The Braves lost 5-1 to the Phillies on Friday night, dropping them to 47-49 on the season, into third place in the NL East, and five games back of the Mets. Among all the baseball games of the 2021 season, this was certainly one of them, and the truth of it is: I’m sick of writing these kinds of recaps, and if you’re reading, you’re probably sick of reading them. This was a game in which the exact same stuff that’s killed the Braves all season killed them again, and at this point, it’s getting mighty close to too late for things to turn around, even if all of these things magically stop happening. For the remainder of this recap, stuff that’s gotten beyond the pale in terms of familiarity breeding contempt is highlighted in bold.
This game was always going to be an uphill battle, because Philadelphia hurler Zack Wheeler has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, an utterly dominant force. Yet, the Braves threatened early in this one, as Freddie Freeman lined a two-out single of left off Wheeler in the first, and Austin Riley hit a weak dribbler down the first-base line that put both runners into scoring position. But, the Braves could not get on the board, as Dansby Swanson hit a first-pitch slider weakly to second to end the frame.
That uphill climb became steeper when J.T. Realmuto took Max Fried deep on Fried’s fourth pitch of the game, putting the Braves in a 1-0 hole. Things actually looked incredibly dire for much of the rest of that first, as Fried struggled mightily with commanding anything in the inning. After Realmuto’s homer, Fried walked Bryce Harper, gave up a bloop single, and then nearly allowed a three-run homer to Rhys Hoskins... but the ball was caught in deep center, just shy of the wall. Alec Bohm then bailed Fried out of his misery by swinging at a pretty meaty 3-0 sinker and putting it on the ground for an easy out.
Fried gave up a leadoff walk in the second, but mostly got back on the horse after that, striking out two in the inning after Wheeler struck out the side in the top half after a leadoff single. Honestly, Wheeler was not all that dominant in this game, though the Braves still lost by a run. That run came in the third, as Freeman’s second line drive single to left scored Ozzie Albies, who had stroked a hard double into the right-center gap earlier in the inning. Unfortunately, the Braves then made a stupid baserunning decision and ran themselves out of the inning courtesy of a strike-’em-out-throw-’em-out double play.
The bottom of the fourth was the real fulcrum of this game, and it sucked, mostly due to horrendous defense. It started with Bohm hitting a hilariously weak grounder (under 70 mph, .130 hit probability) that went under Swanson’s glove. Fried then got a routine grounder to short that was hit too slowly to turn into a double play, but Albies’ unnecessarily relay throw was wide and put the batter, Ronald Torreyes, on second as a result. After a walk and a strikeout of Wheeler, it was Fried set to face the order for a third time, and it went poorly. It wasn’t really Fried’s fault, honestly, and Fried’s TTO splits are honestly not really even that concerning. It was more like, hey, this completely predictable and utterly awful thing has happened yet again, le sigh. Basically, Jean Segura came up for a third time. Fried got ahead of Segura 0-2, and then threw a curveball that was so spiked it may have hit the plate had Segura not scooped it off the ground with his bat and bounced it down the right-field line. Unsurprisingly, Austin Riley was nowhere near the line or being able to make a play on the bouncer, which rolled down into the left-field corner, scoring both runners. Fried escaped the inning with a strikeout of Realmuto, but the damage was done, just in a stupid-yet-by-now-boringly-routine manner.
The Braves tried to respond against Wheeler, loading the bases with a Fried one-out walk, a groundball single by Albies, and then a walk to Freeman where it was clear that Wheeler wanted nothing to do with giving the reigning NL MVP anything to hit. That brought up Riley, and sadly, Riley swung at a 1-0 pitch inside and hit a nearly-as-slow-as-50-mph roller to short that he did not beat out. Oh well.
That really just meant it was time for yet more runs to score against a starter left in to face yet more of the order for a third time, and it happened due to awful defensive nonsense. In this case, the nonsense involved Harper hitting a leadoff single, stealing second, moving to third on a groundout to third (ugh), and then later in the inning, with two outs, a really dumb sequence: with Torreyes in a 1-2 count, Fried threw to first and had Hoskins picked off. However, Harper dashed home, the throw home by Albies was late, no one was retired, and the Braves basically gave up a (meaningless) fifth run because they didn’t look Harper back twice in the inning. Not that it mattered, but still, stupid.
The rest of the game was mostly nothing. Wheeler ended up pitching seven innings of one-run ball with an 8/2 K/BB ratio, yet another dominant outing in his incredible season. Fried lasted just those five frames, putting up a 6/4 K/BB ratio and getting screwed by his defense in the process, though he did allow a homer. Fried really hasn’t had three consecutive good starts by any measure since mid-May, which is yet another reason the Braves are where they are, and tonight’s version was way worse than the dominant southpaw who wrecked Tampa Bay with both his arm and bat last time out. Edgar Santana threw a scoreless frame that featured a balk for some reason. Sean Newcomb reappeared in a Braves uniform, walked the leadoff batter in the least surprising development of this game, and later allowed him to score on a Hoskins double.
The Braves did nothing against a bullpen as Archie Bradley threw a scoreless eighth — a couple of two-out singles were voided when Abraham Almonte grounded out on a hard-hit ball right to Segura. Shane Greene actually had a scoreless inning, and Ranger Suarez (yes, Ranger Suarez, who is good now? Relievers, man) closed the game out by working around a walk to pinch-hitter Orlando Arcia.
The Braves didn’t hit a new low today, but they hit basically the same low they’ve already hovered around before. That’s not surprising given how the game went. Maybe they’ll win some more games. Maybe they’ll make it interesting by playing well in New York next week. At this point, though, they seem more like some kind of sob story out of Greek mythology, forced to repeat the same mistakes en route to losing slightly more games than they win. Hopefully there’s a note of redemption kicking around somewhere, but I haven’t heard it resonate yet.