After a frustrating sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays, the Braves battled back from an early deficit to take the first game of a weekend set in Milwaukee on Friday night, defeating the Brewers by a 6-3 margin. Drew Smyly allowed just one run in six innings and the Braves roughed up both Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer en route to their victory.
There was a brief point at the beginning of this game where it seemed like it was going to be the same dispiriting display the Braves have put on more than a few times so far in 2021 — fortunately, it didn’t end up that way. The Braves got two on with one out in the top of the second, which brought up Ender Inciarte for his first plate appearance since hitting the shelf weeks ago. Inciarte got himself into a 2-0 count, but then weakly flew out to left, dooming the inning to a goose egg since Smyly was up next. The Brewers then responded by turning Avisail Garcia’s leadoff double into a run when, with one out, Garcia at third, and the infield in, Dansby Swanson failed to field a very weak (77 mph) bouncer hit towards him. Later in the frame, another Swanson miscue, a straight booting of a routine grounder, extended the inning, but Smyly struck out his mound opponent to end the inning.
That was a pretty inauspicious start for the game (if you’re a Braves fan, anyway), but they turned it around against Houser in a hurry. Ehire Adrianza, filling in for Ronald Acuña Jr. (ankle too sore to play in tonight’s game, might return tomorrow), drew a leadoff walk to start the third. Freddie Freeman then crushed a pitch that unfortunately went straight at the right fielder, but Adrianza moved to second on a wild pitch, and then to third on a balk. Houser then walked Marcell Ozuna, and after Ozzie Albies flew out, the Braves were perhaps primed for disappointment yet again. But, not to worry: Swanson drew a walk to extend the inning, setting up this go-ahead “single” by Austin Riley:
The Brewers have positioned well in 2021, but you can’t really position yourself well for “ricochets of 100+ mph batted balls off your pitcher,” and the trickling of the ball into center let Ozuna come around to score as the go-ahead run. Houser then plunked William Contreras to bring Inciarte up with a chance to redeem himself... but after being ahead in the count 3-0, he eventually struck out on a sinker off the plate. That was actually it for Houser — he lasted just three frames and walked five (and hit a batter) in the process.
Smyly sat down the Crew in order in the bottom of the inning, and the Brewers brought on Eric Lauer in Houser’s stead. Lauer’s first inning of work was a 1-2-3 frame, but leading off the fifth, Ozuna and Albies did some serious damage:
Meanwhile, Smyly cruised through the middle innings. He was perfect in the third and in the fourth, and got three straight outs after a leadoff walk in the fifth. With a three-run lead, the Braves let him face the heart of Milwaukee’s order a third time in the sixth, which could’ve gone poorly but ended up fine. Lorenzo Cain started the frame with a flared single into center, and with one out, Smyly plunked Garcia. That brought up Travis Shaw as the tying run, but on the very first pitch, Shaw rolled a curveball right to Albies for an easy 4-6-3 twin killing that wrapped up Smyly’s night. With six innings of one-run ball and a 4/1 K/BB ratio, it was Smyly’s best outing since his first start of the year, when he had an 8/1 K/BB ratio but was undone by a Trea Turner homer and some shoddy defense behind him.
Back-to-back singles from Freeman and Ozuna chased Lauer to start the seventh. Brad Boxberger came on for Milwaukee and got a foulout from Albies, but the Braves got a fifth run on a bizarre safety squeeze from Swanson. A sixth run was thwarted (for the time being) when Luis Urias snatched away a potential Riley single to left with a jumping grab.
Jacob Webb came on for the bottom of the seventh. His first batter faced, Urias, barreled the ball to right center, where it was caught at the wall by Inciarte. The next batter, Manny Piña, hit a ball nearly 100 mph through the left side for a single. After that, pinch-hitter Daniel Vogelbach barreled up Webb yet again, this time for a fly out to straightaway center, and that was that for Webb, as Sean Newcomb came out of the ‘pen and got pinch-hitter Billy McKinney to ground out to end the inning.
The Braves did actually score their sixth run in the top of the eighth. William Contreras crushed a 2-2 pitch from new reliever Josh Lindblom into right-center for a triple (!) as the ball got past Cain and took a weird bounce off the wall that sent it careening towards left field. Inciarte then blooped one over third (62.7 mph off the bat, hit probability of one percent) to score Contreras and make it a 6-1 game. Tyler Matzek came on for the bottom of the inning and held the Brewers scoreless despite a one-out walk and a weird fielder’s choice play where what could’ve been a 6-5 putout at third resulted in no outs when Austin Riley whiffed on the tag during a rundown. No worries, though, as Matzek struck out Garcia with 95 mph straight down the middle and then got Shaw to pop out weakly to left.
The ninth had, well, too much excitement for what should’ve ended quietly. Josh Tomlin came on with a five-run lead. Two pitches in, Urias drilled one to center for a solo homer. Four pitches in, Piña followed suit to left. After a foulout from Vogelbach, Tomlin was yanked, and in came Will Smith. Pinch-hitter Omar Narvaez struck out, but Kolten Wong singled past Riley to extend the game. Cain hit the last pitch of the game, a down-the-pipe challenge 2-1 fastball, pretty hard (100 mph) and on a line, but it was served right to Inciarte to end the game.
The Braves got eight hits (two dingers), five walks, and a hit-by-pitch in this game, so that part of the equation worked out for them. Smyly pitched reasonably well, though not particularly differently than in past outings; the big difference is just that the ball stayed in the park tonight. Marcell Ozuna was one of the biggest winners of the day, reaching base four times and raising his seasonal wRC+ 11 points (from 72 to 83) in the process. He and Riley were the only Braves with multihit games, though Contreras reached base three times (triple, walk, hit by pitch) as well.
Atlanta will hope for a similar result tomorrow, as Ian Anderson faces off against Brett Anderson (not a typo).