After laying several proverbial eggs leading up to Easter weekend, the Atlanta Braves suddenly look like the Easter Bunny to fans.
The week was filled with disappointment for the Braves. The Arizona Diamondbacks came to SunTrust Park and took the series. It was the second time the Braves have been swept in a three-game series this year. In fact, those are the only two times Atlanta has given a series away this season. The problem for Atlanta is, that in both instances, they were swept in embarrassing fashion.
Here is a look at the tumultuous week that was salvaged by an impressive weekend:
Right Where They Left Off
The Braves entered the week a half-game behind the Philadelphia Phillies after an impressive 7-3 win against the New York Mets. A solid performance from veteran Julio Teheran last Sunday was supported by an offensive collective that chipped away at ace Jacob DeGrom.
Atlanta was aggressive at the plate, jumping on many first and second pitches. The reigning Cy Young Award winner exited in the fifth inning after giving up three earned runs on five hits.
Eight players combined for 10 hits for the Braves. Nick Markakis, Josh Donaldson and Charlie Culberson all homered.
Halfway through Tuesday’s game with the Diamondbacks, Atlanta looked poised to keep rolling. Then the bullpen happened. (More on that ahead)
Max Fried looked great for a third straight start. Although the youngster from California gave up his first two runs on the year, his fastball and curveball were still effective. He left after the sixth inning, surrendering just two runs on seven hits.
Fried nearly replicated those numbers Sunday against Cleveland Indians. This time, he had tremendous run support and a more-than-comfortable lead. Fried enters today with the second-highest ERA in MLB.
#MLB ERA Leaders (4/22)
0.83 – Joe Musgrove, PIT
1.38 – Max Fried, #Braves
1.47 – Luis Castillo, CIN
1.53 – Tyler Glasnow, TB
1.57 – Matt Shoemaker, TOR
1.76 – Marcus Stroman, TOR
2.16 – Blake Snell, TB
2.20 – Trevor Bauer, CLE
2.25 – Jake Arrieta, PHI
2.25 – German Marquez, COL
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) April 22, 2019
The bats were on the attack yet again Tuesday night. Johan Camrago had 3 RBIs off two doubles. Ozzie Albies pitched in with two hits, including a home run.
But nothing at the plate was topped by Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s 448-foot home run. The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year took a knee to get the launch angle.
sOpHoMoRe sLuMp pic.twitter.com/iq55pPbXR2
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) April 17, 2019
The massive blast put the Braves first run on the board and was the perfect answer after being down 2-0 going into the bottom of the fourth. Atlanta went on to score four runs in the fifth inning, giving Fried a comfortable three-run lead.
Even though the bats died for three days and four games, there seemed to be a resurgence as the clock inched closer to midnight on Easter Sunday.
The Braves accounted for 19 runs in two games. 16 of those runs came in their last 10 innings.
When Fried left after 98 pitches and six innings of service against the Diamondbacks, the bullpen combined for 3 IP, 7 ER and 5 hits. They also surrendered five walks. The Braves went on to lose 9-6 in the first game of the series against Arizona.
The woes of the bullpen lingered posthaste. In the second game against the Diamondbacks, reliever Jesse Biddle walked in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning. He finished with 0.2 IP and 3 BB on 24 pitches. Out of the 24 tosses, 10 were strikes. The result was a 3-2 loss for the home team.
In game three against Arizona, Sobotka’s struggles continued.
Even though the Braves had yet to score a run, the 1-0 deficit was still attainable when Sobotka entered in the seventh. He failed to pitch a full inning for the second straight appearance. The former Spartan from South Carolina-Upstate gave up 3 hits, 2 ER (1 unearned) and 1 BB.
Lack of Support in Spots
Atlanta struggled to put together hits in games two and three against Arizona. Brian McCann drove in the Braves’ only two runs in the second inning on a double in game two. Freddie Freeman had the lone run off a solo home run shot in the eighth inning of game three.
The lack of runs was supported by a gritty seven-inning performance by Kevin Gausman on Wednesday. The veteran surrendered just two runs on three hits while fanning 10 at the dish.
Rookie Mike Soroka continued with the solid pitching support on Thursday. He went through five innings of service, giving up just one run on four hits. He also recorded six strikeouts and 85 pitches.
(click on video below to view a nice homage to Soroka)
The only exception for great starting-pitching for the Braves this week was Teheran. The righty was off to a decent start, despite a 4.71 ERA in his first four appearances of 2019. That number got inflated even more after giving up five runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings in Saturday’s 8-4 loss versus Cleveland.
The afternoon game was just the first match of the profound double-header.
The Braves quickly found themselves in what appeared to be an insurmountable hole on Saturday night. Not only were they down 7-0 to the Indians, another loss would mean five straight. It would also mean back-to-back series losses.
Touki Toussaint followed up his brilliant performance against the Mets with a severely underwhelming performance versus Cleveland. The rookie lasted only 1.1 innings and gave up all seven runs.
But then, something special happened. Tyler Flowers recorded the third triple of his 11-year career. The three-bagger was his first in five years and the beginning of what is now baseball’s largest comeback of the year.
The Braves went into the ninth down 7-3. This time it was another tribe who would blow the lead.
Indians reliever Adam Cimber was credited the loss after giving up four runs and three walks in just 2/3 of an inning. His lone surrendered hit was a go-ahead run stemming from Acuna’s two-out, two-run double in the top of the ninth.
The Braves’ 8-7 lead in the closing moments of this game was safe. A.J. Minter struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to seal Atlanta’s massive comeback.
The Braves continued the onslaught Sunday when Fried took the mound against Cleveland’s Shane Beiber.
Atlanta had an 11-run lead by the seventh inning. They scored in six of those innings.
The assault was driven by Donaldson, the 2016 AL MVP, who used to wreak havoc on the league and the Indians. After going 3-for-4 and launching two solo home runs in the first and second inning, Donaldson now has a career slash line of .327/.429/.609 against Cleveland.
The Braves finished with 16 hits in their 11-5 win that sealed the series against the Indians. The resurrection was one that might propel Atlanta in the coming week as they take on the Cincinnati Reds on the road before coming home to face the Colorado Rockies.
While their bullpen reflects Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, the Braves’ offense has shown the ability to explode for runs. The question is: will they find the right balance to be more consistent?
If Easter Sunday is any indication, they may have found redemption.