Baserunning blunders flush chance at 1st-place tie

September 21st, 2022

ATLANTA -- Had the Braves been more productive offensively, manager Brian Snitker could have publicly ignored the multiple costly baserunning mistakes his team made in a 3-2 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park.

But those baserunning errors ended up being significant as the top of the Braves’ lineup continued to slumber. As a result, the defending World Series champions missed an opportunity to move into a first-place tie with the Mets in the National League East.

“We shot ourselves in the foot too many times on the bases today to win a close game,” Snitker said. “You can’t make the baserunning mistakes we did and expect to win.”

Fortunately for the Braves, the Mets also lost to the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon. The division rivals remain separated by just one game. With 13 games remaining, every squandered opportunity will be magnified.

“It’s just a matter of continuing to win games,” third baseman Austin Riley said. “We’ve been here, and we know what to expect.”

Though the Braves have won four straight NL East crowns, this current group hasn’t experienced a pennant race as tight as this one. So, there was reason to lament not adding to the 2-0 advantage given to Bryce Elder, who pitched effectively into the sixth inning while making another valuable spot start.

Riley was part of the game’s most pivotal baserunning mistake, but he was not personally at fault. With two on and one out in the eighth, Michael Harris II hit a liner that landed beyond the infield dirt and bounced to right fielder Lane Thomas in right-center field. Braves third-base coach Ron Washington initially waved Riley toward the plate, but quickly put up the stop sign not knowing William Contreras was already barreling toward third.

Instead of having the bases loaded with one out, Contreras was tagged out between second and third, and the Braves had runners on the corners with two outs. Eddie Rosario promptly ended the inning with a liner to second on the first pitch he saw.

“Young guys have a hard time not putting the pedal to the metal all the time on the bases,” Snitker said. “It’s something they’ll learn.”

Washington had to take some blame for second-guessing his initial decision to send Riley to the plate. It was likely a wise move from his perspective -- it looked like Riley would have easily been thrown out at home. But when the veteran third-base coach suddenly threw up the stop sign, it was too late. Contreras had rounded second and was halfway to third before he realized Riley was retreating to third.

“As a baserunner, you have to zero in on the guy in front of you, nobody else, because he might fall or see everything the way everybody else does,” Snitker said. “We weren’t aware in some situations today.”

Washington was non-committal and Contreras was too aggressive. However you look at it, these mistakes likely cost the Braves at least one run. Another costly mistake occurred in the fifth inning when Vaughn Grissom drew a walk and then got doubled up when he strayed too far off first base after Victor Robles made a diving grab of a Ronald Acuña Jr. liner in the fifth inning.

Adding to Snitker’s frustration was the fact the team had met on Tuesday to review some baserunning techniques and approaches.

“We show them videos and talk about it,” Snitker said. “It’s something we can get better at. I’m thinking ahead. [Baserunning] is going to be a big priority in Spring Training.”

Along with improving their baserunning, the Braves need Dansby Swanson, Riley and Matt Olson to be productive as they occupy the second through fourth spots of the lineup. The three combined for two hits and no RBIs on Wednesday. Olson has a .374 OPS this month and Swanson and Riley each have an OPS below .700 in September.

The baserunning mistakes can be reduced. But they also might not be as glaring if the top of the lineup begins living up to its potential again.

“You’re going to go through your skids,” Riley said. “It’s just a matter of coming out of it, whoever it might be. We work hard every day. We’re not a team that just comes to the yard every day and expects to win.”