Another Game 1 loss puts the Braves in a very familiar position
While tossing and turning in their sleep of simply daydreaming at work, many Braves fans have spent the past 12 hours thinking about all that went wrong during Thursday night’s 6-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Jason Heyward did not make an aggressive attempt to prevent the always-aggressive Yasiel Puig from going first-to-third in Los Angeles’ two-run second inning. Then to compound his mistake, he allowed his adrenaline get the best of him with his errant attempt to prevent Puig from scoring on Skip Schumaker’s sacrifice fly.
Yes, you have to come up throwing toward the plate despite the fact the odds of retiring the speedy Puig at the plate. Heyward provided sound reasoning when he said you have to attempt to prevent any run possible when going up against Clayton Kershaw. At the same time, he recognized the fact that he needed to make a throw that could have been cut. Had he done so, Juan Uribe would not have advanced to second base and found himself in position to score when Evan Gattis turned A.J. Ellis’ two-out liner to left into a run-producing double.
“I thought the throw home was a good‑‑ the right basic throw,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Friday afternoon. “Maybe a little bit high. I thought not throwing the ball to third base (to keep the double play in order) I thought that was the correct call on Jason’s part.”
Gattis’ inability to dive and catch Ellis’ liner was not necessarily surprising. It was just a reminder that he is a catcher who is playing left field because the Braves feel the need to have his bat in their lineup on a daily basis.
Instead of strengthening his outfield defensive by playing Jordan Schafer in left field in Game 2’s matchup against right-hander Zack Greinke, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez stuck with Gattis. Those who like small sample sizes will point out Schafer has five hits in 11 at-bats against Greinke. That accounts for a 4-for-7 showing in 2012 and a 1-for-4 showing this year.
But it’s apparent Gonzalez values power potential more than previous success in a few games.
If the Braves have a lead in the sixth inning or later, it’s pretty safe to assume Schafer enter the game to play left field. But for now Gonzalez is willing to sacrifice defensive ability for the offensive capability of Gattis, who hit .255 with six home runs and a .780 OPS in 100 September plate appearances.
Gattis’ inability to grab Ellis’ liner was not any more costly than Elliot Johnson’s inability to secure Carl Crawford’s hot shot that was hit right at him to begin Los Angeles’ two-run third inning. Without the miscue, which was ruled a hit, Adrian Gonzalez would not have had the opportunity to drill his crushing two-run homer off Kris Medlen.
As the Braves marched toward their 15th loss in their past 20 postseason home games, it seemed like the baseball gods were having some fun at their expense. Much of the buzz this week has centered around Atlanta’s decision to leave veteran second baseman Dan Uggla off the NLDS roster.
So, of course in his postseason debut as Uggla’s replacement, Elliot Johnson made the costly defensive miscue and went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts.
With some more assistance from his defense, Medlen could have certainly fared much better than his line — four-plus innings, nine hits and five earned runs — might have looked a little more respectable. But he certainly didn’t pitch like he had while posting a 0.84 ERA in his final six regular season starts.
“With Medlen, it’s about control; it’s about working inside‑outside, up and down,” Brian McCann said. “His changeup is his best pitch, and last night he hung it a little more than usual. I mean, I said last night, his location, that was the difference last night, I thought.”
McCann has spent the past few months attempting to avoid any questions about his future. But as he drove to Turner Field on Friday, it was impossible for him to overlook the fact that he would be preparing for what could be his last home game with the Braves. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and there are already a number of teams planning to make a strong push to sign him.
“When I think about it, it’s definitely there,” McCann said. “But at the same time, I mean, this is what we’re doing here today is way more important than what’s going to happen to me after the season. You know, I’m just focused on today’s game. We’ve got to get the series 1‑1 and go to LA and make this thing a series.”
It’s not like the Braves are in unfamiliar territory. They have lost Game 1 in eight of the past nine NLDS in which they have participated. Their only series win after losing the opener in one of these best-of-five series came in 1999, when they eliminated the Astros in four games.
The pessimist will say the Braves are destined for yet another brief postseason experience. The optimist will say they are due to benefit from one of those Walt Weiss postseason-changing moments.