ATLANTA -- As much as the Braves would like to win a fifth consecutive National League East title, manager Brian Snitker is more concerned about doing whatever he can to make sure his pitchers are as strong as possible over the regular season’s final weeks and into October.
After a 9-7 loss to the Mets at Truist Park on Wednesday night, Snitker -- who was ejected in the fourth inning after arguing a called third strike on Austin Riley -- was asked if he thought about using Kenley Jansen or one of his other top relievers instead of Jackson Stephens, who surrendered three runs after entering the ninth with just a one-run deficit.
“We have too many games to play,” Snitker said. “When we do that, it means he’s not going to be available to pitch [the next day]. So, we just need other guys to step up and do that. You can’t do that. You’re just going to kill these guys. That’s why you have that many [relievers]. We’re not going to chase something when we’re down. Kenley is going to pitch when we’re even or up. That’s it.”
The end result might have been the same had the Braves used Jansen to simply force Mets closer Edwin Díaz to work a second inning and be unavailable for Thursday’s series finale. Díaz has worked 21 consecutive scoreless innings going back to June 22. Had Díaz ended up pitching two innings on Wednesday, Vaughn Grissom might not have tallied the two-run ninth-inning single that cut Atlanta’s four-run deficit in half.
So, even with his team 4 1/2 games behind the Mets with 43 games remaining, Snitker isn’t ready to chase possibilities.
“If we start doing things like that, it’s not a healthy recipe for anything,” Snitker said.
Winning a fifth consecutive division crown remains the goal, but the Braves own a healthy lead atop the NL Wild Card race. So, their bid to win a second straight World Series crown won’t be determined by a mid-August game.
Here are three key takeaways from this loss that snapped the Braves’ eight-game winning streak:
Rain delay adjustments
Seven pitches into the game, Starling Marte and Francisco Lindor had hit back-to-back homers off starter Jake Odorizzi. Four pitches into the second inning, Brett Baty homered in his first career plate appearance to give the Mets a 4-0 lead. But after a 34-minute rain delay in the third, the veteran starter retired six straight batters and felt he made a key mechanical adjustment.
“Pretty much as soon as the delay happened, I went straight to the weight room, started looking at myself in the mirror and began breaking things down, trying to figure out how I can stay back longer and be more true to the plate,” Odorizzi said. “Then in the game, I had better velocity and better location.”
When the Braves acquired Robbie Grossman from the Tigers on Aug. 2, the switch-hitting outfielder was hitting .143 with a .430 OPS in 224 plate appearances from the left side of the plate. His three-run homer off Adam Ottavino in the seventh brought Atlanta within one run and further proved Grossman can be a weapon from both sides of the plate.
Grossman has hit .280 with two homers and a 1.000 OPS in 30 plate appearances since joining the Braves. He has gone 7-for-25 while tallying both of those homers from the left side of the plate. Grossman’s ability to be a weapon from both sides of the plate further clouds the future of Marcell Ozuna, who has a .621 OPS over his past 89 games (394 plate appearances).
Ronald Acuña Jr. has been thrown out three times during this series and he has been successful with just eight of his past 13 stolen-base attempts. This has been a rough running stretch for the outfielder, who was successful with his first nine stolen-base attempts he made after returning from ACL surgery this year.
“We see the speed on the bases,” Snitker said. “I think it’s the jumps more than anything.”