Welcome to your Morning Walk, a recap of the previous day’s events in Braves Country. Remember to follow us on Twitter for all updates.
Braves 8, Cubs 0
If you missed last night’s game and just want a quick update on how things went, feast your eyes on the following clip.
For everything that went wrong in Philly to open the year, for one night, nearly everything went the Braves’ way. The Cubs committed six errors – only two of Atlanta’s eight runs were earned. Atlanta’s bullpen tossed five innings and didn’t allow a run. Chicago hit into four double plays, including one to end the game after the Chicago player didn’t seem to remember how many outs there were.
All in all, for Braves fans and the team alike, winning is just more fun, isn’t it?
Trying to shake off the walks that had killed the Braves during their opening series, Atlanta went with Sean Newcomb, who had the worst BB/9 among qualified pitchers in 2018. And you got the entire Newk experience. Yes, he walked four and scattered a half-dozen hits – all but one a single. He also struck out three, started a double play, and made some quality pitches along the way. Can you sustain success allowing 10 runners to reach base while recording only a dozen outs? So far for Newcomb, it’s a toss up. On Monday, he was just good enough against a team that scored 28 runs in their opening three games.
He also got the luxury of pitching with a lead – something Braves pitchers rarely had during their series against the Phils. After the Cubs couldn’t catch a relatively harmless foul pop-up by Ender Inciarte, the Braves’ much-criticized center fielder got the first inning off to a bang with a homer – his first of the new season. Josh Donaldson singled while Ronald Acuña Jr. walked with one out. Nick Markakis hit what probably wasn’t going to be a double play, but definitely wasn’t after Javy Baez threw the ball away. That plated Donaldson to make it 2-0. Ozzie Albies followed with a pop-up to short left field that three Cubs let fall between them. On a day they committed six errors, that’s not even one of them. It goes down as a double. And it set up Brian McCann, making his return to Atlanta as a Brave, and he promptly singled in Markakis and Albies to make it 4-0.
In the third, the 2018 Rookie of the Year did this.
That made it 5-zip. Comically, the inning continued for Kyle Hendricks after the regularly sure-handed Anthony Rizzo flubbed a McCann grounder and then threw it away, earning the rare double-error on the same play. The play ultimately only led to more pitches for Hendricks, who wasn’t great but wasn’t nearly as awful as his defense.
In the fifth, Atlanta added a pair of runs after the Braves loaded the bases on a Markakis single, a more traditional Albies double, and an intentional pass to McCann. Dansby Swanson hit what probably should have been a double play, but again the Baseball Gods smiled onto the Braves. Hendricks deflected the ball away from his second baseman, David Bote, who then threw wildly to second trying to get McCann. Another error, another run. Atlanta finished the scoring in the sixth with help of yet one more error, this time by Kris Bryant.
Meanwhile, the much-maligned bullpen followed yet another short outing by a starter – Newcomb was lifted after four innings and 91 pitches. But this time, the quartet that followed the starter didn’t walk the world. Or even one person. Wes Parsons gets the victory, his first in the majors, after a perfect fifth. Jesse Biddle shook off the Bryce Harper homer that still hasn’t landed by allowing one hit and striking out a batter in two frames of action. Chad Sobotka and Arodys Vizcaino followed with a solid one-hit inning each with Vizcaino getting a strikeout in the process. Vizcaino was the last remaining player to not play in a game this year after Newcomb opened the game.
The Braves still have issues. But as Monday showed, the talent is still there and if you give this team an extra out – or several – they will burn you.
Vizzy Pitches, Minter Close to Returning
Before the game, Braves.com beat writer, Mark Bowman, seemed to indicate that the Braves had concern over Arodys Vizcain’s shoulder and why the pending return of A.J. Minter could be important. In a response to Talking Chop’s Scott Coleman, Bowman mentioned that Vizcaino didn’t pitch after March 20 in a spring training game and, if you follow the Braves, you know that there are days that Vizcaino simply does not feel up to pitching for the Braves, hamstringing Brian Snitker’s choices.
Of course, Vizcaino immediately went out and threw high-90’s gas to the Cubs and sprinkled in a filthy slider. When my shoulder hurts, I lay on the couch and binge-watch Netflix while complaining that I’ll never feel right again. But hey, not everyone is the same.
Minter, by the way, could return before the end of the Cubs series. After being slowed by a fender bender that hurt his left shoulder, Minter opened the year on the Injured List and seemed likely to get some minor league rehab time with Gwinnett. But if everything goes right today when Minter throws some batting practice, he could be activated on Thursday. Obviously, adding Minter to the bullpen would help a crew that was thoroughly embarrassed in Philadelphia to open the season.
I see you, Ozzie
After a second half to forget in 2018, Ozzie Albies re-worked his left-handed swing and made other adjustments at the plate. Through four games, he looks like a different player from the left side. Not only has he walked three times to just one strikeout, Albies is staying on the ball better. That’s helped lead the way to an early line of .429/.529/.571. And those walks? Well, here’s our friends at The Platinum Sombrero with some context:
Obviously, his current offensive performance is not sustainable. But as I’ve written before, in my mind, no Braves position player is more important for the 2019 Braves than Ozzie Albies. He has the most unrealized potential and with his speed, power, and hit tool, he could be a dynamic threat that eventually settles into the top of the Braves’ lineup where he can be a terror. If that happens in 2019, the Braves’ lineup, which is already better for signing Donaldson, could be among the better lineups in the National League.
-There was a slight issue during Monday’s game as David Bote slid hard, but legally, into the bag trying to break up a double play. With the score 8-0, Dansby Swanson possibly took offense to the hard slide. There was some jawing back-and-forth and benches cleared, but nothing came of it outside of some people on the bench shuffling around.
-Darren O’Day’s debut for the Atlanta Braves is not close to happening after he was shut down indefinitely with a forearm tendon issue. O’Day hasn’t pitched since needing hamstring surgery that ended his 2018 season prior to the Braves acquiring him in the Kevin Gausman trade.
-Old friend Matt Wisler’s time with the Reds came to the close after the out-of-options righty was dealt to the Padres, where his career began as a top prospect. Wisler never made it to San Diego as he was the crown jewel of the Craig Kimbrel trade hours before the 2015 season began. At the deadline, Wisler was one of three players traded to the Reds for Adam Duvall. Of those three, only Lucas Sims remains after being optioned to the minors during spring training.
-I know we hate this, but there is no game today. Braves will be back in action on Wednesday when Julio Teheran faces Jon Lester. This game will be the first time the Braves have faced a left-handed starter. Ozzie Albies will likely lead off and it’ll be interesting to see if Johan Camargo gets his first start, potentially in right field (if Nick Markakis sits) or in left field (if Ender Inciarte gets the day off with Acuña Jr. moving to center). The series finishes up on Thursday with the Braves sending Max Fried to face Yu Darvish. Fried will likely not be expected to pitch deep into the game after working twice in the first series of the year as a reliever.
-And just to close things up, here is the Cubs’ many failures from Monday. Well, at least some of them.