Game 139: Red Sox at Atlanta Braves (September 3, 2018)

A day after they couldn't seem to get out of Chicago fast enough, the Red Sox opened up a three game series against one of the best teams in the National League: the Atlanta Braves. Heading into this stretch of games playing as unevenly as they have over the last two weeks, I really didn't know what to expect out of the Sox. Compounding this was the fact that Nathan Eovaldi hasn't pitched well at all over the last few weeks and yet he was going to be starting against this talented Braves squad. Not only was the pitching a concern, but the Boston bats had been a bit bipolar and hadn't exactly been lighting it up. All of these were things I was watching for as I kicked back on my couch on a relaxing Labor Day when the game and series got underway.

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For the first four innings, Braves rookie Touki Toussaint kept the Red Sox off balance and mostly off the bases while Eovaldi lived dangerously, labored through innings, and still managed to keep Atlanta off the board. It wasn't until the fifth inning when the Sox finally got to the rookie and plated some runs. After Eduardo Nunez doubled, Ian Kinsler hit one of his own to drive in the first Boston run of the game. This was followed by Christian Vazquez getting into the doubles act to drive in Kinsler. Mookie Betts capped off the inning with an RBI single to drive in Vazquez and make it 3-0 Sox. Atlanta got one back in the sixth when Ozzie Albies smacked Joe Kelly's first pitch into the right field stands and they'd get another in the seventh when Ryan Brasier surrendered a sacrifice fly to Kurt Suzuki. That cut the Sox lead to 3-2 and it started to seem as though the bullpen was going to squander yet another lead, but the team responded in the way we've been used to seeing all season (and haven't been seeing much of the past couple of weeks). With two outs in the eighth an easy out at second to end the inning turned into bases loaded for Boston when Freddie Freeman's throw to Dansby Swanson sailed over his head. That kept the inning going and Kinsler made the young Braves pay with another double to push JD Martinez and Mitch Moreland across the plate. Those insurance runs were huge, but the Sox made sure to put the game even further out of reach in the ninth. Xander Bogaerts, who hadn't looked good at the plate all day and was 0-4 heading into the inning, smoked a double to the gap in left center field to drive in Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi. Eduardo Nunez then hit a sacrifice fly to drive in JD and make it 8-2 Boston which is how the game would end. Craig Kimbrel came in to slam the door on the Braves and while he still didn't look sharp, he got the job done with minimal drama. 

It wasn't a good day for Eovaldi, who threw over forty pitches in the first inning alone. He was in trouble all day but somehow managed to get out of his 2.1 innings of work unscathed. A bit of concern was that he walked four batters...this is a guy who usually doesn't walk many guys at all. After he left the mound it was a bullpen game and Alex Cora used a whopping seven relievers to get through the remaining innings. None of them threw more than one inning, but they got the job done (particularly against Braves phenom Ronald Acuna who went 0-5 in the game). As a team, Boston outhit Atlanta 10-8 and every starting position player had at least a hit. The big performer in this game was Kinsler who went 2-5 and drove in three runs, all of them clutch and timely.

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Boston turns to Rick Porcello in the second game on Tuesday night as he'll go up against Sean Newcomb. Porcello hasn't looked good at all the past month and needs to regain the form he sustained for most of the season if the Sox are going to make a lot of noise in the postseason. There's a strong rumor that David Price may return to make his start in Wednesday's finale, so it would be nice to pick up another win and take the series before that final game. A tough series against the Astros begins at Fenway Park on Thursday so every win is important even for a team in Boston's position. This team has eventually answered every challenge they've faced so far this season and I see no reason why they won't continue to do so during the stretch run.