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Sanchez turns in solid tuneup in Braves' loss

NLDS home-field advantage hangs in the balance with Sunday's game
September 29, 2018

PHILADELPHIA -- As the Braves prepare to enter the postseason, they are buoyed by the confidence of knowing they have spent the past six months consistently finding ways to win games within which they are pitted against the National League's top starting pitchers.But despite receiving another impressive effort from Anibal

PHILADELPHIA -- As the Braves prepare to enter the postseason, they are buoyed by the confidence of knowing they have spent the past six months consistently finding ways to win games within which they are pitted against the National League's top starting pitchers.
But despite receiving another impressive effort from Anibal Sanchez in Saturday night's matchup against Aaron Nola at Citizens Bank Park, the Braves weakened their bid for home-field advantage with a 3-0 loss to the Phillies, who snapped a nine-game losing streak.
"It was a good, solid outing right there," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "[Sanchez] matched [Nola]. He did everything he could to give us a chance. It was a good ending to his regular season."
Sanchez's effort was not enough to prevent the Braves from having to win Sunday's regular season finale to gain home-field advantage for their National League Division Series matchup against either the Rockies or Dodgers, who are tied atop the NL West standings with records identical to Atlanta's (90-71).
Because the Rockies and Dodgers both own the tiebreaker against Atlanta, the Braves' bid for home-field advantage requires a win against the Phillies on Sunday and losses by both the Rockies (vs. the Nationals) and Dodgers (at the Giants).
If the Dodgers and Rockies are still tied after Sunday, they would play a tiebreaker game on Monday night to determine the division title and who will serve as Atlanta's first-round opponent.
Two divisions will come down to final day
"I like who we've got on the mound [Kevin Gausman] and our bullpen is in really good shape," Snitker said. "So, hopefully we can get that win and give ourselves every opportunity to get home-field [advantage]."
The Braves went 11-5 this season in games started by Jacob deGrom, Nola or Max Scherzer -- the trio that produced the NL's top three ERAs this season. Their ability to win the many tight battles contested against these aces was a product of strong starts and timely hitting, often produced after the opposition went to the bullpen.
While bidding adieu to their losing streak, the Phillies used this formula to negate the six scoreless innings produced by Sanchez. Each of the game's three runs was tallied after left-hander Jonny Venters entered a scoreless game in the seventh.
"I didn't get the job done," Venters said. "It was just unfortunate to waste Anibal's good start."
Nola recorded eight strikeouts and allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings. The right-hander exits this season with a 2.37 ERA, the NL's second-best mark, trailing only deGrom's 1.70. This marked just the second time in five tries the Phillies won a game started by their ace against the Braves this year.

"[Nola] was really good tonight," Snitker said. "A game like that, you just try to keep it close, and hopefully his clicker runs out and they try somebody else."
Sanchez resurrected his career after the Braves signed him to a Minor League deal less than two weeks before the start of the regular season. The veteran right-hander tuned up for his playoff start by limiting the Phillies to three hits. He escaped a bases-loaded threat in the second inning and pitched around Rhys Hoskins' leadoff double in the fourth.
Targeted to be a long reliever or possibly a short-term fifth starter, Sanchez evolved into a pitcher the Braves will confidently send to the mound to start Game 2 or 3 of the NLDS. The 34-year-old hurler posted a 2.08 ERA over his final seven starts.
"It's been a blessing," Sanchez said. "I'm grateful for everything I've done this season."
Looking to balance the desire to gain home-field advantage against providing rest for many of his relievers, Snitker felt he might have provided too much rest to Venters, who made just his second appearance since the Braves clinched the NL East on Sept. 22.
There's no doubt many sinkerball relievers like Venters seem to benefit from regular work, but the veteran reliever blamed his rough outing on the four-pitch leadoff walk issued to former Brave Jose Bautista, who has hit just .199 this season. Scott Kingery followed with a bunt single. A sacrifice bunt and intentional walk later, Cesar Hernandez damaged Venters with a two-run single that eluded shortstop Charlie Culberson, who is filling the position while Dansby Swanson deals with a torn ligament in his left hand.

"When Hernandez hit the ball, I thought double-play ball," Snitker said. "You always think that Jonny has a pretty good chance to keep the ball on the ground. It was just out of the reach of Charlie or we might have got out of that inning."
Touki Toussaint might have nailed down a NLDS roster spot as he struck out each of the three hitters -- Bautista, Kingery and Andrew Knapp -- he faced in the eighth. The rookie right-hander had surrendered two hits and issued three unintentional walks while working just one inning in his only previous relief appearance on Sept. 15. He would serve as a long-relief option if the Braves choose to carry him during the postseason.

"Touki, that was impressive right there," Snitker said. "As we're going forward, that was good."
Gausman will take the mound when the Braves conclude the regular season with Sunday afternoon's game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Gausman will be tuning up to start Game 2 or 3 of the National League Division Series. He has posted a 2.80 ERA over nine starts since being acquired from the Orioles. Philadelphia will counter with Ranger Suarez. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001.