Freeman fantastic, but Folty foiled in nail-biter
ATLANTA -- Now that the Braves have positioned themselves to enjoy the thrill of a pennant race, they must be prepared to deal with nights like this one, when a questionable balk call and an elevated fastball can create the kind of immediate frustration that successful teams quickly put in their past.
"This is what you play for," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Those kinds of games are always fun. It was a well-fought game by both sides. We just didn't come out on top."
Freeman halted his recent struggles with a two-hit performance that wasn't enough to overcome the damage a recently dominant Mike Foltynewicz incurred after he seemingly casually spit during the second inning of Thursday night's 5-4 loss to the Cubs at SunTrust Park.
"Who knows what you really do out there?" Foltynewicz said. "You're just in the zone. You can do a bunch of different habits and stuff. I just basically hocked a loogie."
Like a famous Seinfeld episode included a Magic Loogie, this game included what the Braves perceived as the undetectable balk that was called when Foltynewicz spit during what quickly devolved into a two-run second inning. The Cubs lost their early advantage during a three-run fifth, but regained the lead when Thomas La Stella hit a decisive two-run homer in the sixth against a 94.8-mph fastball at the top of the strike zone.
"I know they were counting on me in that sixth inning to keep [the Cubs] at bay," Foltynewicz said. "I just let them down. That's an unfortunate situation. But I was pretty much battling after the first inning tonight."
Foltynewicz had posted a 1.38 ERA in the five August starts he made before the Cubs tagged him for five runs -- four earned -- over six innings. This was just one of those bad nights for the All-Star hurler, who stands as a key reason the Braves still own a three-game lead over the second-place Phillies in the National League East race.
Before the Pirates and Red Sox come to town to complete this homestand, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has one more day to complete a waiver trade and possibly enhance the upgrades he has already made. Anthopoulos struck gold with the acquisition of starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, and he strengthened a once-suspect bullpen with the acquisitions of Jonny Venters and Brad Brach.
But the Braves have not yet received the desired value from the essentially no-cost acquisition of Adam Duvall from the Reds. Duvall went 0-for-4 during Thursday's makeup game and has now hit just .105 (4-for-38) since joining Atlanta's roster. He was acquired to serve as a right-handed bat off the bench and an option in left field to shift Ronald Acuna Jr. to center when Ender Inciarte sits against left-handed starters.
Braves manager Brian Snitker wasn't ready to commit to a change immediately following Thursday's loss. But given Duvall has gone 2-for-19 against lefties and Inciarte has recorded five hits in 14 at-bats against southpaws this month, there's at least reason to contemplate ending this platoon or possibly acquiring another right-handed bat before Friday's waiver trade deadline.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Foltynewicz breezed through a perfect first inning and then began the second by surrendering Benjamin Zobrist's double and hitting Jason Heyward with a 1-2 slider. As Freeman manned his position, he heard Heyward yell balk before second-base umpire Chad Fairchild followed suit.
"[The umpires] said he flinched," Snitker said. "I haven't seen it, but guys who saw it said they needed to look at it three times to see it. Evidently, he had done something earlier in the game to call [the umpires'] attention to something like that because everybody said it was a movement to spit really."
Willson Contreras followed with an RBI groundout that might have been a double play had the balk not been called. Heyward scored when second baseman Ozzie Albies made an errant throw home after fielding Kyle Schwarber's grounder.
"All I really did was spit," Foltynewicz said. "We went back to see on the replay, and we really couldn't tell. It's just a tough situation at that point, especially when the next pitch is a ground ball right at the second baseman. Endless possibilities could have happened after that."
Freeman has stood as a top NL MVP candidate throughout this season, but he entered Thursday having hit .188 (9-for-48) over his previous 13 games. The first baseman put the Braves on the board with a two-out RBI single in the third and then flashed some encouraging opposite-field power in the fifth with his game-tying, two-run triple that eluded a diving Heyward, who made an immediate exit after tweaking his right hamstring on the play.
"It feels good," Freeman said. "It's been a work in progress. Everybody goes through [slumps] during the course of a year. I think this was my second one. I'll take that over the course of a year. Hopefully, this is a sign I'm coming out of it, and hopefully, I can have a nice September."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Cubs shortstop Javier Baez denied a ninth-inning rally bid when he ranged into shallow center field to rob Inciarte of a hit with an over-the-shoulder grab. The Braves were also on the wrong end of a defensive gem when center fielder Albert Almora Jr. raced toward the right-center-field wall and slid along the warning track to prevent Lucas Duda from recording an extra-base hit in his first at-bat for Atlanta in the sixth.
Anibal Sanchez will take the mound when the Braves welcome the Pirates for the start of a three-game series Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET at SunTrust Park. Sanchez has posted a 3.82 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break. Atlanta claimed a three-game sweep in Pittsburgh last week. The Pirates will counter with Jameson Taillon, who has a 2.42 ERA over his past eight starts.