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Braves bullpen lets them down again in 7-5 loss to Rays

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Another frustrating loss.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

It has become a familiar trope, but the Atlanta Braves bullpen let another lead slip away in a 7-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday afternoon.

Atlanta took an early lead in the first inning. Joc Pederson began the inning with a lead off walk but was erased on a ground ball out by Freddie Freeman. Ozzie Albies followed with a sharp double off the wall in center off of Rich Hill that scored Freeman from first to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.

Drew Smyly allowed just one base runner through the first four innings and Atlanta tacked on two more runs in the bottom half. Austin Riley walked to get things started but erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat by Orlando Arcia. Stephen Vogt, who was making his Braves debut, followed with a single to put runners at first and second. Guillermo Heredia followed with a double to right that scored Arcia to increase the lead to 2-0.

Smyly then reached on an infield single where Hill failed to cover first base with the infield in. Pederson then grounded back Hill who knocked it down but was forced to take the out at first as Vogt scored on the play to extend the lead to 3-0. Dansby Swanson then drove a ball that Kevin Kiermaier made a leaping catch on at the wall to end the inning.

After cruising through the first four innings, Smyly finally ran into some trouble in the fifth. Brandon Lowe reached on a check swing infield single to get things started and then moved up to third on a double down the line by Mike Zunino. Smyly got Wendle to fly out to shallow center for the first out but then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Lowe to score to make it 3-1. Smyly walked Kiermaier to load the bases and pinch hitter Austin Meadows lifted a sacrifice fly to right that scored Zunino to make it 3-2. He would recover and escape with no further damage striking out Vidal Bruján to end the inning.

Smyly has struggled this season when facing a lineup for the third time and that would bite him again in the sixth. He got Yandy Diaz to pop out to begin the inning but then hung a breaking ball to Wander Franco who drove it out to center to tie the game. Smyly then got Randy Arozarena to fly out but then allowed another single to Lowe That would be the end of the line for Smyly as Brian Snitker popped out of the dugout and called for Jesse Chavez who got Zunino to fly out to Arcia at the warning track for the final out of the inning.

Smyly was sharp over the first four innings, had to work hard in the fifth and probably shouldn’t have come back out for the sixth, but given Atlanta’s bullpen struggles, you can understand the thinking. He allowed four hits and three runs over 5 2/3 innings to go along with six strikeouts and two walks.

Undeterred, Atlanta answered again and retook the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Vogt singled off of Andrew Kittredge to lead off the frame and moved up to second on a wild pitch. After a couple of pop outs, Pederson came through again with an inside out double pass the bag at third to make it 4-3.

Things unraveled from there for the Braves as Snitker went deeper into his bullpen. A.J. Minter began the seventh by allowing a single to Wendle who would come all the way around to score on a double by Kiermaier to tie the game. Kiermaier then swiped third base and came home on another sacrifice fly by Meadows to give the Rays a 5-4 lead. That would be it for Minter as Snitker called for Luke Jackson.

Francisco Mejia greeted Jackson with a double to the corner in right and then came in to score on a two-run home run by Diaz to make it 7-4. Jackson then walked Franco but Vogt gunned him down on a stolen base attempt for the second out. Jackson then got Arozarena to ground out to end a painful inning for Atlanta.

Once again the Braves’ bullpen faltered after being handed a lead as Minter and Jackson combined to allow four hits and four runs in just one inning.

Atlanta got one run back in the bottom half of the inning when Vogt singled home Freeman to make it 7-5.

Josh Tomlin and Shane Greene retired six straight in the eighth and ninth but Pete Fairbanks pitched around a one-out single by Albies to close it out.

Atlanta falls to 45-47 and drop two of three in the series despite having a late lead in all three games.

Vogt had himself a great debut going 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. He also threw out a baserunner from behind the plate. Pederson and Riley finished with two hits each. Atlanta finished with 12 hits in the game but left 10 men on base.

They will try to pick the pieces up again Monday when they continue their homestand against the San Diego Padres.