The Principality

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Stanton Kept In Park as Braves Close 2017 with a Win

Having lost the past six games and slid to 19 games under 500, the Braves’ 2017 season had already ended in disappointment and mediocrity. All that was left to gain from Sunday’s finale at Marlins Park was a little bit of pride. For Atlanta, this meant two things: Coming away with a closing win; and keeping Giancarlo Stanton from hitting his 60th home run of the season. Both were achieved as the Braves notched an 8-5 victory.

Rightly, the pregame focus had been on Stanton, who was bidding to become just the 6th player of all-time to pass 60 home runs in a season. In game one of this four game set, Stanton had hit both numbers 58 and 59, but been unable to light up the gaudy outfield display in the two games that followed. Eight of Stanton’s 59 homers had come against the Braves and the pitching staff were determined that there would be no more.

“I think he will get 60 one day," Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich said. "It didn't happen for him today. It's still an unbelievable year”. Stanton was put in the leadoff spot for the first time in his career to maximise the plate appearances he would get. He went 2-5 with an RBI, striking out in his final at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning. Leaving to chants of “MVP” from the Miami crowd, the 27 year old slugger said “That was great. It sums up my year, and appreciation of me to the fans and the fans for me. It closes the book on 2017." Stanton has a legitimate shot at becoming the Marlins’ first MVP after leading the league in home runs (59) and RBI (132).

For the Braves, snapping a 6-game losing streak was as important as not giving up a home run to Stanton. Before the start of play, the Mets had crept to within a game of Atlanta and having won 12 of the 19 meetings between the two this year, would have taken 3rd place in the NL East had they beaten Philadelphia and Atlanta lost to Miami. Neither eventuality came to pass however and Atlanta held onto third place.

"It's good because we've kind of been struggling," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It was a good, solid ballgame. A lot of really good things happened." One of the good things Snitker was referring to was the start made by rookie, Max Fried. Making just his fourth career start, Fried only lasted 4 1/3 innings, but struck out seven and seemed in total control until a defensive miscue from Dansby Swanson helped the Marlins get on the board with four runs. "I was a little unfortunate in the fifth," Fried said. "Some ground balls just happened to find holes. I can't really control that. But I'm really happy with how I've been throwing the ball. Coming into this, I just made sure I would have as much fun as possible and just go out there and give it my all. I feel like I accomplished that." Fried will be one of the main contenders for a rotation spot in Atlanta next Spring.

Despite the four-run fifth inning, Atlanta was enjoying its best offensive game of the series. Kurt Suzuki justified his new contract with a two-run home run in the third inning, which was followed by a Nick Markakis RBI later in the inning. Ozzie Albies tied up the game in the sixth with a groundout that scored Dansby Swanson, before Swanson himself put the Braves ahead in the seventh with an RBI single. Adonis Garcia made sure the game was not in doubt shortly afterwards, as he homered with a three-run shot to score Swanson and Lane Adams.

Up 8-4, the Braves bullpen only allowed Miami to score once more. Marcell Ozuna hit his 37th home run of the year in the bottom half of the 7th inning. Ozuna is another Marlin to enjoy playing the Braves with five home runs for the year. Both Ozuna and Stanton had another shot in the 9th inning to close the gap, but Arodys Vizcaino continued his impressive form as Braves closer and ended the season on a high for the Braves.

For the Braves now, it is a winter of searching for a front-line starter who can anchor the rotation for years to come. For Miami, the future is a little more uncertain as long-time owner Jeffrey Loria now sells the club to a consortium headed by Derek Jeter. For many in Miami, Loria’s departure is long overdue, but one thing the fans can’t deny is the talent he saw in Stanton and his desire to lock him into what is essentially a career-long contract at an early age.

Andrew Bracegirdle

1 October 2017