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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 25

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Ozzie Albies said “Let’s go home” with his bat.

MLB: JUN 25 Reds at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I remember this game for one main reason — when Ozzie Albies clubbed his walkoff homer on the game’s first pitch from Dylan Floro, it was a mercy. We had sat through a rain delay of over an hour. We had sat through an early lead getting blown, and then a near-meltdown in extra innings. We wanted to go to sleep. Maybe Albies did too.

The gist: The Braves jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on Tyler Mahle, while Mike Foltynewicz was effective yet inefficient, allowing just five baserunners in five innings, with those being four walks (all stranded) and a solo homer. However, as soon as he departed, Lucas Sims melted down and blew the lead. The Braves briefly fell behind in the seventh but tied it on Danny Santana’s double. In the tenth, Jesse Biddle nearly imploded but didn’t, setting up Albies’ walkoff dinger on the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: The 2018 Braves were having a bit of an identity crisis. Who were they? Yes, they came into this game at 44-32, with a 2.5-game lead in the division, but they had just lost a series to the Orioles. The Orioles! Were these the signs of a cracking facade on a team that wasn’t supposed to be good coming into the season, or just the minor agonies of a long season? Perhaps starting this series with the woeful Reds, who were in fifth place and 32-45, after winning seven straight games, would provide some insight.

Starting for the Braves was Mike Foltynewicz, making his first appearance since briefly hitting the shelf with a triceps injury. After a few mediocre seasons, it looked like Foltynewicz was finally having a breakout — he came into this game with a 53 ERA-, 73 FIP-, and 87 xFIP-. His career marks coming into 2018, by comparison, were 118, 111, and 109, respectively. Everything was looking great for Foltynewicz before his injury: dating back to May 10, he’d allowed zero runs twice, one run four times, two runs once, and not anything more. His last and only underwhelming peripherals start was his third start of the year, where his K/BB ratio was 3/2. The questions were really about whether he could keep it going, and what effect, if any, the injury would result in.

Cincinnati rookie Tyler Mahle, on the other hand, was like pre-2018 Foltynewicz. He came into this game with a 94/119/104 pitching slash. The plus side for Mahle was that his run prevention was sometimes great even when the peripherals weren’t (e.g., allowing four runs in his last four starts), but the peripherals weren’t always encouraging.

On the flip side, though, these two teams had split a four-game series in Cincy earlier, and Mahle fared much better than Foltynewicz. The Braves lost the opener of that series, 10-4, and it was the only start of 2018 where Foltynewicz had failed to last five innings, allowing two runs in 4 23 with a 7/4 K/BB ratio. The next day, Mahle went absolutely ham on the Braves, striking out 11 in six innings and facing just two over the minimum through six, until the Braves chased him with a couple of homers in the seventh. (The Braves lost that game, too, 9-7, in walkoff fashion; they’d win the next two to tie the series.)

How it happened: Foltenywicz didn’t show any lingering injury effects as he took the hill in the first. He greeted Scott Schebler with a strikeout to start the game, and got through a scoreless inning despite a 10-pitch battle with Joey Votto that ended with a walk. The Braves, meanwhile, wasted no time getting to Mahle in this one. A four-pitch walk to Ender Inciarte was hardly the start Mahle was going for, and Ozzie Albies followed with a go-ahead double:

Mahle recovered to strike out Freddie Freeman on three pitches, but the subsequent intentional walk to Nick Markakis didn’t pay dividends, as Kurt Suzuki hit a routine fly to center that easily allowed Albies to score the second run of the inning.

Foltynewicz also issued a leadoff walk to start his next frame, but three straight groundouts got him out of it. Mahle continued the walkfest with one of his own in the bottom of the inning, but Foltynewicz popped out trying to bunt, and Inciarte struck out. More walks ensued. Foltynewicz led off the third with a walk as well, this time to Billy Hamilton. A groundout and a flyout moved Hamilton around the bases, at which point Foltynewicz again walked Votto. He struck out Scooter Gennett to escape once again, at this point having issued four walks but zero hits in three innings. Mahle did not walk anyone in the bottom of the third, instead allowing back-to-back one-out singles. However, for the second time in three frames, he struck out Danny Santana to force some stranded runners.

Foltynewicz and Mahle both had perfect fourths. The former started and ended his with strikeouts, Mahle struck out Foltynewicz to end the inning. In the fifth, Foltynewicz got two quick groundouts, but then this happened:

That was the first homer Foltynewicz had allowed in more than a month; Schebler was also the only Red to take him deep in April. A third groundout ended the frame.

The Braves, though, got that run right back. Inciarte and Albies once again combined for terror at the top of the order, as the former singled and the latter collected his second double, moving Inciarte to third. This time, Freeman walked. Markakis got himself into a 3-1 count, but all he could manage on a grooved fastball was a little dribbler to second. Inciarte scored, but Markakis was doubled up at first. Suzuki flew out to end the inning.

At that point, having thrown 90 pitches and coming off injury, the Braves elected not to stick with Foltynewicz. (The heart of the order coming up for a third time was also a consideration, perhaps, though perhaps not.) However, the bullpen was gassed. It had thrown 16 13 innings in three games in the Orioles series, and the Braves elected to keep Lucas Sims on the roster when Mike Foltynewicz was activated just so someone could be around to eat innings. For whatever reason, though, with this two-run lead and the heart of the Cincinnati order coming up, the Braves inserted... Lucas Sims.

At this point, Sims hadn’t pitched in the majors in over a month, and generally hadn’t done very well against major league hitting. This game was no different in that regard. On the first pitch from Sims, Votto singled up the middle. Gennett and Eugenio Suarez both got 3-1 counts and hit singles into left. At that point, Sims missed with four straight to Jesse Winker, driving in the Reds’ second run via walk:

Yet, despite all this, Sims was somehow allowed to continue pitching. He did get a pop-out from Jose Peraza (good), but then pinch-hitter Adam Duvall tied the game with a grounder to second hit too wide to Albies’ left to entertain any shot at a double play. Mercifully, Sims also got a groundout from Hamilton to end the inning without the Reds leading.

With Duvall pinch-hitting for Mahle, the Reds inserted Michael Lorenzen in his stead. The Braves tried to immediately rally for the lead. Santana drew a leadoff walk (so many walks) and moved to second on a hard-hit liner back up the middle from Johan Camargo. Dansby Swanson bunted the runners over for Ryan Flaherty, pinch-hitting for Sims. Flaherty, though, couldn’t come through, thanks to a nifty play from Lorenzen:

The Reds rewarded Lorenzen by getting lefty Kyle Crockett out of the bullpen to face Inciarte for his third career appearance, and the latter grounded out to end the frame.

Alas, ye tired, ineffectual bullpen! Sam Freeman began to work the seventh given the heavy procession of lefties at the top of the Cincinnati order, but it didn’t go well. Schebler led off with a double, was bunted over to third (walks and bunts!), and scored when Votto’s comebacker hit Sam Freeman in the leg, turning into an RBI groundout instead of a potential fielder’s choice with an out at home. The Braves now trailed for the first time. But, they didn’t trail for long.

Crockett stayed in and struck out Albies on three pitches. Freddie Freeman then reached second on a total whiff by Votto at scooping his routine grounder. Crockett finished his outing by getting Markakis to foul out to third. With some righties coming up for the Braves, the Reds went to David Hernandez, a funny d’oh-type footnote in Braves history. The Braves had Hernandez at the start of the 2017 season, but didn’t want to use him, and let him go to the Angels for cash. Hernandez responded with what would’ve been the Braves’ best relief season in 2017, and followed that up with what would’ve been the Braves’ third-best relief season in 2018. But, in this game, he actually worked in their favor.

Hernandez immediately began his night by walking Kurt Suzuki on four pitches. That moved the tying run to second, and for once, Danny Santana helped plate the runner rather than ending the inning and stranding him:

Unfortunately, Suzuki was too slow to score on the double, and the Braves failed to take the lead as Camargo hit a soft liner to Hamilton in center.

For whatever reason (probably the bullpen being exhausted), Sam Freeman stayed in for the eighth. Suarez gave one a ride to center but not deep enough, and after a comebacker, Peter Moylan came on to retire Jose Peraza, which he succeeded at. Hernandez also remained in the game and worked a six-pitch perfect frame, sending the game to the ninth.

A.J. Minter, who was very good in 2018 (but not 2019, in case everything’s a blur to you), worked a perfect top half of the ninth. The Braves had a chance to win it in the bottom half, as Jared Hughes gave up a two-out single to Markakis and then walked Suzuki on nine pitches, but this time, Santana once again faltered, grounding out to third.

Jesse Biddle, also good in 2018 (but not 2019), was the choice for the 10th, and his inning was a tightrope walk over a volcano. After a leadoff single, Votto walked to put two on. Gennett bunted the runners over, so Biddle walked Suarez to set up a bases-loaded situation. He was then very fortunate: Winker, who had walked with the bases loaded in the sixth, popped out to Albies. Peraza then grounded to Swanson to end the inning. The Braves, though, couldn’t put any further pressure on Hughes. Peter Bourjos (double-switched in for Santana in the top of the inning) had a two-out bunt single, but that was it for the Braves.

Luke Jackson threw a scoreless 11th, issuing the game’s final walk to Schebler with two outs. In the bottom of the inning, the Reds swapped Hughes for Dylan Floro to face Albies, Freeman, and Markakis. A funny story about this PA that came out after the game ended was that Albies called his shot. Apparently, as reported afterwards, before he came to the plate, Albies turned to Santana and said, “It’s time to go long now.” Hard to find a statement to agree with more.

Game MVP: Clearly Albies, who went 3-for-6 and hit his walkoff homer on a pitch below the zone. Albies was the only hitter with three hits in the game, and the only player to drive in multiple runs — which he did as the Braves’ second batter, and their last. His .480 WPA in this game is his second-highest to date, behind only the game where he hit the go-ahead grand slam against the Marlins. Albies put up 3.8 fWAR in 2018 despite a wRC+ in the 80s against right-handed pitching, something he was able to address the following season.

The walkoff homer gave Albies 17 homers, third-most in the NL as of this date.

Game LVP: Dylan Floro, for obvious reasons. While Floro was actually a very good reliever in 2018 (1.0 fWAR), this was his worst outing, WPA-wise, as a Red, and the first outing of his career in which he failed to retire a batter. Floro was traded to the Dodgers partway through the season, where he’s since had a few more outings that were worse than this one in terms of WPA, and a few more where he’s gotten zero outs.

Biggest play: The walkoff homer, of course.

The game, in context of the season: Albies’ homer not only vaulted the Braves into a tie for the NL’s best record, but also into a tie (with the Astros) for the biggest division lead, 3.5 games. The Braves actually went on to lose the series, part of their whole identity crisis that persisted from June 19 through most of July — they went 1-6-4 in series over that span, falling as far back as 2.5 games in the division as a result. But, a solid August and September got them back on track, and they finished with 90 wins and their first division title since 2013. The Reds, meanwhile, had a good run in June and July before collapsing once again in August and September. Not that it mattered — they spent every day from April 1 on in last place, and finished with 67 wins for their fifth consecutive losing season, a streak that’s now at six. This loss snapped their seven-game winning streak; after this game, their longest winning streak for the rest of the season was three games.

Foltynewicz seemed like he was back on track after this game, and also allowed just one hit in five innings in his next outing. But then, he kind of hurtled backwards, allowing six homers in his next four starts, and eight in his next six, taking his FIP- from 76 to 89 in the span of about five weeks. He finished strong down the stretch, though, clocking in at 3.8 fWAR on the year in 183 innings of work.

Mahle, meanwhile, rolled on with a couple of good starts after this one, but then got absolutely shelled in four straight outings and lost his rotation spot. He finished his season with just 0.4 fWAR, though it was really the doing of those four starts that he fell that low — he had a 111 FIP- / 101 xFIP- before those outings, and ended his season at 127 / 110. He did much better in 2019, giving the Reds 25 starts of league-average pitching, with a 90 xFIP- that suggests elbow room for definite improvement in outcomes going forward.

Video:

Condensed game:

Recap:

Baseball.Theater highlights page: https://baseball.theater/game/_/530575/Highlights

TC Recap: https://www.talkingchop.com/2018/6/26/17504984/atlanta-braves-cincinnati-reds-ozzie-albies-walk-off-home-run-extra-innings

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2018/6/25/17503842/atlanta-braves-cincinnati-reds-june-25-2018-game-thread-discussion-foltynewicz

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Basically, there was a split here between: (1) Albies is awesome; and (2) litigating the terrible Brian Snitker bullpen management in this game, especially the decision to bring in Sims in the sixth with a two-run lead and not pull him. The bunt ahead of Flaherty was also a highly unpopular decision.

Anything else? Albies’ 2018 was definitely a season of ups and downs, hitting-wise. He started with a 158 wRC+ in April, but followed that up with about seven weeks of a 71 wRC+ through May and half of June. However, he then turned it around a bit, and this game was a part of that — after a breather on June 17, Albies began an 11-game hit streak during which he had nearly a 200 wRC+, right as most of the team was scuffling. From that breather through August 2, he had a 148 wRC+. Unfortunately, he definitely fell apart down the stretch, with a 67 wRC+ from August 3 through the end of the season.

Albies finished 2018 ninth in MLB among all players with 200+ PAs in first-pitch swing rate. Two other players in this game (Freeman, Schebler) finished above him. Albies’ rate fell a bit in 2019, though not as much as Freeman’s, but he only dropped to 11th in MLB as a result. Still, it’s hard to be too mad, even this walkoff homer on a ball aside — Albies managed a .402 wOBA on first pitches in 2018, compared to a league wOBA of .382 (though his xwOBA was .354). In 2019, he was even better despite not really reining it in: .447 wOBA, .407 xwOBA (compared to .407/.397 for the league).

Markakis had two hits in this game, giving him the NL lead with 101. (Jose Altuve led MLB with 109.) By the end of the season, though, Freddie Freeman overtook him for the NL lead; Markakis finished seventh in MLB, and Freeman was second, one hit behind Whit Merrifield. 2018, was, of course, Markakis’ short-lived renaissance, in which he put up 2.6 fWAR.

In a 13-start stretch of which this game was the second-to-last, Foltynewicz put up a 45 ERA-, 72 FIP-, and 86 xFIP-, allowing just four homers and allowing more than two runs in a start just once.

Scott Schebler is a generic fourth outfielder type who had an awful 2019 (-0.6 fWAR in 95 PAs, tore his labrum), but boy, does he have it in for the Braves, apparently. The career 98 wRC+ bat has a 130 wRC+ in 54 career PAs against the Braves (.390 xwOBA against the Braves; .337 overall).

Here’s Albies, postgame: “It’s time to go home right now. It’s time to go deep. I went up there with one mentality, of hitting a home run.”

It’s always time to go deep, Ozzie. Always.

This was the third rain-delayed game in four games played at SunTrust Park, and the tenth overall on the season. Brutal.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 25: The “debut” of the rainbow flag at San Francisco’s Pride Parade (back then known as Gay Freedom Day Parade) on this date in 1978.