After three close, often back-and-forth affairs with the Phillies, the Braves ensured Sunday night’s series finale was devoid of such intrigue by eliminating with a seven-run first inning. In the end, they picked up an 11-4 victory, courtesy of two homers from Matt Olson, four hits from Ronald Acuña Jr. and numerous strikeouts from Spencer Strider.
This game was truly over after the first inning, as it was pretty much the pinnacle of great first innings. Facing journeyman Dylan Covey, whom the Phillies picked up waivers from the Dodgers earlier this year, the Braves immediately got to work. Acuña chose Covey’s first pitch; Olson crushed a mid-mid cutter a few pitches later to give the Braves a 2-0 lead. Two pitches later, it was a suspended sweeper and Austin Riley’s turn to feast, as the big boy from Mississippi crushed him down the center to give the Braves back-to-back jacks and a 3-0 lead. But the Braves weren’t far from done. Sean Murphy singled out, then traded with Marcell Ozuna after a forced out. Eddie Rosario then hit a double high off the bricks right, and Ozzie Albies hit a grounder for him and Ozuna. Orlando Arcia followed by hitting a ball through (literally, pretty much straight) Trea Turner, and was able to take second because the ball was then swept by Kyle Schwarber on the left, a rare two-error play. Albies ended up being ejected at home on a fielder’s pick of Michael Harris II, and that was the end of the line for Covey. The Phillies brought in Jeff Hoffman rather than let Covey see a tenth hitter, but that didn’t really help. Harris stole second on Hoffman’s first pitch, then Acuña landed his second single of the inning, scoring two more. The inning didn’t end until Acuña was kicked out trying to steal second. After three outs, the Braves led 7-0.
Things didn’t really change much after that. The Braves didn’t score against Hoffman again, but threatened by putting two against him with two outs in the fourth, prompting a pitching switch to Yunior Marte. Harris flew out to end that frame, and Marte escaped a different base-laden jam in the fifth when Rosario flew out to the center. But, the Braves extended their lead over Connor Brogdom to the fifth, as Harris hit a two-out bloop single and then scored on a rarity, a triple hit down the line at left, thanks to the searing bat and the Acuña’s dynamic legs. . Olson followed that triple with his second homer of the night, and the Braves had ten runs.
The Phillies randomly burned Matt Strahm for an inning in the seventh and kept the Braves off the board there, but Andrew Vasquez presided over an eleventh run at Atlanta in the eighth as he hit Harris with a pitch, wild l launched at second, and finally saw Austin Riley single in the middle. Vasquez came back to kick in a scoreless eighth but suffice it to say the damage was done long before he showed up.
On the pitching side, Spencer Strider started slow but picked up speed in the middle of the innings, a pattern we’ve seen play out a few times this season. Strider didn’t get his first punch back until his sixth batter of the game, giving up flyouts to each of the previous five batters. Fly ‘outs’ doesn’t quite do one of them justice, as it was this incredible feat of defensive savvy by Harris:
Strider’s third started with a first walk (bad) and then a two-run homer by Brandon Marsh (worse). After a strikeout, there was a weird play where Bryson Stott hit a ground rule double on a left flare, which Rosario made no effort to actually pursue, apparently misjudging where the ball would land . It didn’t matter, however, as two more flyouts ended the frame.
The fourth, however, saw the return of the Strider we had, perhaps unfairly, expected on every pitch, as he took down three in a row. The fifth featured a groundout then two strikeouts, and the sixth had two more strikeouts, sandwiching a flyout. The end result wasn’t Strider’s best start ever – his third worst start by xFIP this year – but he didn’t really need to be great, as the bats had already started their pounding. of the Philadelphia throw.
After Strider’s six innings, the Braves gave the ball first to Collin McHugh. To be honest, McHugh has been pretty awful this year. Whether it’s because of the pitch clock, some kind of lingering injury (remember he was sidelined with an injury earlier this year), or just the karma version of the baseball after the oft-injured McHugh had a great, healthy season of relief last year, it’s both unfortunate and happening, and his miserable season has persisted tonight, as he has allowed a walk and a home run, as well as two more hits, in a single inning of work. You might say, “Oh no, he threw in there with an eight-point lead, damn it!” but the reality is that McHugh again struggled with command and missing bats. It was the third consecutive outing for him in which he did not record a strikeout, and he has now failed to do so in seven of 15 appearances this year. His xFIP after this one is at 5.94.
After McHugh, it was time for Derek Rodriguez to make his Braves debut, and it all went well. Rodriguez’s first frame was a 1-2-3 on three balls in play; his second frame had a walk, strikeout, and double, but in the end Marsh flew to the left to end the game.
With the victory, the Braves extend their lead to 5.5 games over the Mets and seven games over the Phillies. But surprisingly, their division lead is only 4.5 games at the moment, because of the Marlins. Go figure.
The Braves will now play a set in Oakland that will end in May, before heading to Phoenix.