PHILADELPHIA — When Braves closer Will Smith talked to media members a couple of times last week, he said something along the lines of, “They don’t hand out Ws at the big league level.”
Well, the veteran reliever was rudely reminded of this reality when he surrendered a walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth inning of a 2-1 loss to the Phillies on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Braves were one out away from having their first winning record of the season before Luke Williams belted his first career homer in very timely fashion.
“It’s really hard to win a Major League game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s really easy to lose one, but it’s hard to win one.”
Instead of celebrating a fourth straight win, the Braves found themselves stuck with the Marlins and Rangers as the only teams that have not had a winning record at any point this season. Their inability to get on a roll has had a lot to do with a leaky bullpen.
The Braves are now 25-6 when leading at the end of the sixth inning. This equals their combined loss total from the past two seasons, when they went 103-6 in such games.
Still, even though they have squandered opportunities much more frequently this year, the Braves have managed to go 29-30 and remain within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Mets in the National League East.
“The record doesn’t mean anything right now,” Snitker said. “It’s just we’re going to go out and try to win a game tomorrow. We still haven’t gotten on a good run yet. If we back this loss up with four or five wins, I’ll change my tune. But right now, we haven’t done that yet.”
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
Another costly homer
Smith isn’t surrendering home runs nearly as frequently as he did last year, when he allowed eight over just 22 innings (including the postseason). But the trend has been worsening. Williams’ homer was the third the Braves’ closer has allowed within the past 32 batters he has faced.
The home run Smith allowed to Albert Pujols during the ninth inning of Sunday’s win over the Dodgers was inconsequential because Atlanta still led by two runs. But Williams’ line drive homer proved every bit as costly as the go-ahead blast Mets catcher Tomás Nido lined over Truist Park’s outfield waterfall to give the Mets a win on May 18.
This was Smith’s first blown save of the season, but his 4.74 ERA provides the reminder that he has not been a lock-down asset who can confidently be asked to keep things quiet in the late innings.
With that being said, Smith showed his potential with a couple big saves against the Dodgers this past weekend. He recorded three strikeouts while going through the heart of the lineup during a perfect ninth on Saturday. But the Braves are going to need more reliability going forward from the reliever, who signed a three-year, $39 million deal before the start of the 2020 season.
Another start earned
Smith’s blown save squandered the impressive effort produced by Tucker Davidson, who allowed four hits, recorded four strikeouts and issued just one walk over six scoreless innings. He has allowed just three runs while compiling 17 2/3 innings over three starts this season.
It seemed like Davidson might just make a spot start when he was promoted to face the Nationals last week. But it now looks like he might have a chance to pitch into the summer if he extends his success.
“He’s been very impressive,” Snitker said. “It’s good that we’ve brought up one of our guys and he has taken advantage of this. It’s a little bit like Ian [Anderson] did last year.”
In other words, barring any other injuries, we may not be seeing Bryse Wilson or Kyle Wright any time soon.
Another three-hit game
Along with guiding Davidson through a solid start, William Contreras recorded a second straight three-hit game. The rookie catcher’s RBI single in the sixth accounted for the game’s only run before Williams’ homer.
One thing the Braves haven’t had to recently question is the offensive potential of Contreras, who is hitting .264 with an .845 OPS. He has six multi-hit games through his first 26 starts of this season. His three-hit game on Tuesday included a home run and the game-winning single.
“He’s on fire right now and it’s a treat to see,” Davidson said. “He’s grown so much offensively and defensively.”