Gutsy Crew picks up Burnes after rough 1st

García, Adames, Escobar homer to back up ace after rocky start

July 31st, 2021

ATLANTA -- Let’s just say this wasn’t ’ best start. The way he’s pitched this year, he earned a bailout.

Down four runs after Burnes’ uncharacteristically rocky first inning, the Brewers’ hitters did just that, putting four runs on the board in the third and four more in the fourth on the way to a fourth consecutive victory, 9-5 over the Braves in the opener of a weekend series at Truist Park.

These aren’t the early-season, offensively-challenged Brewers anymore.

“Some of the criticism of the offense was at the beginning of the season and was for a fairly short stretch, in my opinion,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “Getting down 4-0 is not a recipe for winning baseball games. So, we did a nice job tonight.

“[Avisaíl García] had a huge three-run homer. That was a great at-bat that changed the game. Then, we kept going from there.”

The Brewers, fortified by Eduardo Escobar’s arrival and two more bullpen additions at Friday’s Trade Deadline, are 20 games above .500 for the first time since finishing 29 over in 2018. They are 20 games over .500 in July for the first time since Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper & Co. reached that plateau during a 10-game winning spree in July 1979.

Escobar homered in his Brewers debut and made the defensive play of the night with a terrific tag in the fifth inning after Burnes’ early exit. García’s three-run home run off Braves starter Touki Toussaint tied the game in the third inning and Willy Adames’ 12th Brewers home run in 60 games -- a two-run shot -- highlighted the four-run fourth.

The Brewers have won nine of their first 12 games since the All-Star break while scoring at least six runs in each of the victories.

“You just have to keep working,” García said. “I think it takes a lot of focus. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of responsibility, you know? You just have to keep playing good baseball and then keep winning.”

All that after Burnes and the Brewers found themselves in an early hole. Burnes carried a staff-best 2.12 ERA into the night, second best in baseball among pitchers who’d logged at least 100 innings, and promptly allowed as many earned runs (four) in the first inning as he’d allowed in the first inning of his first 17 starts combined. He allowed a first-inning home run for the first time since his third career start in 2019. He allowed a home run, period, for the first time since July 1, and by the time his night was over, he’d matched a season high for hits allowed (nine) without getting an out past the fourth inning.

“In an inning or a game, that doesn’t happen to [Burnes] very often like that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You look at his numbers and hope you can get to him before he gets himself locked in. A lot of pitchers are like that. We did. You kind of hope you can make that stand and hold.”

But they did not, because the Brewers kept swinging the bats.

“You don't really have those bad innings where there are three pretty uncompetitive ABs,” Burnes said of Milwaukee’s offensive surge. “Guys are up there putting good ABs together, hitting the ball hard. There was a little bit of unluckiness going on early in the year with guys hitting balls hard right at guys, but now we're starting to hit some gaps and really putting runs on the board in bunches, which is good.”

What of his struggles? After grinding through a four-run first inning that included Austin Riley’s two-run home run, Burnes got into more trouble in the fifth when he walked Freddie Freeman and Riley to lead off the inning before Adam Duvall singled in a run. At 96 pitches, Burnes’ night was over in favor of Brad Boxberger.

That’s when Escobar made his presence felt. After Boxberger got one out by retiring Dansby Swanson on a fly ball too shallow to move the runners, Stephen Vogt hit a fly ball to center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. that became a double play when he threw to third and Escobar applied a tricky tag to Riley to end the inning.

It proved a turning point.

"There wasn't much good going on early,” Burnes said. “I just didn't really find the rhythm early on. They came out swinging the bat. Credit to them for coming out, looking for the pitch tonight. I just made too many mistakes early on. … So, one of those days you wish you don't have. But get past it and move on, and credit to the offense for picking me up tonight."