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Braves Flashback/Recap: June 7

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The Braves lost a close one, and familiar faces played a big role.

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The trade tree of the January 2013 trade that sent Justin Upton and Chris Johnson to the Braves in exchange for Martin Prado and a gaggle of prospects has only grown more complicated through the years. At the time, though, it was a pretty bittersweet exchange. The pro was that the Braves were making a real go-for-the-jugular move, bolstering an already-good team with a very strong producer in Upton. The con was that the cost wasn’t negligible, and in fact, a key cog and all-around wonderful player/human Martin Prado was part of the exchange. (By the way, the Braves clearly won that trade, complex trade trees or no.)

On June 7, 2014, the Braves were in Phoenix to continue their series against the Diamondbacks. The only reason I brought up the above is that the Prado-Upton trade loomed large in the context of this game, even though many of the pieces sent to Arizona hadn’t yet made their Diamondbacks debuts.

The gist: After a couple of RBI groundouts tied the game at one-all, Justin Upton scored the go-ahead run on Evan Gattis’ sixth-inning double. Craig Kimbrel ended up blowing the save in the ninth thanks to Aaron Hill’s RBI double, but Jason Heyward immediately responded with a go-ahead homer in extras. The problem was that the Braves couldn’t hold ‘em there. Miguel Montero tied the game with a solo homer of his own, and one inning later, David Carpenter allowed three straight D-backs to reach, resulting in a walkoff loss.

Box scores: Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs

The set-up: Though the 2014 season ended for the Braves in disastrous fashion, there was little reason to think, coming into June 7, that 2014 would look considerably different than 2013. The Braves were 32-27, had just won the first game of the series, and had a one-game lead in the division. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, hadn’t seen their trade of Upton pay any dividends — the 2013 season had resulted in an 81-81 record for the second consecutive year, and 2014, so far, had the Diamondbacks at 26-37, the second-worst record in the majors and the worst in the NL. The Diamondbacks had been not-in-last-place for literally one day of the 2014 season, and it was when they got their first win to go 1-3.

The pitching matchup for this game featured Ervin Santana and Wade Miley. Santana, to this point, was still looking like a fairly fantastic emergency signing — the 90 FIP- and 87 xFIP- were delicious, and the 110 ERA- was more annoying than a concern given the peripherals. Part of that ERA inflation was a three-start stretch from May 16 through May 26 where he allowed 17 runs with an 11/8 K/BB ratio, but he had rebounded to yield just three runs (4/2 K/BB ratio) in his last outing. Miley, meanwhile, had already progressed to his innings sponge form after his great first full season — 1.6 fWAR in 2013 despite 203 innings, and a 126 ERA / 124 FIP- coming into this game — albeit with a 96 xFIP-. Unlike Santana, Miley was actually on a dramatic roll coming into this game, having put up a 20/1 K/BB ratio over his last two starts. And yet, he’d allowed seven runs in those starts, including an absurd four runs, all on solo homers six-inning stint his last time out.

How it happened: The runs were at a premium in this one until late. Miley started by getting three balls hit to Didi Gregorius at second base, giving him a hilariously-easy four-pitch inning. Santana’s first inning was longer but still fairly easy — Gregorius led off with a pitch that bounced off the heel of Santana’s glove and still carried on its way into center, but a bunt and two straight outs rendered that moot.

The Braves changed their approach in the second, forcing Miley into an 18-pitch inning despite just one single. The Diamondbacks did too, going from patient in the first to swinging at everything in the second. It kind of worked out, though: Martin Prado led off the inning by hooking something slow into left. David Peralta followed by lining one into center, putting two on. (Peralta was just recently called up by the Diamondbacks and with this single, had started his career with a six-game hitting streak, tying an Arizona record.) Chris Owings followed with a liner to second that nearly got Prado doubled up. The Diamondbacks then scored a run on something very difficult to describe in words:

Basically, Andrelton Simmons failed (!), Dan Uggla succeeded, but then Uggla also failed, and Prado scored the game’s first run. Miley flew out to center the end the inning, which featured five batters and a run but just eight total pitches.

The Braves, though, immediately tied it up in pretty similar fashion. Simmons made up for his botched double play chance by shooting a ball down the right-field line. Gerardo Parra tried to nab him at second, but his throw was a bit wide of the bag and skipped into left field, allowing Simmons to take third. Santana’s groundout couldn’t score Simmons, but Heyward’s bouncer to Prado at third did just that, with Simmons sliding ahead of Prado’s slightly-high throw and before catcher Miguel Montero could get his glove down. Two first-pitch outs ended the inning afterwards. (Also, B.J. Upton was hitting second in this game for some reason, which is a bewildering thought given that he had a 64 wRC+ as a Brave coming into this game across 674 PAs.)

Gregorius led off the bottom of the third by reaching on an Uggla play (that’s a play on “ugly,” guys) and then stole second. (Seriously, he fell to his knees for no reason, the ball hit him instead of his glove, he crawled around, it was bad.) The steal was the first of Gregorius’ career, and came uncontested as Santana totally ignored him before making his pitch. A groundout moved Gregorius to third, but the next groundout was a comebacker that prevented him from scoring, and Simmons threw out Montero on a grounder to end the inning.

Gattis, who had already notched a single off Miley, creamed a 3-1 pitch into dead center. It had the distance but not the height to go for a homer, and Gattis settled for a one-out double. Chris Johnson and Uggla stranded him. Santana followed with his first 1-2-3 inning despite a leadoff single by Prado, as Peralta hit into a very smooth 1-6-3 double play and a flyout ended the inning. Miley’s next inning was his first perfect frame.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Diamondbacks again went back to making Santana work. Inciarte led off the frame with a single, making them a perfect 5-for-5 in getting the leadoff runner on in this game. Miley bunted Inciarte to second, and Santana then walked Gregorius. A deep flyout from Parra moved Inciarte to third, and another walk loaded the bases, but Montero bounced out to first, ending the inning.

In the sixth, the Braves took their first lead. Justin Upton fought off a two-out single into right. Gattis then followed by swinging at the same slider he took for ball three on a 3-1 count:

The low liner that perfectly split the left-center gap, rolling the wall and allowing Upton to score. Gattis was then stranded once again by Johnson’s weak fly to right. Santana followed with a shutdown inning, allowing just an infield single.

Both Miley and Santana lasted one more inning, each completing seven frames. Miley gave up a one-out single to Simmons, but Santana couldn’t bunt him over, and the inning (and Miley’s outing) ended with a pickoff of Simmons. Santana had his only perfect inning of the game in the seventh — three straight groundouts to end his outing. Weirdly enough, Santana’s best inning came when he faced the top of the order for a fourth time — and his last two innings were the only ones in which the leadoff man didn’t reach base. Miley’s final line was seven innings, six hits, two runs, one earned run, and a 5/0 K/BB ratio. Santana’s final line was almost the same — seven innings, six hits, one run, zero earned runs, but a 1/2 K/BB ratio. Santana got mostly grounders, which helped him; Miley gave up a ton of flies. Santana was done after exactly 100 pitches; it only took Miley 93 to get through seven frames.

LOOGY Oliver Perez started the eighth for Arizona, and was yanked after allowing a single to Freddie Freeman, which brought the younger Upton to the plate. The Diamondbacks swapped Perez for a different sidewinder, Brad Ziegler. (Earlier in the inning, Perez had nearly given up a homer to B.J. Upton, hence the definite need to swap him out against another righty.) Ziegler got Justin to chase way outside, ending the inning. The Braves countered with the healthy-at-the-time Shae Simmons, making just his fifth career appearance in this one-run affair. Simmons had yet to allow a run in his major league career, and it didn’t happen here, either, as he gave up a leadoff single to Paul Goldschmidt and pushed him to second with a wild pitch, but then got three outs in a row (groundout, lineout, groundout) to end the inning with the lead intact. Ziegler stayed in against three straight Braves righties and got each of them to ground out, two on the first pitch, to send the game to the ninth.

This was still 2014, so the ninth with a lead was very much Craig Kimbrel time. It just didn’t have the usual result this time around. Kimbrel started his evening with a first-pitch out, but things then unraveled. Inciarte drew a five-pitch walk and then immediately stole second. The Diamondbacks then pinch-hit with regular second baseman Aaron Hill (who was great in 2012-2013, but had a dreadful 2014, though he had not yet lost his starting gig), and things started to go downhill for the Braves:

Kimbrel was at least able to keep the game tied by striking out both Gregorius and Parra, but still, not ideal. The game would have to be settled in extras.

Closer Addison Reed, acquired by the Diamondbacks after a very good 2013 (1.6 fWAR as a reliever), came on for the tenth. Reed, however, was basically being a standard reliever at this point, which is to say his 2014 was a complete and dramatic turnaround from his 2013: he came into this game with a putrid FIP and negative WPA, though at least his xFIP was still good. (Reed would finish the year with negative fWAR and a negative WPA despite a better xFIP- than he had managed the prior two years, showing that there are multiple ways relievers can let you down.) In any case, Reed quickly got two outs in the tenth, but then ran into Jason Heyward:

Having already used Kimbrel, the Braves sent in Anthony Varvaro. This was hardly a bad choice at the time, as even aside from Kimbrel, essentially every meaningful Braves reliever (i.e., not David Hale or Gus Schlosser) was killing it through the first two months of 2014 — the Braves had the second-best bullpen in baseball coming into this game. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t work out for Varvaro and the Braves, at all. The righty was able to strike out Goldschmidt, but Montero obliterated this 92 mph fastball, the only pitch Varvaro threw him that was in the zone:

After Prado singled, the Braves were just pushing buttons to try and avoid a loss. Luis Avilan, the only full-time Braves reliever not having a great year so far, came in to face the lefty-hitting Peralta, and got him to ground out. A hit could win the game at this point, so usual set-up guy David Carpenter came on and sent the game into the 11th after a warning track flyout by Owings.

For the 11th, the Diamondbacks surfaced another component of that 2013 trade: Randall Delgado. A highly-touted pitching prospect, with two consecutive top-50 MLB placements by Baseball America, Delgado was a key piece in the deal that netted Justin Upton. His 2013 with his new team had gone fairly terribly, with -0.1 fWAR in 19 starts (though a high HR/FB suggested he wasn’t quite as bad as his results). By this point, after two awful starts to begin 2014, the Diamondbacks had transitioned him to the bullpen, where he mostly pitched in a long relief/mop-up role. For a second, it looked like Delgado’s struggles might continue, as he issued a leadoff walk to Freeman. But then, something clicked, at least for this one inning.

Justin Upton went down chasing a slider away and in the dirt on pitch number eight. Gattis swung through a curveball that spun through the heart of the zone. Johnson was blown away by a high 94 mph fastball on the outer edge. The game headed into the bottom of the 11th, where it would end.

Carpenter stayed in to give the Braves yet another chance to take a lead. Inciarte greeted him with a bunt try that rolled all the way to Uggla, who shoveled it over to first. The call was initially “safe,” but was overturned on replay review — not that it mattered. Cody Ross, who had been double-switched in with Reed, followed with a more conventional single up the middle. Carpenter then lost an eight-pitch battle with Gregorius, walking him in the end. That brought up Parra, who brought the game to an end with this weak flare:

The Braves had lost a game despite leading in the ninth and in the tenth.

Game MVP: Really, the MVP was Aaron Hill, who connected for a game-tying hit off Kimbrel. Without that, none of this drags on. Most of the other heroes of this game had goat moments otherwise, Hill was the only guy that succeeded but didn’t fail. Always inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, 2014 was Hill’s worst year until his dreadful, career-ending 2017. He compiled -0.5 fWAR in both years, though in the latter, it only took him 80 PAs to do so.

Game LVP: Anthony Varvaro, who not only blew the chance to win the game in the tenth, but started a bigger jam that he had to be bailed out of by other relievers. Despite this outing, 2014 was still Varvaro’s best season. Despite this, Varvaro’s career took an odd turn afterward. The rebuilding Braves traded him to the Red Sox after the 2014 season; Varvaro was DFAed and claimed off waivers by the Cubs, but then returned to the Red Sox when it was discovered that he had a torn flexor tendon in his pitching arm. He missed the rest of that season, couldn’t make it back to the majors in 2016, and then retired to become a police officer — he’s currently an officer of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority.

Biggest play: Montero’s game-tying homer off Varvaro.

The game, in context of the season: The Braves lost this game as well as the next one, dropping the series in Arizona. By the end of the series, their division lead was now just a tie, though they’d lead the East as late as July 20. The Diamondbacks were largely terrible en route to a MLB-worst 64-98 record. This was only the third time they had won back-to-back series all season; after this series, they would never win back-to-back series again. The Braves and Diamondbacks split the season series, 3-3.

Despite the good outing, Miley just kept on innings sponging, finishing 2014 with a career-low 1.3 fWAR in over 200 innings. He was traded to the Red Sox in the offseason, where he had a good year (2.7 fWAR) before resuming his innings sponging ways. Santana’s 2014 was his best since his 2008 breakout, with 3.2 fWAR. He was highly effective for three more years with the Twins afterwards, before a career collapse in 2018-2019.

Miguel Montero played a big role in this game, and the suddenness of his career collapse in 2016-2017 can make us forget that he was a great player earlier in his career. From 2009-2012, Montero was a league-average-or-better bat that put up over 18 fWAR in four seasons by combining good hitting with good framing. In 2013-2015, his power diminished and at times evaporated, but he was still an average-to-above producer thanks to the framing. In 2014, he posted 3.3 fWAR despite an 89 wRC+.

Video?

Condensed game:

Recap:

TC Recap: Weirdly, I don’t think there was one. Draft coverage and the late game time may have precluded it for some reason?

TC Game Thread: https://www.talkingchop.com/2014/6/7/5789790/gamethread-6-7-braves-at-diamondbacks

TC Commentariat Zeitgeist: Weirdly, a lot of calls for David Hale to get more of a role in the bullpen despite how good the relief corps had been so far. Hale ended up replacement level for the year. The discontent with Uggla had also grown to a fever pitch — after this game, in which Uggla made multiple goofs and gaffes and went 0-for-4 (he last had a multihit game on April 18; he last hit a homer on April 14), he lost his starting role and the Tommy LaStella era began in earnest — though La Stella was really only an upgrade by way of subtraction (0.2 fWAR, 0.3/600 compared to 2014 Uggla’s -0.7 fWAR, -2.9/600). Also, TC was having one of its very troll-y waves at this time. Fun!

Anything else? In the previous game, before his blown save in this one, Kimbrel had set the franchise record for the save stat.

The Diamondbacks didn’t have a hit with a runner in scoring position (0-for-12) before Hill’s game-tying double. Montero had four of those twelve hitless PAs.

This game extended a crazy-good run for Heyward where he had a 203 wRC+ with four homers in 54 PAs. Heyward’s 2014 was very odd altogether, as he finished with a 109 wRC+ despite a combined 126 wRC+ in his middle 466 PAs of the season. The problem was a slow start and a slow finish — 67 wRC+ in his first 111 PAs, and 69 wRC+ in his last 72.

Prado went 3-for-5 in this game, on his bobblehead night; Justin Upton went 1-for-5. Nick Ahmed would debut later in 2014 and be awful; it took until 2019 for him to put up average production, as his glove generally hasn’t compensated for his weak bat. Brandon Drury wouldn’t debut until 2015, and has had a combined 0.1 fWAR in five seasons to date. Zeke Spruill gave Arizona 0.2 fWAR in 34 innings; Delgado yielded just 2.2 fWAR in parts of six seasons before his major league career came to a close. The Prado situation is complicated because he signed an extension and was traded twice during its course, but he provided just 1.5 fWAR to the Diamondbacks. Justin Upton and Chris Johnson, meanwhile, combined for 10.3 fWAR as Braves, not even counting Upton’s later trade to the Padres.

David Peralta set a Diamondbacks record the next night by hitting in his first seven games to begin his career. He had 12 hits in those seven games, but finished 2014 with just 1.0 fWAR in 348 PAs, due largely to poor defense.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about June 7: Vatican City was established on this day in 1929 as a result of the Lateran Treaty between (then the Kingdom of) Italy and the Holy See (i.e., the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome).