January 29, 2023

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Olson's big night goes for naught as Braves pay for mistakes

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PHOENIX — Matt Olson’s finest night of the season went to waste as the Braves committed far too many mental mistakes while blowing a four-run lead in an 8-7 loss to the D-backs in 10 innings on Tuesday night at Chase Field.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “… We didn’t play good ball. We did too many things to hurt ourselves. We can’t do that. You can’t give away outs. We didn’t make enough pitches. It was an ugly game, a very ugly game.”

Instead of celebrating Olson’s first four-hit performance of the season, the Braves endured their ugliest loss of what has been a frustration-filled season. Marcell Ozuna made a baserunning blunder and Kenley Jansen suffered a third blown save within his past six opportunities. Fittingly, the ugly night was decided when Adam Duvall made an ill-advised throw to the plate. This allowed David Peralta to advance to second and score easily on Cooper Hummel’s walk-off double against Jackson Stephens.

This was a game filled with missed opportunities, including the chance to challenge whether D-backs shortstop Geraldo Perdomo touched second base while attempting to turn a double play in the third. Replays showed Perdomo clearly missed the bag. But Snitker said his guys in the clubhouse didn’t alert him. This cost the team at least one run, which would have been enough to avoid extra innings.

“These guys are sound, fundamental players, and we didn’t play a sound fundamental game,” Snitker said. “You can’t win big league games if you don’t. We’ve got to check ourselves. We’ve got to do better if we’re going to do anything. We can’t consistently go out and play like that and expect to win.”

This certainly wasn’t the expected tone when the Braves held a 6-2 lead in the sixth. At that point, Olson had already doubled twice and hit his sixth homer of the season, just his second with a man on base. His two-run double in the fifth further quieted those who had become impatient as he had entered the game hitting .180 (7-for-39) with runners in scoring position and .174 (12-for-69) with men on base.

Olson is 11-for-28 with seven doubles and two homers going back to when he hit a go-ahead homer against the Phillies on May 24. The 28-year-old first baseman enters June ranked second in the Majors with 29 extra-base hits. He is tied with Bryce Harper for the NL lead and three behind Rafael Devers’ MLB-leading total.

“I’m actually just trying to do less mechanically,” Olson said. “I just want to trust myself, and I’ve felt better.

With Austin Riley, Olson and Ozuna trending in the right direction over the past couple of weeks, the Braves’ offense is again looking formidable, especially if Ronald Acuña Jr. stays healthy. But mental mistakes will continue to limit this group’s potential.

After the Braves didn’t challenge whether Perdomo touched second base while attempting to turn two in the third inning, Acuña scored Michael Harris II from first base with a double that would have plated two runs. Making matters worse, Acuña was thrown out attempting to stretch that double into a triple. Dansby Swanson followed with a single that would have easily scored Acuña. So, two runs may have been squandered in the third.

Acuña was retired with a strong relay throw, but Ozuna’s attempt to go from first to third base on Austin Riley’s go-ahead single in the 10th inning was simply bad baserunning. With the play behind him, the big outfielder lumbered toward third without getting any signal from third-base coach Ron Washington.

“We’re making too many outs on the bases,” Snitker said. “We’re better than that. There are times to push the envelope and sometimes to be aggressive. The guys are all trying to make a great play and help their team. But there’s times not to. There’s a fine line there.”

Instead of possibly adding yet another run in the 10th or protecting what was once a comfortable lead, the Braves exited this game 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets, hoping to eventually turn things around like they did last year.

“I’ve been down this road before,” Jansen said. “It sucks. But tomorrow is another day, and we need to stay positive.”

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