Coming into this game, Drew Smyly had given up the eighth-most homers in baseball this season. This game was played at Great American Ball Park, which has the highest homer park factor in baseball. This combination could have gone horribly, but in practice, it worked out alright, as Smyly and the bullpen survived their outings and led the Braves to a 3-2 win over the Reds.
Given how offense-friendly Great American Ball Park is, and how offense-friendly both Smyly and Cincinnati starter Vladimir Gutierrez have been, it’s somewhat bizarre that this was a low-scoring game. In fact, no runs scored through the first four innings. Freddie Freeman barreled the fifth pitch of the game to dead center at 110 mph, but ended up being stranded on the second after the ball dropped at the base of the wall. Smyly gave up a couple of singles in the first, but a groundout and a flyout quelled the Reds’ rally. After that, things were fairly quiet — both Smyly and Gutierrez allowed some hits, but no runs. Both teams couldn’t convert scoring chances in the fourth:
- The Braves got a leadoff single from Ozzie Albies, and later, a two-out walk, but William Contreras was thrown out by Eugenio Suarez after a diving stop on a chopper down the third-base line;
- The Reds started the bottom of the fourth with a Nick Castellanos leadoff double, but Tyler Stephenson’s deep fly ball was caught in center, and Castellanos did not dare to challenge Ronald Acuña Jr.’s arm on a 247-foot flyout to right, leading to him getting stranded when Suarez’ deep drive to left also nestled into a glove.
The Braves finally broke through with two outs in the fifth: Acuña walked and stole second, which paid off in a rare way because Freeman once again drilled a Gutierrez pitch to center. This time it hopped over the wall for a ground-rule double, and the Braves were on the board. Smyly got through the bottom of the frame in perfect fashion, and the Braves added on when Dansby Swanson crushed a first-pitch Gutierrez get-me-over fastball into right-center for a roundtripper.
The bottom of the sixth represented Smyly’s third trip through the Reds’ order, and, well, you’ve seen this story a lot by now. Fortunately, it didn’t doom the Braves in this one. Jonathan India started the inning with a hard-hit grounder that evaded Ozzie Albies in the shift. Jesse Winker followed by one of 2021’s infamous “barrels that are actually outs” (Acuña had one earlier in the game, too) by hitting a fly ball to very deep center. India moved up to second on the play, stole third, and eventually scored on Stephenson’s two-out double to left. Smyly’s third trip, this time, featured five balls in play, three hit at 95 mph off the bat or harder. It could’ve been worse, I guess.
But, the Braves immediately got that run back, as Guillermo Heredia started the seventh by also taking Gutierrez deep to center field. That was it for the Reds’ starter, but also it for the Braves scoring in this game. They threatened against new reliever Ryan Hendrix, as Ender Inciarte notched a pinch-hit single and Albies later connected for a ground-rule double with two outs, but Austin Riley hit yet another died-at-the-warning-track ball for the third out.
Luke Jackson, who gave up a two-run homer in yesterday’s game, came in for the seventh in relief of Smyly, and immediately gave up a homer to Suarez, trimming the lead to one run. However, he kept the lead intact, getting the next three outs while allowing just a pinch-hit single. Art Warren stifled Atlanta’s bats in the eighth, and the Braves had a terrifying but ultimately fruitful bottom of the eighth. A.J. Minter came on and had a grooved cutter absolutely demolished into center by Winker... but it was flagged down on a great running catch by Heredia, who slammed into the wall afterwards and needed a few minutes to compose himself before play resumed. Minter then gave up back-to-back singles, the latter a 77 mph grounder off Stephenson’s back that Freeman probably should have snared, but recovered to get a tailor-made, inning-ending double play off the bat of Joey Votto.
Heredia, apparently none worse for wear given his impact with the wall in the prior half-inning, doubled off Josh Osich to start the ninth. However, the Braves would not get a fourth run, as Acuña struck out chasing a slider and Freeman made an out on yet another 370 foot fly ball. Will Smith came on the bottom of the ninth, got two quick outs, and then allowed a well-placed, not very hard hit (91 mph) gapper double to light-hitting Kyle Farmer. Fortunately for Atlanta, Smith struck out pinch-hitter Scott Heineman on three pitches to end the game, letting them recover the half-game they lost to the Mets in the standings after yesterday’s defeat.
All in all, this game was basically defined by “HR/FB variation” and very possibly, the changes to the baseball in 2021. There were six outs in this game that traveled 370 or more feet, including two barreled balls by Jesse Winker and another by Acuña. Drew Smyly went a third consecutive start without allowing a homer for the first time this season as a result, and strung together a third straight decent start overall.
These two teams tangle again tomorrow at 4:10 pm ET. We’ll hope for more of the good HR/FB outcome for the Braves, and the bad one for the Reds.