Nick Markakis threatened to kick a Braves’ executive’s butt

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In a column yesterday Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provided an interesting glimpse into the dog days of late August on a losing team.

Flash back to August 23 of last season. The Braves were playing the Mariners in the rubber match of a three-game series in Atlanta. While the Braves flirted with .500 and possible Wild Card contention for a nanosecond in the first half, by the time this series rolled around they were way below .500 and were playing out the string. A big reason they were playing out the string was reliever Jim Johnson who had lost his closer’s role due to a horrendous stretch in which he couldn’t buy any outs.

In his previous outing, four nights prior against the Reds, Johnson entered a game the Braves were already trailing by three and gave up four runs in the top of the ninth. That ended up mattering a good deal given that the Braves rallied for four runs themselves in the bottom of the ninth, and ended up losing 11-8. Regardless of the outcome, it was abundantly clear that Johnson was cooked and had no business being in a close game or, for that matter, even in a not-so-close game. A lot of guys would’ve been DL’d or released at that point or, barring that, buried so far back in the bullpen that they’d not see game action for weeks.

Four days later Johnson saw game action. In a critical spot, too.

On August 23rd the Braves were leading 5-4 heading into the eighth inning with a chance to take the series from Seattle. They had to be feeling good too, because they had twice come back from two-run deficits to take that lead. A team which would be forgiven by most for mailing it in was fighting. They’re pumped. It’s close. It’s late. And Braves manager Brian Snitker brings in . . . Jim Johnson.

That’s not the move you’d make or I’d make or, for that matter, anyone would make, but Snitker made it. He’d later say that he was trying to give his other bullpen arms a rest, though they weren’t terribly taxed at that point. He’d later say that he felt the coaches had figured out what was wrong with Johnson and were giving him a chance to show it, though if you’d watched Johnson pitch you’d seriously doubt it.

It didn’t really matter what he said, though. The fact was that Johnson was brought into a high-leverage situation and got shelled once again. He faced four batters, walking one and giving up three hits, all without recording an out. All four batters scored. Another run would score after he left and the Braves entered the bottom half of the inning trailing 9-5 and would lose the game 9-6.

In his game story that night, O’Brien wrote this:

Snitker looked particularly upset after this loss, as did president of baseball operations John Hart when he left the clubhouse with general manager John Coppolella after their customary brief postgame meeting with Snitker.

In his column yesterday he sheds more light on that:

John Hart dressed down manager Brian Snitker. Shouting at him so loudly in the manager’s office that some players heard from the clubhouse . . . [Snitker] appeared almost ashen and uncharacteristically sullen minutes later when reporters entered the office, and really was never quite himself again the rest of the season.

He also writes about the response it elicited from Braves outfielder Nick Markakis:

. . . upon hearing what Hart said to Snitker . . . Markakis made it known, had the message sent up the chain, that if Hart ever treated the manager that way again that Markakis would, in so many words, kick his ass.

We don’t know what Hart said specifically, but Markakis made a comment to O’Brien about the importance of “treating people like human beings.” In light of that, I’m gonna presume it went beyond merely dressing him down for bringing in Johnson and strayed into demeaning and crappy territory. In which case, good for Markakis, even if  (a) Snitker should’ve faced heavy criticism from upper management for the really bad decision of using Johnson in that spot; and (b) “I’m gonna kick your ass” is not the most admirable response to such things. The point is, if you can’t communicate your displeasure with an underling for making a bad decision without demeaning them personally, you don’t belong in a place of authority.

Whatever the case, all of this adds a lot of insight into the Braves weird 2017 season:

  • A season in which Snitker was on a short leash with a one-year deal;
  • A season which, due to the second-half swoon and his troubling fixation on favoring veterans over younger, developing players, was expected by many not to be back for 2018;
  • A season in which, in the last month of the season, several veteran players like Freddie Freeman and Markakis were reported to be lobbying for him to stay and talking about their loyalty to him;
  • A season in which, on September 25, he was given a one-year extension to come back and then, a week later, Braves’ GM John Coppolella resigned and the Braves’ sanctions-inducing scouting/signing scandal was revealed, throwing the organization into chaos and, eventually, pushing out John Hart too.

I suspect that, if the Braves’ front office hadn’t nuked itself, Snitker would’ve been fired. I suspect he was kept on because it was thought that he would provide some semblance of stability for the organization after all of the scandal and drama. I suspect that he would not have been seen as a source of stability if he did not have the confidence of the veterans on the team. I do not know how much the confidence of the veterans was always there and how much of it was gained late in the year, but I can imagine a siege mentality, us-vs.-them dynamic between the guys in uniform on one side and the suits on the other probably didn’t hurt matters much on that score.

All of which makes me wonder: did Brian Snitker’s horrible decision to use Jim Johnson on that ugly night in August actually save his job? If so, that’d be a heck of a thing, wouldn’t it?

McCutchen’s sacrifice fly lifts Pirates to 5-4 win, extends Athletics’ road losing streak to 15

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PITTSBURGH – Andrew McCutchen’s tiebreaking sacrifice fly in the eighth inning lifted Pittsburgh to a 5-4 victory over Oakland on Monday night, extending the Pirates’ win streak to six games and sending the Athletics to their record-tying 15th consecutive road loss.

The 15 straight defeats away from home matches the Athletics’ record since they moved from Kansas City in 1968. Oakland set that mark in 1986.

The major league-worst Athletics (12-50) have lost five games in a row overall. They are on pace to finish the season exactly 100 games under .500 at 31-131.

“It’s tough,” Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said. “Tonight’s game, we didn’t play well enough to win the game. I don’t want to say we gave the game away but there were a lot of instances where we had a chance to capitalize on opportunities and didn’t do it.”

McCutchen also singled and drew three walks to go with two RBIs. The 2013 NL MVP now has 1,998 career hits.

With the score tied at 4, Ji Hwan Bae led off the decisive eighth inning with a single off Sam Moll (0-3) and advanced to third on Austin Hedges’ one-out single. McCutchen’s sac fly plated Bae.

“I was just trying to get the job done. I understand the situation there,” McCutchen said. “We just need to get the run. I was trying to bear down against a hard thrower and trying to get that run in as much as I can, and I was able to do it and have a good at-bat.”

Angel Perdomo (1-0) retired both hitters he faced. and Colin Holdeman pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his first career save. It was an eventful inning for Holderman as the first three batters reached base, but he struck out Carlos Perez with runners on the corners to end it.

“I began my career as a starting pitcher in the minor leagues but ever since I was switched to relief, this has been the goal, to get a save in the big leagues,” Holderman said.

Pittsburgh starter Johan Oviedo gave up three runs and four hits with five strikeouts and two walks.

Oakland left-hander JP Sears did not allow a hit until Mark Mathias’ leadoff single in the fifth but was unable to make it through the inning. Sears was charged with one run in 4 2/3 innings while allowing two hits, walking five and striking out six.

Sears has not allowed more than two runs in five consecutive starts. His nine no-decisions are the most in the major leagues.

Ryan Noda and Brent Rooker had two hits each for the Athletics.

The Athletics tied the score at 4-4 in the eighth inning on pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz’s run-scoring double. Oakland left the bases loaded, though, when Nick Allen hit an inning-ending flyout.

Consecutive bases-loaded walks keyed a three-run sixth inning that put the Pirates 4-3. McCutchen and Bryan Reynolds each worked bases on balls off Shintaro Fujinami to tie the score at 3-all and pinch-hitter Jack Suwinski followed with a sacrifice fly.

The Athletics opened the scoring in the first inning when rookie Esteury Ruiz reached on catcher’s interference, stole his MLB-leading 30th base of the season and scored on Noda’s single. Seth Brown doubled in a run in the third and came home on Perez’s sacrifice fly to push Oakland’s lead to 3-0.

Connor Joe hit an RBI double for the Pirates in the fifth.

The Pirates drew 10 walks, their most in a game in nearly two years.

“We had a bunch of opportunities that we didn’t capitalize (on), but the thing I think I was most proud of is we got down and we didn’t rush to get back,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “We were still patient.”


Athletics: LHP Kirby Snead (strained shoulder) is expected to pitch in the Arizona Complex League on Tuesday, which will be his first game action since spring training. … RHP Freddy Tarnok (strained shoulder) will throw a bullpen on Tuesday.


Pirates catching prospect Henry Davis was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis from Double-A Altoona. In 41 games at Double-A this season, the 23-year-old hit .284 with 10 home runs and seven stolen bases.

“He was performing offensively at a level where we felt like he was more than ready to meet the challenges,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said. “He improved as an offensive player even since spring training, focusing on the things we were challenging him on. Defensively, he’s made strides too.”

Davis was the first overall selection in the 2021 amateur draft from the University of Louisville.


Athletics RHP James Kaprielian (0-6, 8.12 ERA) will make his first start in June after taking the loss in all four starts in May and face RHP Mitch Keller (7-1, 3.25). Keller has eight or more strikeouts in seven consecutive starts, the longest streak by a Pirates pitcher in the modern era (since 1901).