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Pirates hold on to beat Braves, 5-4

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Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Today’s game showed why it matters who your opponent is, if you needed further proof. Last year, I’d write previews where I’d explain why the Pirates’ opponents were good, or bad, and particularly when they were bad, it seemed like we’d watch the Pirates lose anyway, and then everyone would bemoan baseball’s vicissitudes in the comments.

Earlier this week, the Pirates lost two games against a good team. Today they beat a lesser one. (The 5-4 score might have been closer than you’d like, but let’s ignore that, because the Pirates mostly dominated the first seven innings, because the bad inning later on was Wade LeBlanc’s, and because I don’t want to rewrite all this.) On Wednesday they failed to hit Chris Sale. Today, they had significantly less trouble with the hard-throwing but unspectacular Mike Foltynewicz.

Technically, Foltynewicz only gave up two runs, but the Pirates reached base against him a full nine times over 3.2 innings. Andrew McCutchen singled in a run in the third, and Starling Marte singled in another in the fourth. The Braves scored once in the fifth after Gregory Polanco lost a fly ball in the wind, and Ender Inciarte followed with a double. But David Freese led off the bottom of the inning with a homer on an egregiously misplaced Josh Collmenter changeup, and Francisco Cervelli followed with a homer of his own. (It was nice to see Cervelli homer so early this year after only hitting one in an injury-shortened 2016 season.)

Meanwhile, Ivan Nova kept the Braves’ offense at bay. It’s probably worth noting, again, that the Braves’ hitting is bad. But Nova’s line — six innings, four strikeouts, no walks — was straight out of his brilliant 2016 stretch run. And the Braves’ only real rallies against him, in the fourth and sixth, were mostly driven by ground-ball singles, which I’m sure the Pirates will happily take. Nova shut down the Braves’ bases-loaded rally in the fourth by getting Brandon Phillips to ground into a double play.

After Felipe Rivero shut the Braves down (whiff, whiff, grounder) with filth in the seventh, the Pirates tacked on a run in the bottom of the inning. Cervelli walked, and Josh Harrison reached on an error that might well have been a double play had the Bucs not had the hit and run on and were it not for Phillips’ fielding error.

The Braves cut the lead to 5-4 off Wade LeBlanc in the eighth after a couple of hits, a Nick Markakis double and, after Daniel Hudson relieved LeBlanc, a Phillips single. It’s worth noting that things might not have gone so badly for LeBlanc had Chase d’Arnaud’s fly ball early in the inning not fallen in, but LeBlanc can’t afford too many more performances like this one if he hopes to keep his roster spot. Anyway, Hudson and the Pirates’ infield got the team out of the jam by getting Adonis Garcia to ground into a double play. Tony Watson pitched the ninth for the save.