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Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Braves Yield Mixed Results

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The Braves vs. Red Sox series was arguably the Braves’ toughest test of the season, as they had a lot to prove about their identity in the two-game series. While their lineup, like the Red Sox, is bolstered by sluggers and MVP candidates galore, they’ve lacked two vital dimensions to their game that their opponent doesn’t: an adequate rotation and an adequate bullpen. Both were on full display in game one, keeping Boston’s formidable hitting at bay in a 3-1 win. However, game two’s 9-4 loss saw them fall back down to earth, as the Braves yield mixed results by splitting the series.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Game One – Morton Deals a Gem

Game one was an absolute pitching spectacle put on by Charlie Morton, who, after stumbling into a bases-loaded jam on the mound that surrendered a run, was lethal from the second inning on. Morton, in particular, has been one of the rotation’s accentuated concerns, posting a 4.60 ERA, in 2021 coming into his Tuesday start.

Against arguably MLB’s most elite offense, Morton was meticulous, giving up three hits, an unearned run, and striking out nine for what was definitively his best outing of the year. On a season-high 103 pitches through seven innings, the 37-year-old veteran featured his entire repertoire, leaning predominantly on his cutter, four-seam fastball, and curveball to fluster opposing hitters. His latter two proved most effective, with his four-seamer accounting for four of his nine strikeouts, two of which were against JD Martinez.

Martinez, who’s demolishing opposing pitchers with a slash line of .320/.396/.579, hasn’t found quite as much success against fastballs compared to breaking balls with his slugging cut nearly in half between the two. Morton took advantage, by utilizing the gas fairly often against him, and 0 for 4 was the result against the AL MVP candidate.

It didn’t get much better for the other Red Sox stalwarts, as Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts both combined for a measly 1 for 7 and a pair of strikeouts at the plate, courtesy of Morton’s curveball and cutter.

The bullpen, like the rotation, has also been a liability all season, but the latter echoed the former’s heroics Tuesday night, with Edgar Santana and Will Smith surrendering only one total hit to close out the game.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Game One – The Offense Gets Going

Offensively, they were somewhat passive compared to their slugfests of the past, but there were still a fair amount of positives to note. For one, Freddie Freeman knocking in a much-needed base-hit to beat Garrett Richards and the Red Sox-imposed shift that would result in Marcell Ozuna‘s ensuing RBI-double sending him home. Also, Pablo Sandoval reminded us how impactful he can still be in the batter’s box as he stepped into the designated hitter role and delivered a three-for-four outing with a run scored in the sixth inning. And of course, we can’t forget Ronald Acuna Jr. doing Ronald Acuna Jr. things, crushing a splitter into left field in the sixth to score Kung-Fu Panda and extend the lead to two runs.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Game One – Injury Woes Continue

Unfortunately, the injury bug came back to bite the Braves badly Tuesday night. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna left game one of the series in the third inning on a slide gone wrong that left him with two dislocated fingers and is expected to be out for six weeks. Ozuna, who just moments before delivered an RBI double, was sliding into third base on an infield base hit before being gunned down by a throw from Kike Hernandez. Due to the hands-first slide, Ozuna’s fingers collided into the cleats of Devers. The two-time all-star was struggling in 2021 with just a .213 batting and seven home runs, after an impressive campaign the prior year that had him leading the National League in home runs. Guillermo Heredia, in the meantime, rotated to left field to fill in the void of Ozuna’s absence, while Ender Inciarte is now taking reps at center field.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Game Two – Pitching Flounders

During game two, the pitching failed to put up a sequel to match Morton’s box-office performance. Drew Smyly seemed to be building on his impressive last three starts throughout the first three innings that restricted the Red Sox to only one run off a Hunter Renfroe home run. Then came the fourth inning, and the Smyly that struggled mightily in his first four starts this year reappeared. Like Renfroe early on, Devers connected for his 14th home run of the season on another middle-of-the-zone curveball, this time tying the game up 3-3.

Two innings later though, Alex Verdugo and Martinez each singled on Smyly, and Verdugo, through outstanding baserunning, turned on the jets to beat a close throw home and tie the game up, four apiece. Devers, who has struggled mightily against lefties this year, struck again for another extra-base-hit, this time an RBI-double off a four-seamer down the middle that brought in Martinez to make it 5-4, and it was time for Smyly to head to the showers. Smyly’s night ended with 5 1/3 innings pitched, seven hits, five earned runs, and four strikeouts.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Game Two – Offense Strikes Early

Game two of the Braves vs. Red Sox series saw Atlanta’s offense continue to show how dangerous they’ve been all year early in games, racking up three runs within the first two innings against Nick Pivetta on the mound. It came as no surprise though, as they stand atop all of MLB in runs scored and OPS in the first inning. After Freeman walked, Ozzie Albies crushed a four-seamer for a stand-up triple to deep right field that sent in Freeman who absolutely darted home from first base to put the Braves on the board. A few at-bats later, Dansby Swanson continued building the momentum by lacing a double into similar territory, scoring Albies.

Even after coughing up a 3-0 lead that saw the game tied in the bottom of the fourth, Atlanta responded with a rocket over the green monster from the red-hot Austin Riley to recapture the lead. Riley, who had a lot of question marks coming into 2021, has answered a lot of them thus far, as a result of quadrupling his barrel rate in the month of May compared to the month of April. He’s now scorched his seventh home run over the last nine games with a staggering .379 average over the last 17 to boot.

Courtesy of BaseballSavant.com, the graph showcases Austin Riley’s “barrel” rate, which can be determined by the rate of batted balls in play, whose comparable hit types have resulted in a minimum of .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. They also must have an exit velocity of at least 98 mph and reach a certain launch angle range.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Game Two – The Offense Stalls

But the offense stalled shortly after, with only William Contreras contributing one final run on a solo missile off of Matt Andriese in the top of the 9th over the monster. Even Luke Jackson, who’s actually been a quality reliever this year, couldn’t stop the bleeding that started with Smyly. Christian Vazquez kept the rally going with a bullet into right-center field off a four-seamer that was, once again, down the middle for a two-rbi single to score both Devers and Bogaerts.

Shortly after beginning the bottom of the seventh, a nearly three-hour rain delay put a halt on the game before the Red Sox bats returned for one more multi-run inning. This time, Renfroe lasered a double into right-field that led to an ensuing RBI from Danny Santana off a Swanson fielding error and eventually a sacrifice fly from Christian Vazquez to bring home Renfroe.

Braves vs. Red Sox Series Recap: Final Thoughts

The Braves vs. Red Sox series showed both the potential of the team as well as the same problems that have plagued their 2021 campaign. After putting an end to their four-game losing streak, the Braves now fall back down below .500 at 24-25 and have still yet to go above .500 this entire year. They will take Thursday off and travel to New York City to square off against the New York Mets and begin a three-game series Friday at 7:10 p.m. EST.

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