The Braves lost yet another one-run game on Saturday night in Denver, giving them four one-run losses (and one one-run win) in their last five games. This time, though, the one-run nature of the defeat was more due to some late runs scored by the Braves, as the pitching really made this contest a tough one to win for the visitors.
Ian Anderson made his second start after spending some time on the shelf with a shoulder injury, and looked terrible, hardly like himself, throughout. His first start back was an odd one, with a 3/0 K/BB ratio but no runs allowed, and both of those went far more poorly against the Rockies. Before Anderson could sputter out, though, the Braves actually handed him a two-run lead in kind of bizarre fashion. Ozzie Albies started the game with a bloop single into center. He moved up to second on a slow roller to third by Jorge Soler, the out call on which at first base may have been worth challenging but went uncontested. Freddie Freeman then followed with a routine bouncer to first base that bounced off of C.J. Cron, putting runners on the corners. An Austin Riley chopper groundout scored the first Atlanta run, and Adam Duvall followed with a double to score Freeman.
Unfortunately, then it was Anderson’s turn to pitch. He escaped the first in a fashion about as odd as how the Braves scored their runs. He got his first man on a bunt groundout to Riley, but then issued a four-pitch walk to Brendan Rodgers. A wild pitch moved Rodgers to second, and Charlie Blackmon followed with a clean single into right. For whatever reason, Rodgers got the stop sign at third and didn’t try to score, which meant Blackmon was caught dead to rights trying to advance to second on a play at the plate that never happened. A very deep fly to center field ended the frame.
After Colorado starter German Marquez rebounded to throw a perfect second, Anderson started to hemmorhage runs. Cron started the bottom of the inning with an absolute blast on a hanging changeup. Ryan McMahon followed with an opposite field double, and Anderson then got ahead of Elias Diaz 0-2, but ended up walking him. The next pitch was a grounder to third, but Riley and Albies could only combine for a forceout rather than a double play, which set up Marquez’ game-tying RBI sacrifice bunt.
The Braves immediately retook the lead in the third, as Ozzie Albies destroyed a middle-middle Marquez fastball into right center to lead off the frame for his 25th longball of the year. But, Anderson gave the lead right back, as a slow roller infield single by Rodgers segued into yet another hanging changeup from Anderson that Blackmon obliterated 441 feet into center field for a go-ahead two-run shot. Cron’s moonshot was on the same type of do-nothing changeup, and yeah, Anderson looked pretty broken throughout this one. Now down 4-3, the Braves left Anderson in the game, even after he walked Story right after the homer, but he recovered with three relatively easy outs.
The Braves were sat down in order by Marquez in the fourth, and after Anderson walked eighth-place hitter Raimel Tapia to begin the bottom of the inning, the Braves had apparently seen enough and yanked him. Anderson finished his outing with an awful 4/0 K/BB ratio and two homers allowed, easily the worst start of his career to this point. The mechanics were just a mess in this one, with Anderson spiking most changeups to his armside while the fastball kept being pulled gloveside, with most pitches in the zone drifting right into hitters’ wheelhouses. I can’t imagine the Braves use this as an opportunity to figure some things out with Anderson, but unless he fixes everything in a few days, his next start could be brutal as well. Edgar Santana came on in relief and retired the Rockies in order, but the Braves still trailed 4-3.
But they didn’t trail for long. Steven Vogt started the top of the fifth with a single. Ehire Adrianza followed with a forceout at second, moved up on a wild pitch that still struck out Albies (on a very questionable check swing call), and then scored when Soler hit a grounder up the middle for a single. Freeman walked as the Braves threatened to retake the lead, but Marquez struck out Riley to end his outing. Marquez didn’t really dominate in this one, giving up four runs (two earned) and a homer, but the 5/1 K/BB ratio was fine enough for a five-inning stint.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jacob Webb followed Santana and dominated the Rockies, striking out both Blackmon and Cron while getting Story to fly out weakly to center. But, after Tyler Kinley threw a perfect top of the sixth, things unraveled for Atlanta. A.J Minter came on in relief of Webb. To date, Minter hadn’t allowed a run or had a negative WPA outing since his recall from the minors, but that’s all over now. Minter walked McMahon, and then gave up a first-pitch grounder double to Diaz. (Grounder doubles between third and short are rare, especially by catchers, but that’s what happened here.) Tapia hit a sac fly to make it 5-4 Rockies, and Jesse Chavez relieved Minter to face pinch-hitter Joshua Fuentes, whom he struck out. Unfortunately, Chavez couldn’t keep it to a one-run game, as leadoff hitter Garrett Hampson singled on a grounder to left to make it 6-4 in Colorado’s favor. Hampson made it to third as Duvall booted the ball, but didn’t come around to score.
The Braves went 1-2-3 against Jhoulys Chacin in the top of the seventh, and in the bottom of the inning, it was Sean Newcomb’s turn to bleed another run — a leadoff four-pitch walk to Blackmon was followed by a Trevor Story triple to right. Newcomb actually stranded Story at third, but the Braves were now down by three runs.
The top of the eighth was Atlanta’s big chance to mount a comeback, but they blew it. Daniel Bard started the frame for Colorado, and after a first-pitch flyout by Soler, walked both Freeman and Riley. Duvall followed with a single to left to load the bases, and the Rockies lifted Bard for Tyler Stephenson. Dansby Swanson was up next and could’ve done a lot of damage... but instead just hit a first-pitch mediocre sacrifice fly. Joc Pederson followed and struck out on four pitches, failing to do anything with either of the two hanging curveballs he got from Stephenson (fouling off one, missing the other for strike three).
The bottom of the eighth featured an amusing novelty in the form of Drew Smyly, reliever guy. Smyly threw nine pitches in his perfect inning, seven of them curveballs. He recorded one strikeout (on three straight curveballs) and two outs in the air — one on a soft flare to left that usually falls in for a hit, one on a deep drive to left that didn’t quite get out — who knows whether we’ll actually see this keep up, but it was fun to see in a pretty dreadful game otherwise.
So, onto the top of the ninth, with the Braves down by two. The Rockies once again summoned Carlos Estevez, who rapidly retired the Braves last night. This ninth inning was also lightning-fast, with Estevez throwing just 10 pitches. It started with Vogt striking out looking. Pinch-hitter Travis d’Arnaud then drilled an Estevez 98 mph fastball down the middle for a solo homer, making it a 7-6 game. But, Albies and Soler both flew out, and that was that.
The best the Braves can do now is split this series, which they’ll try to do when Charlie Morton faces Ryan Feltner in his major league debut tomorrow afternoon. Fortunately for Atlanta, the Mets split a doubleheader today and the Phillies lost again to the Marlins, so the division lead remains at two games. This has already been a disappointing road trip, but maybe they’ll escape Denver with a split before heading home and potentially putting all these bad one-run losses behind them.