Before I get into this, I want to say it is FAR too early to panic. Two years ago, the Braves started 0-3 after being swept in Philadelphia and went on to win 97 games and cruise to the NL East crown for the second consecutive season. There are still 158 games left to play, and this team still has an unbelievable amount of talent. The Braves will win a ton of games this year; it’s just a matter of finding their groove.
With that being said, winning games for this group isn’t enough. The Braves have to find a way to conquer the most competitive division in baseball, and frankly, that isn’t even enough. After what happened last year, it truly is World Series or bust in Atlanta. So, when thinking about it that way, there are some early concerns that will need to be fixed by the end of the season if the Braves want to compete with the best teams in baseball.
Losing close games
If you’ve been an avid follower of the Braves over the last few seasons, you know how well they have fared in close games. Well, what if that flipped on them all of a sudden? So far, it has; the Braves are 0-3 in one-run games and have already lost two games in which they led after seven innings, something they didn’t do all of last year (23-0). David O’Brien of The Athletic did a fantastic job of taking it even a step further.
• The Braves were an NL-best 24-6 when they scored first in 2020. Tuesday was the only time they’ve scored first this season — they had a 1-0 lead after the first pitch of the game, a Scherzer fastball that Acuña crushed for his 20th leadoff homer to start a game, extending his own franchise record.
• The Braves were 19-4 when their starting pitcher lasted five or more innings in 2020. Their starters have gone five or more innings in every start this season, and the Braves are 0-4. Smyly was charged with six hits and four runs (two unearned after an Ozzie Albies error) in six innings, with one walk and eight strikeouts.
• The Braves were 28-6 when they scored at least five runs in 2020, and 21-6 when they hit two or more homers. Tuesday was the first game in which they scored more than two this season, and they hit only two homers in the entire Phillies series.
If you look at this from a glass-half-full perspective, these stats are far from doom and gloom. They actually suggest the Braves probably shouldn’t be 0-4 at this juncture and are the subject of some misfortune. However, in a division this competitive, close games are what it is all about, and if the Braves can’t continue to dominate in these types of contests, they will not win the NL East for a fourth consecutive season.
Right-handers in the bullpen
It looks like Alex Anthopoulos may have made another fatal mistake — similar to the one he made last year with the rotation. He let three critical pieces to the bullpen walk in free agency and signed nothing but bargain-bin relief options. I’m not sure if he is expecting young arms to step up, but he did that last year with the rotation, and it failed miserably. As the bullpen is currently constructed, the Braves are relying heavily on Chris Martin… Luke Jackson and Josh Tomlin from the right side. I can tell you right now that’s not going to cut it. For the record: no, I don’t think Shane Greene is the answer, but Anthopoulos had all offseason to address this, and he chose to overlook it. That could come back to bite the Braves in the ass over the course of this season.
The back-end of the lineup
It’s difficult to really criticize anybody on the Braves offensive performance because, to this point, nobody has been very reliable. However, we knew that Atlanta’s first six in the order could rival anybody’s in the majors coming into this season. However, the questions in the lineup begin with Austin Riley and Cristian Pache. Atlanta needs Riley to have a breakout year and Pache to be serviceable at the very least. So far, Riley has three singles — good for a .231 average — which is actually the second-best mark on the team through four games, but Pache is hitting just .143 with six strikeouts in 14 at-bats. Although the Braves centerfielder has come extremely close to some clutch hits in two different games, but the foul line hasn’t been his friend.
As I said, it’s far too early to judge anybody’s bat this early in the season. Ozzie Albies has yet even to record a hit, and Freddie Freeman is batting .077. However, those aren’t the guys I’m worried about. Riley and Pache need to step up if the Braves want to make another deep postseason run.
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