ATLANTA —The Angels’ 7-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night was a dramatic contrast between one team that executed and one team that didn’t.
In the first two innings, before the game got away, the Angels failed at critical moments on defense and at the plate.
“To be competitive against teams like that, you can’t let them off the hook,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said. “You’ve got to make the plays you’re supposed to. When guys are out there, you’ve got to get them in. We’re seeing what that’s like. Teams like that capitalize on them and put them away. That’s why they’re the defending world champs, and we’re learning a lot this series.”
The first critical moment was in the bottom of the first inning. Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval had allowed hits to three of the first four batters he faced, but he was seemingly going to get out of the inning with only one run on the board when Travis d’Arnaud hit a tailor-made double play grounder to third baseman Jonathan Villar.
Villar didn’t get the ball out his glove cleanly, and then his throw to second baseman Michael Stefanic was slightly off line. Stefanic stretched to get the ball, and then he also couldn’t make the transfer in time to even get off a throw. A run scored on the play. That misplay by Villar was in addition to errors he made in the fourth and fifth innings.
A few minutes later the Angels started the top of the second with a leadoff double by Jared Walsh. He got to third on a ground ball, but then Dillon Thomas struck out when simply putting the ball in play could have cut the deficit to 2-1. Kurt Suzuki followed with another strikeout.
After that, the game got ugly.
Sandoval gave up five runs in three innings, and the Angels’ offense could muster littler more than a Shohei Ohtani homer — his 20th of the season.
Just after Ohtani’s solo shot cleared the fence in the top of the fifth, bringing the Angels within 7-2, Nevin was ejected for arguing about something that had happened in the previous inning. Austin Warren believed he had struck out Austin Riley to end the inning, but first base umpire John Bacon ruled that Riley didn’t swing. Riley hit a two-run homer on the next pitch.
“When things are rough like this, little things get to you,” Nevin said. “Austin pitched his butt off and he was out of that inning, in my opinion. That changes it.”
Instead, the Angels were hopelessly out of the game already, having been buried in a five-run hole because of a rough three innings for Sandoval.
“They hit the mistakes hard and they were also putting balls in play that I was executing,” Sandoval said. “I feel like I was ahead a pretty good amount this outing. They were still putting the bat on the ball and making it tough.”
Sandoval needed 80 pitches to get through three innings.
“With Sandy we’ve talked about finishing off hitters a little quicker,” Nevin said. “He’s going to rely on a lot of contact, soft contact, and and for the defense to play well behind him. We haven’t been that good behind him lately.”
The defense did help him avoid an even worse third inning, though. Sandoval gave up four more singles, accounting for three runs. Right fielder Dillon Thomas made a diving catch in right for the second out. Left fielder Taylor Ward threw out Orlando Arcia trying to go to third for the final out.
One of the positives on the night for the Angels was the performance of Walsh, who doubled twice and singled. Walsh also doubled in his final at-bat on Friday night. A Georgia native playing his first big league games in Atlanta, Walsh came into the series in a 3-for-40 slump.
“He was aggressive,” Nevin said. “That’s one thing that’s been discussed with him. There’s a lot of mechanical things going on and you’re trying to fix things, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to go up and you’ve got to be aggressive at balls in the zone. I thought he swung the bat really well today.”