-field fence, but Duvall played the ball perfectly and held him to a very long, loud single. That was key, because Kemp followed with this garbage, in a 3-1 count:

What a profoundly terrible time for that instead of one of Kemp’s other outcomes from this game. Rally quashed, Iglesias struck out Adams on three pitches.

On came Jose Ramirez, and you probably know what’s coming next. Actually, Ramirez was at least fine through the first two months of 2017, with a 45 ERA-, 67 FIP-, and even a livable xFIP- of 95. (It wouldn’t last.) Up first for the Reds was Devin Mesoraco, who had been double-switched in with Iglesias because Barnhart made the last out of the ninth. Once a top prospect, Mesoraco was terrible in his first 600 or so major league PAs (-1.0 fWAR), but then broke out with a 4.2 fWAR season in just 440 PAs in 2014. Since then, though, he’d basically been the position player version of Mike Hampton,always teasing observers with the possibility of a comeback but fundamentally unable to stay on the field. This stretch of 2017 was actually his healthiest since that 2014 season, and he was in a functional tandem with Barnhart at this point. In any case, Ramirez threw Mesoraco seven pitches. Of the first six, Mesoraco took two that were clearly balls, and fouled off the other four. The seventh pitch was the same as the first, a 98 mph fastball right down the middle, and, well...

Game MVP: Mike Foltynewicz, who had the best start of his career up to that point. The outing set new career highs for Foltynewicz in strikeouts (10), Game Score (84), was his third-best start so far in FIP- (and best of 2017 so far), second best in xFIP- and SIERA, and the most WPA he had accrued in a start to date. By the end of 2017, Foltynewicz didn’t actually improve over 2016, as those two seasons were very similar for him. (His breakout would come in 2018.) But, this was the start of him mixing in more dominant outings here and there — in his next start, he’d throw seven scoreless against the Phillies; to end June, he’d no-hit the Athletics for eight innings until allowing a solo homer in the ninth; in August, he’d set a new career high by striking out 11 Marlins (a total he’s only matched once since).

Game LVP: For sure, the ghosts that decided to haunt Jim Johnson in this game. Johnson actually substantially collapsed later in 2017, as he was absolutely horrific from July onward. But this version was still fine, and in fact, good... just occasionally haunted. He finished 2017 with just 0.3 fWAR, was below replacement in 2018, and retired afterwards.

Biggest play: The wild pitch that allowed Suarez to score, tying the game. Johnson and the Braves were so close, but nope.

The game, in context of the season: You’ve got most of it from the above, really. Neither the Braves nor Reds went anywhere, finishing with 72 and 68 wins, respectively. The Braves were never even above .500 for the year; the Reds were never above .500 after April 24.

Arroyo’s comeback attempt was a sad one. Despite this outing, he only managed three more starts in 2017, getting shelled once again in each. He then hit the shelf with a shoulder injury, and officially retired in September. He finished 2017 with -0.7 fWAR in 14 starts spanning 71 innings, which amazingly was not his worst season — in 2011, the Reds let him pitch 199 innings of -1.6 fWAR ball. He finished his career with a respectable 21.6 fWAR in 2,436 innings, and his 2004-2008 peak was much better than that (15.9 fWAR in 1,035 innings).

Mesoraco was able to stay on the field to garner 165 PAs across 56 games, but was below replacement for a third straight year. That streak continued in 2018, where he was healthy enough to at least play a half-season. In 2019, Mesoraco retired rather than being forced by the Mets to go play ball in Syracuse, finishing his career with 2.1 fWAR despite a 4.2 fWAR season in 2014.

Suarez played a big role in one inning of this game. 2017 was the beginning of his transformation from utility guy to core piece. In three seasons prior, he compiled 3.1 fWAR and a 91 wRC+. In 2017 alone, he compiled 3.9 fWAR and a 116 wRC+. Suarez hit 49 homers in 2019, which is striking for a guy putting up mid-.100s ISOs just three years before that.

Video?

Condensed game:

Recap:

All the highlights: click here

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2017/6/2/15733806/mike-foltynewicz-great-but-atlanta-braves-fail-late-as-cincinnati-reds-celebrate-3-2-walkoff-win (hey, I did this one too!)

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2017/6/2/15733260/gamethread-braves-reds-6-2-2017

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: A few people were mad about Jim Johnson (but not his ghosts?) I guess? At this point, people had mostly embraced the “we’re rebuilding, we suck” state of affairs. The Foltynewicz outing was definitely a positive, but people weren’t quite buying a breakout (and they shouldn’t have been).

Anything else? This game was the Braves’ third straight loss, but they’d win the next two to take the series.

Emilio Bonifacio was released before this game, which prompted my best-ever contribution to TC: https://www.talkingchop.com/2017/6/2/15732220/farewell-emilio-bonifacio-i-hope-you-like-stories.

Devin Mesoraco seriously has some kind of vendetta against the Braves. His three highest WPA games ever all came against the Braves. Of his top seven WPA games, five came against the Braves. Of his top ten, we’re talking six against the Braves. Those are, in order:

  • 2013, game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth against Craig Kimbrel (Braves lost on a homer immediately afterwards from Shin-Soo Choo);
  • 2018, go-ahead leadoff homer in the ninth off Shane Carle (Braves won thanks to a Charlie Culberson walkoff homer);
  • 2018, game-tying homer with one out in the ninth off A.J. Minter (Braves won, Nick Markakis homer in tenth);
  • 2015, walkoff double off Jason Grilli;
  • This game; and
  • 2012, grand slam off Kris Medlen in the sixth when down by a run.

What a weird set of aligned events over all those years. Of course, his only walkoff homer ever (this one) came against the Braves.

Foltynewicz allowed just four baserunners, and only two of the last 17 batters he faced reached base.

Matt Kemp hurt the Braves in this game with his double play and bad baserunning, but he was still Rampage Kemp at this point, with a 158 wRC+ through this game. More than that, he had a 182 wRC+ dating back to May 15. From here on out, he’d post just a 59 wRC+. Dansby Swanson, meanwhile, had a 48 wRC+ through this game, and would put up a 74 mark the rest of the way. Swanson finished with -0.2 fWAR, Kemp with -0.6.

With Mesoraco’s homer, the Reds homered in 10 straight games. The streak would end at 15, the Reds’ longest since 2010, when they did it in 18 straight. Their franchise record is actually 21. The 2019 Yankees hit a homer in a record 31 straight games. The Braves’ record is 25, achieved in 1998.

Since 2001, the Braves have had five 3-2 games against the Reds, with three of them ending in walkoffs. Someone should do an analysis of whether the Braves have a disproportionate number of walkoffs in games against the Reds, because a quick glance through the years suggests something like that.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 2: The start of the first tour of P.T. Barnum’s circus, in 1835, happened on this date. (This was not the Barnum and Bailey Circus, however.) As a random fact about Barnum that has nothing to do with his circus — he was a member of the Connecticut state legislature, and was the sponsor of the bill banning the use of contraception that was overturned in the landmark Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision nearly 100 years later. Also, he once lost a race for U.S. Congress to his (third) cousin.