This weekend, the Braves had a perfect opportunity to make some hay in the divisional standings: the two teams ahead of them would be locking horns, while the Braves would be facing the now-depleted Washington Nationals. Good news: the first sortie went swimmingly, as the Braves creamed their opposition by a final tally of 8-4.
Washington starter Erick Fedde had been knocked around by the Braves in his career, and tonight was no different. After Kyle Muller struck out two in a 1-2-3 first, the Braves strung together three straight one-out singles of Fedde and then went ahead 2-0 on Adam Duvall’s two-out flare into right. That lead didn’t last too long, however, because Muller was particularly shaky in this outing.
Throughout the first two innings, Muller missed badly up and armside with some fastballs. By the third, this had become a real problem. A leadoff walk turned into a de facto double thanks to a wild pitch, which put a runner on third after Jorge Soler made a diving catch in right to save a hit. Muller had a chance to keep the Nats off the board by getting Fedde to ground out to third, but another incredibly wild pitch led the runner to score. Muller actually got out of that inning without allowing a hit, but still, the lead was cut in half.
Problems continued in the fourth in a similar vein. By this point, Muller could no longer really rely on his fastball. Another bad miss turned into a bad-luck double as Alcides Escobar swung at a pitch up-and-out and bounced it to Freddie Freeman’s left for a double. Muller essentially ceased throwing the heater, which led to a flyout, a walk, and then a game-tying single to left by Carter Kieboom, because you can only throw so many sliders and curves without pinpoint command. Fortunately for Muller and the Braves, Luis Garcia bailed them out by turning a hanging curve into an easy inning-ending double play.
After going up 2-0, the Braves were stymied by Fedde, who retired eight straight before Duvall walked with one out in the fourth, but was left stranded. Muller tried to soldier on without any ability to throw his fastball anywhere near the zone in the fifth, but that was a terrible idea. He started the frame with a strikeout, but then clipped Gerardo Parra with a curveball, wild pitched a fastball in the dirt, gave up an easy steal of third, and then led to the Nationals’ third run when Fedde hit a 2-0 pitch into left for a sac fly. The Braves finally pulled Muller at this point before he could face anyone for a third time, but it was just a bizarre outing all-around — they let him “work through” literally not being able to throw a fastball anywhere near the zone through three innings. In the end, he was done after 4 2/3, and Edgar Santana came on to strike out Victor Robles and end the inning.
But hey, remember, the Braves are on a roll! And Erick Fedde wasn’t going to get out of this with just those two runs allowed, not with the Nationals allowing him to face the order for a third time for some reason. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Jorge Soler reached first on defensive indifference. Once again, the Braves proceeded to hit three straight singles, with Austin Riley tying the game on a flare up the middle, and Dansby Swanson legging out a weak bouncer to third for the go-ahead run. Duvall followed with a double to left, making it 5-3 Braves. That was it for Fedde, who once again got knocked around by Atlanta’s bats — Sam Clay relieved him after 4 2/3 and stranded all the baserunners after walking Joc Pederson, but the Braves had a comfortable lead.
After all those fireworks, it was basically bullpen battle time, which worked out pretty well for the Braves. Chris Martin struck out two in a scoreless sixth, Luke Jackson struck out the side in the seventh, and had a 12-pitch, perfect eighth. The Braves threatened a few times, including a Max Fried pinch-hit leadoff double in the sixth, but couldn’t score against either Gabe Klobotsis or Andres Machado (I don’t know who these people are, but they are presumably members of the Nationals’ bullpen, although maybe they were just lucky fans that got to live out their childhood dreams?)
I do know who Javy Guerra is, and he was the guy the Braves teed off on through the bottom of the eighth. That inning went walk, pinch-hit double, walk, strikeout, Freeman two-run single, Riley sacrifice fly to give the Braves an 8-3 advantage. The sacrifice fly was amusing: Riley popped a ball up to shallow right, and Albies tagged up and scored because the ball was caught with Garcia’s back to the infield.
The Braves asked Jesse Chavez to put a bow on their fourth straight win, and he obliged... eventually. Chavez gave up a single and a walk to start, but Kieboom bailed him out with a double play ball. Garcia popped a double to right to make it 8-4, but Chavez bounced back to strikeout Tres Barrera on three straight pitches to end the game.
Elsewhere in the NL East, the Phillies toppled the Mets, knocking them out of first place for the first time since May 8. That means the Braves only gained half a game in the standings, but we’ll take it. The playoff odds are up to just around 30 percent now, and if the Braves can keep making hay against the Nationals, maybe they’ll even have a share of first place by the time the weekend is done. They’ll go for their first five-game winning streak of the season tomorrow, with Charlie Morton facing Josiah Gray, who was acquired by Washington in the Max Scherzer and Trea Turner deal.