Chavez shines in return as Braves struggle to maintain MLB's top record

Atlanta reliever throws 2 1/3 scoreless frames in first outing since June 14

September 21st, 2023

ATLANTA --  ’s return is a feel-good story. As for the Braves jeopardizing their bid for home-field advantage throughout the postseason, it seems like they would like to make it appear as if it's more of a feel-nothing kind of story.  

Chavez’s first big league appearance in more than three months created excitement at Truist Park on Wednesday afternoon. But his return wasn’t enough to prevent Atlanta from extending its recent woes with a 6-5, 10-inning loss to the Phillies.  

“We’re trying to win every game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’re in the playoffs and we got a bye. I don’t think we had home-field advantage in [2021], and it was OK. You still have to win. You still have to win games, regardless of where you’re at. I’d love to have it, but it’s not going to be the end of the world if we don’t.”

  • Games remaining (10): at WSH (4), vs. CHC (3), vs. WSH (3)
  • Standings update: The Braves (97-55) have clinched a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the NL Division Series. They are the top NL division leader, meaning they would face the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 Wild Card series in a five-game NL Division Series starting on Oct. 7.

Actually, the Braves did have home-field advantage when they beat the Dodgers in the 2021 NLCS. But they didn’t have home-field advantage when they beat the Astros in the World Series that followed.

With five losses in their past six games, the Braves are just two games ahead of the Orioles in the battle for MLB’s best record and home-field advantage through the World Series. They hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers for the NL’s best record after Los Angeles also lost.

Atlanta catcher Sean Murphy was asked if he has kept tabs on the Dodgers and Orioles like he might with a division opponent during an NL East race.

“I have no idea [about the Dodgers and Orioles],” Murphy said. “I just worry about the day-to-day stuff. The standings will be what they are at the end of the year.”

The Braves have a chance to right themselves, as they will play seven of their last 10 games against the last-place Nationals. It looked like they were going to have a happy flight to Washington D.C. on Wednesday evening. But a late-inning rally wasn’t enough to overcome Bryce Elder allowing four runs over just 3 2/3 innings.

Ozzie Albies and Marcell Ozuna tallied doubles during Atlanta’s game-tying, two-run eighth inning. The Braves’ bid to win it in the ninth was erased when Nick Castellanos made a questionable decision to catch Orlando Arcia’s one-out pop fly in right field foul territory. It proved to be an effective decision when his throw to the plate beat pinch-runner Luke Williams.

“I was surprised with the throw he made, coming in with a full head of steam. And then to do a 360 and make a throw that was that close was pretty good,” Snitker said. “I just thought with the catch and release and everything, he did a great job."

Castellanos’ better-than-expected throw sent the game into extra innings, where the Phillies took advantage of A.J. Minter’s four 10th-inning walks (one intentional). Bryson Stott slapped his opposite-field, go-ahead two-run double past a slightly-shaded Braves third baseman Austin Riley.

Castellanos’ two homers against Elder and his throw, combined with Stott’s game-winner, prevented the Braves from celebrating Chavez’s return in fitting fashion. The 40-year-old hurler had to hold back tears as he talked about tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings, in what was his first appearance since his left shin was fractured by a Miguel Cabrera line drive on June 14.

“I felt good,” Chavez said. “I was nervous. I obviously didn’t expect it to go as smooth as that.”

Chavez stranded a runner he inherited from Elder in the fourth, pitched around a single in the fifth and pitched around a walk in the sixth. He needed just 25 pitches to record seven outs.

“All I want to do is put myself back on the map to give Snit an opportunity to use me down there during this postseason run,” Chavez said.

Chavez is the bullpen’s spiritual leader and he’s one of the most respected players within the Braves' clubhouse. His presence alone provides value. But he can also help Atlanta win with his ageless arm, with which he has posted a 1.44 ERA in 31 1/3 innings this year.

With an off-day between Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS, the Braves could carry just three starters (Spencer Strider, Max Fried and Charlie Morton) in that best-of-five series. So there’s a chance Elder could be left off the roster until the NL Championship Series, where Atlanta will need four starters.

If the Braves carry three starters, they could carry eight relievers. Six of those spots will be filled by Raisel Iglesias, Minter, Joe Jiménez, Pierce Johnson, Brad Hand and Kirby Yates. If Chavez extends what he did on Wednesday, he’ll be in the 'pen during the playoffs. The final spot or two could be filled by any combination of Michael Tonkin, Kyle Wright, Jackson Stephens, Nick Anderson or Elder.