Dansby Swanson’s rally-capping home run in the fourth inning was just what the Braves needed to have enough breathing room to comfortably run away from the Marlins. Atlanta’s bats got to Sixto Sanchez early-and-often, and it eventually led to a 9-4 win for the current back-to-back-to-back NL East Champions.
As you can tell by the final score, we didn’t get the pitcher’s duel that we anticipated from Max Fried and Sixto Sanchez. In fact, the duel never even got going out of first gear. After Fried picked up the first out of the game pretty easily, Starling Marte attempted to test Atlanta’s infield by trying to lay down a bunt. Fried made the play, but he hurt his ankle in the process. It was clear that something was wrong from that point forward, as Fried immediately proceeded to give up his first and second home runs of the season in back-to-back style. After Jesus Aguilar and Brian Anderson went back to back, Garrett Cooper hit a double and the alarm was officially going off for Max Fried at that point. Fried was able to leave it at just the two runs, and that ended up being the only inning he’d throw tonight.
Of course, it’s absolutely not ideal to see your presumptive starter for Game 1 of a three-game playoff series leave his final regular season start due to injury. The only good news is that it appeared to be precautionary, but now the Braves will have to be wary and hope that Fried’s ankle injury is just an extremely short-term injury that won’t affect him for the postseason. If it’s anything worse, then it’s just another example of the absolutely wretched luck that the Braves have had when it comes to their starting pitchers. They’re going to need Fried, so hopefully he’ll be fine in time for the playoffs next week.
Fortunately, Atlanta’s offense has proven its ferocity time-and-time again this season and tonight was another example of what the Braves can do to any pitcher on any night. Not too long ago, Sixto Sanchez dominated Atlanta on his way to a comfortable win for the Marlins. That was not the case tonight, and the Braves jumped on him early. NL MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. did their Routine Act, which is Freddie Freeman hitting for extra bases while Acuña blazes across the basepaths in order to score from first base. A little later on, Ozzie Albies drove in Freddie to tie the game at two runs apiece. Finally, Adeiny Hechavarria ended up coming through with two outs by lacing one right up the middle to bring home Ozzie for the go-ahead run. The Braves were given a test of adversity with Fried leaving the game early and they passed it with flying colors.
Once Fried left the game, Luke Jackson entered. At first, I honestly thought that Jackson was going to just pitch an inning in sort of an Opener role. That was not the case — he ended up going four innings. He faced 15 batters in all, which is the most he’s faced in one outing in his entire major league career. The four-inning stint tied his longest stint in terms of innings since throwing four against the Brewers in mop-up duty back on June 25, 2017. Luke gave up a couple of runs in the fourth inning, which turned it into a tie-game at the time after Adeiny Hechavarria’s third-inning RBI single gave the Braves their fourth run of the game. Other than that blip, Luke Jackson pitched pretty well tonight and definitely did his part to help keep the Braves in the game by making a long relief appearance on very short notice.
Luke Jackson holding the Marlins to just two runs in that fourth inning was crucial, since the Braves would eventually break out with one of their usual big innings in the bottom half of the fourth. At first, it seemed like this offensive outbreak would be one that was out-of-character for the Braves. Instead of hitting dingers and gappers, the Braves were blooping their way onto the scoreboard off of Josh A. Smith. Ronald Acuña, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies, and Nick Markakis all delivered singles in the bottom of the fourth — the latter two were of the run-scoring variety, as Atlanta quickly restored their two-run lead after losing it in the top half of the inning. Dansby Swanson came up to the plate after the Marlins had a mound visit and then Dansby did something that we’re used to seeing from the Braves — meaning, that he hit a home run to break the game open. Dansby’s shot made it 9-4 and the Braves were officially in cruise control at that point.
Atlanta’s reliable bullpen took the five-run lead that the offense gave them and ran with it all the way to the end. Grant Dayton tossed two scoreless innings, Jacob Webb added a scoreless inning of his own, and then Shane Greene capped it off with a scoreless ninth inning to give the Braves another win. If the Braves haven’t done it by now, they’ll have a chance to send a message to the rest of the lower-seeded teams in the postseason by sweeping a potential playoff opponent over four games. The fans may not be in the stadium, but the Braves are proving that they’re planning on turning their home ballpark into a fortress for the Wild Card round.
In related news, the Cubs lost to the Pirates again. That result coupled with a Braves win means that Atlanta now has a two-game edge on Chicago for the second seed in the National League bracket. This was a very productive night for the Braves, and now they just need to hear some good news when it comes to Fried’s ankle and what it means for their starting pitcher going forward.