MIAMI -- The Braves have been adamant about one thing: they’re still in the fight. Despite having already secured the NL East title and a postseason berth, Atlanta has yet to clinch home-field advantage for the entirety of the playoffs.
But the Braves still have two more weeks to work with and plenty of chances to do it. Though Atlanta suffered its first sweep at the hands of a National League opponent -- and its third three-game sweep this season (the first since mid-May vs. Toronto) -- by dropping the finale to the Marlins, 16-2, on Sunday afternoon at loanDepot park, the Braves aren’t fixating on it, even if the loss tied the most runs they have given up this season.
“We've had a good season,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And you know -- it happens and you can't explain it. I mean, we've been through kind of this little glitch two or three times this year, but we always seem to come out of it, and guys kind of get squared away and we can get on one of the runs of our own.”
The sweep, the Marlins’ first of the Braves in Miami since 2015, serves as not only a reminder that Atlanta is not invincible, but more importantly that there are still aspects of its game to be perfected before the postseason begins.
Charlie Morton, who entered the finale with a 1.85 ERA over his previous six starts, was solid early. Morton struck out a pair to end the first, then again to end the second, propelling him over the 180-K mark for the fifth time in his career.
But as the game progressed, the Marlins got the better of Morton. In the third, Morton allowed four consecutive singles within the first two pitches of the at-bat, then he gave up a first-pitch grand slam to Jazz Chisholm Jr. before he even recorded an out.
Morton did rebound, though, facing the minimum in a quick fourth before walking four in a row with two outs in the fifth inning. After that fourth walk, his day was done, having allowed six runs on six hits and five walks over 4 2/3 innings.
“I thought he had a good mix of everything,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “That one inning, they were swinging early, became aggressive and were getting hits when they needed to. And then Jazz put a good swing on a heater away and was able to put up a big four spot. I thought [Morton] bounced back well the next inning, and then the [fifth] inning just lost his command a little bit. But the first couple innings, he was good and was able to bounce back from that crazy third inning.”
Morton agreed with his backstop’s assessment. He’s not the type to second-guess the pitches he threw or decisions he made in a start, but even if he was, he wouldn’t take back that 95.8 mph four-seam fastball to Chisholm.
“He's an outer-third guy,” Morton said. “I've gotten the ball by him out there -- his numbers on the outer third [of the plate] aren't great on heaters with a little bit of velo. That's my best bullet right there. I think that's probably one of my best heaters I threw all game.”
For Morton and the Braves, who scored both of their runs in the top of the eighth inning, the focus is on looking ahead to the final weeks of the season and the postseason, but not too far ahead. While Atlanta certainly didn’t want -- or expect -- to come to Miami and get swept, that’s baseball.
“I don't know if it's like,” Morton said, “are we just coming off of a season here where we played really, really well and went into Philly and clinched, and [we] come down to Miami, and it's just running into a team that's really hot coming off of a series where we clinch -- I don't know. They were certainly playing well, they're certainly swinging the bats well.
“Maybe it was just a combination of both. Me going out there and giving up six runs, I don't have a great chance to beat anybody giving up six runs. So I don't know. I mean, I'm not going to start worrying about the three games that we had here against a team that's been playing really good baseball.”