Despite hitting another three home runs, the Braves were unable to keep up with the Nationals on Saturday night. Washington eventually ran away with the game by putting up a crooked number in the ninth inning, giving themselves a comfortable 10-4 win over the Braves.
One thing that has to be said is that something concerning seems to be going on with Max Fried. While he still managed to go five innings in this game, he definitely didn’t look like the same Max Fried who was putting the rest of baseball on notice with his mound performances. The most concerning part of this is that Fried’s velocity has been on a steady decline and it continued tonight.
Max Fried FB velocity by game in 2020:— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) September 6, 2020
94.1 <--- Game #1
92.2 <---- Scary drop
91.7 <---- TODAY
Please tell me he's okay.
What’s also interesting is that despite Fried’s drop, the Nationals weren’t really hitting him hard. Unfortunately, the Nats didn’t need to hit him hard because they were basically dinking and dunking their way into runs, regardless. Washington scored their first run without getting a hit (HBP, walk, walk, RBI groundout) and then when they finally did get a hit, it came from Carter Kieboom floating one into shallow right field for a run-scoring single to make it 2-0. The bloop hit had an Exit Velocity of 67.5 mph, and that would be a theme for the Nationals tonight.
When Atlanta was at the plate, they continued to click when it came to hitting balls far over the fence. Ronald Acuña Jr. made some history in the first inning by once again hitting a homer to lead off the game for the Braves. That was his 18th leadoff home run as a leadoff hitter for the Braves, which is now the new franchise record. This is also your reminder that Ronald Acuña Jr. is only 22-years old and is going to be playing for the Braves for a very long time, so this could only be the beginning for him when it comes to re-writing the franchise’s record book.
The power surge didn’t stop there. After Marcell Ozuna reached base on a walk, Travis d’Arnaud wasted no time in his at-bat as he blasted a sinker over the fences in center field to put the Braves in the lead 3-2. Then in the very next inning, Adam Duvall got in on the ambush party. He hit the first pitch that he saw from Fedde and sent it soaring over the fence in left field to make it 4-2 at that point. While the Braves weren’t exactly in cruise control at that moment, you had to have liked their chances to hold on to the victory at that particular juncture in the game.
Max Fried may have had another tough night on the mound, but he also got very unlucky in his final inning. Even with runners on the corners with only one out, Fried had seemingly pitched his way out of the mess by inducing a ground ball out of Howie Kendrick. The ball went straight to Johan Camargo, who botched the throw to Dansby that would’ve surely turned a double play. Instead, a run ended up crossing the plate on the play and the Nats used the gift to inch closer to the Braves.
Tyler Matzek’s name was called for the sixth inning and he got himself into trouble almost immediately. He walked Carter Kieboom to lead off the inning and then gave up a couple of singles — with Luis Garcia’s single tying the game at four. Right after that happened, Victor Robles popped up a bunt that just so happened to land in the perfect spot to elude Freddie and give Robles enough time to beat Matzek to first base on the throw. The pop-up bunt single ended up putting the Nationals ahead (for good, it turned out) and looking back, it’s incredibly frustrating that Washington was able to turn all of that weak contact into five runs.
Then the ninth inning rolled around. I’m going to post a couple of tweets from last night when Brian Snitker was questioned on his bullpen usage in the latter stages of the second game of Friday’s doubleheader:
Said he used Weigel in that situation 'cuz he wanted to make sure he had relievers available next two days, and Weigel was 29th man, so he used him. (Just telling you what he said; we asked.) I asked if Charlie has thrown off mound this year and he said yes, couple of bullpens.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) September 5, 2020
So with that in mind, Snitker went with Chad Sobotka to pitch the top of the ninth with the Braves down just one run. Once the smoke cleared, a 5-4 game turned into a 10-4 game as the Nationals stopped hitting little bloopers and just started battering Sobotka. While Sobotka deserves his fair share of the blame for what was ultimately an atrocious performance, it’s still baffling that he was even put into that position to begin with. Snitker basically told the media that he was managing Friday’s game with an eye on the next game, and for this to be his strategy for “the next game” is very, very poor bullpen management on his part. You could argue that Friday’s loss was on the manager and you could make an even easier argument that Snitker should absolutely take responsibility for tonight’s loss.
So a game that should’ve been close ended up being one that got out of hand and for the second night in a row, we’re all left wondering what could’ve happened if the bullpen management was done optimally as the game started moving towards the end. Now, the Braves are on the back foot and they’re in a situation where they need to win tomorrow in order to avoid dropping a four-game series to a team that they should have been beating.