The offense isn’t the issue. In fact, it’s one of the best groups ever constructed, with a chance to break the Twins’ record for most home runs in a season, along with most players with 20+ long balls. Top to bottom, this lineup can change a game with one swing of the bat.
Despite the records broken, one of the most feared hitters in the game hasn’t been himself — Austin Riley. Over the 2021 and 2022 campaigns, the Braves’ third baseman accrued 71 home runs to go along with a .288/.358/.530 slash line. In that time, he’s also posted a 138 OPS+, which is 38% higher than league average, en route to back-to-back top 10 finishes in the NL MVP voting.
It’s why the Braves gave him the most lucrative deal in franchise history. However, he’s been a shell of himself in 2023. His OPS is about 100 points lower than the previous two seasons, but it’s still about 10% higher than league average, so it’s not like he’s been a tomato can. Riley just isn’t performing to his lofty standards.
There might be a reason for it too. With everyone in the lineup raking, it could make a player feel the need to join the hit parade and press. That’s what hitting coach Kevin Seitzer says, at least.
“He’s trying too hard,” Seitzer said, via The Athletic. “Forcing things a little bit. It happens when a team’s going good and you’re not, and you try and force results. He’s chasing results right now, just trying to do a little too much. Not that he’s trying to hit homers or anything, but he’s just trying to do really good, and his thoughts are on his mechanics, on the pitch, on location …
“So we’ve been talking. He knows what’s going on, now it’s a matter of just simplifying things. That’s his goal right now, just simplifying. Get all the stuff out, hunt his pitch, keep his approach, and get a base hit. Keep it that simple. So we’ll see what happens. But this is a kid that can get hot and be hot for a month-and-a-half. So it’s just a matter of things just starting to click for him, and then stay there.”
More than anyone, Austin Riley can get on a hot streak. During July of last season, the slugger had 11 home runs and a 1.344 OPS. Hot streak doesn’t even accurately define what he did in that period.
Hopefully, Riley’s performance from the first game of the Arizona series is a sign of things to come. Coming into Tuesday night’s contest, Riely was batting .221 in his last 30 games and .167 in his last ten. Then, he put together his best performance of the season, going 3-5 with a double, two homers, and a career-high seven RBIs.
The Braves offense is already a pitcher’s worst nightmare. If Austin Riley can experience some positive regression and go on a bit of a tear, Atlanta’s chances of winning the World Series will grow exponentially.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire