Braves rally, but lack knockout punch in G1
Missed scoring chances bite Atlanta in NLDS opener loss to surging Philadelphia
ATLANTA -- Sure, the Braves nearly staged an incredible ninth-inning comeback against the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday afternoon at Truist Park. But a big rally was only needed because they had been so ineffective during most of the first eight innings of what ended as a 7-6 loss.
“You’ve just got to play well,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “I don’t think today we played particularly our best. We did in moments, but not for nine innings. We gave ourselves a chance at the end, but we weren’t able to come through.”
Matt Olson brought the Braves within a run with his three-run homer off Zach Eflin with one out in the ninth. But Nick Castellanos quieted the rally with a diving grab of a William Contreras sinking liner to right three pitches later, and the Phillies drew first blood in this best-of-five series.
It was a tough day all around for the Braves. Their ace, Max Fried, appeared to still be affected by a flu bug which bit him during the regular season’s final week, and one of the game’s most opportunistic offenses squandered far too many early opportunities. Atlanta stranded nine runners, including seven through the first four innings.
“Playoff baseball, every pitch is super intense,” Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “Not only for us, but for them too, and they were ready to play. And like I said, they executed their game plan brilliantly and got the win today.”
In the history of best-of-five postseason series, Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series 102 of 144 times (71 percent). In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams winning Game 1 on the road have advanced 29 of 41 times (71 percent).
But as the opener of this NLDS proved, percentages don’t provide guarantees. The Braves proved this last year, when they lost their NLDS opener in Milwaukee and then won each of the next three games in the best-of-five series.
As the Braves attempt to duplicate last year’s journey, they will now be challenged by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in Game 2 on Wednesday and Game 3 on Friday. They are certainly more imposing than Ranger Suárez, who proved wild but effective enough to begin Atlanta’s frustrations on Tuesday.
Fried and Suárez both lasted just 3 1/3 innings. But while the Braves left-hander allowed eight hits and six runs (four earned), the Phillies southpaw surrendered just one run despite issuing five walks and allowing three hits. He escaped bases-loaded threats in both the first and third innings.
“We had [Suárez] on the ropes,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He was struggling too. We just couldn't get a big hit. We had the decks stacked in our favor three times against him. They got big hits and we didn't.”
Squandering opportunities is uncharacteristic of this Braves offense, which led the Majors in batting average (.261) and OPS (.809) with two outs. They had the second-best OPS (.795) with runners in scoring position and two outs, as well as the third-best OPS (.797) with runners in scoring position overall.
In other words, the Braves were more likely to do what the Phillies did when Philadelphia tallied four straight two-out hits in the first and gained a 6-1 lead in the fourth with Castellanos’ two-out, two-run single. Five of the Phils’ seven runs scored with two outs.
As for the Braves, their only runs before the ninth came via d’Arnaud, who homered to begin the bottom of the second and then tallied a two-run double in the fifth. Swanson struck out in four straight plate appearances before hitting a long single in the ninth. His early struggles lessened the impact of Ronald Acuña Jr.’s three-hit performance.
“[The Phillies] played a clean game and put themselves in position to win,” Olson said.
While Fried, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, made a costly throwing error that led to two unearned runs in the third, the Braves could not capitalize on enough scoring chances. Contreras grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end the first and d’Arnaud struck out to leave them loaded again in the third.
“Yeah, to be able to punch first is huge,” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “But by no means do we think that this series is over. We know the caliber of team over there and the way they can string together some wins.”