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Smyly and Braves Bats Struggle in 5-3 loss to Nationals

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Braves falter both early and late in disappointing loss.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves entered Wednesday’s contest against the Washington Nationals with an opportunity to win a very winnable ball game if everyone simply did their job. That seems simple enough for a team as talented as the Braves are even with all the pieces they are now without. However, once again, on multiple fronts, the Braves struggled more than they succeeded.

The game started out in good form for Atlanta. Drew Smyly looked good in the first inning, and Ronald Acuna Jr. earned a leadoff walk. However, a questionable challenge on a Freddie Freeman ground out where he appeared out instead of a Acuna Jr. caught stealing where he appeared safe derailed the Braves momentum. The Nationals made the most of their luck in the first inning, as three singles in the top of the second earned them a 1-0 lead.

Fortunately, Dansby Swanson quickly responded for the Braves with an opposite field home run to tie the score at 1-1. Swanson also extended his hitting streak to 11 games. Hopefully, after a rough start to the season, Swanson appears to be getting into a groove both he and and the team really need to last for a good stretch moving forward. The Braves tried to create another scoring opportunity in the bottom of the second, but Acuna Jr. grounded out to end the rally.

In the top of the third, Drew Smyly’s troubles decided to show up. An error by Swanson and two walks loaded the bases for the Nationals. However, Smyly was able to find a good approach with his stuff and produced strikeouts against Yan Gomes and Kyle Schwarber to end the threat. Riding the momentum from Smyly, the Braves decided to make some noise in the bottom of the inning. An Austin Riley ground out advanced Freeman and Ozzie Albies to second and third with one out. However, both Swanson and Ehire Adrianza failed to get a big hit and the score remained tied at one.

Both Smyly and Jon Lester quickly worked through the fourth inning and the Nationals stepped to the plate in the top of the fifth inning with the top of their order. Smyly, similar to his struggles in his last start against Boston, immediately ran into trouble. Trea Turner connected for a double and Juan Soto launched a fastball right down the middle of the plate 437 feet to center to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Nationals.

After allowing a single to Bell, Smyly was replaced by Luke Jackson. It was another disappointing outing for Smyly, though better than his previous start. He did produce six strikeouts compared to two walks; however, he also allowed seven hits and three earned runs. His fastball was not productive at all, as the Nationals three hits to score their run in the second innings and Soto’s home run in the fifth inning all were off Smyly’s heater. Though odds are Smyly will make his next start, its hard to place much trust in his efforts moving forward.

Jackson arrived and quickly the ended the top of the fifth inning via a double play. Both pitching staffs then settled in, as the Braves and Nationals offenses could only produce one walk between them through the top of the seventh inning. Both Jackson and Edgar Santana had very good outings to keep the score at 3-1.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Abraham Almonte pinch it and hit a ground rule double to lead off the inning. After both Pablo Sandoval and Acuna Jr. were retired via strikeouts, Freeman earned a two out walk. Finally, the Braves fortunes changed, as Albies connected with a two out, two-run double to tie the score at 3-3. Though Riley ended the inning with a strikeout, the Braves offense produced a big hit when it needed it most.

Unfortunately, the good fortunes did not last long.

A.J. Minter took the mound in the top of the eighth inning and quickly retired Soto and Bell. However, Yan Gomes then hit his fifth home run of the year to make the score 4-3 before Minter ended the top of the inning via a fly out. Daniel Hudson stayed on in the bottom of the eighth inning and produced three straight outs against the Braves to end the inning. In the top of the ninth inning, Chris Martin allowed an RBI single to Trea Turner that scored Robles to make the score 5-3. The Braves had no response in the bottom of the inning, as Brad Hand delivered a perfect outing, a save, and the win, 5-3.

This is certainly an unfortunate loss. Every aspect of the Braves struggled tonight, especially with the loss coming in a very winnable game against another NL East team. The Braves desperately need to at least earn a split tomorrow before the Dodgers come to town over the weekend.