Every time the Braves seem to be turning things around, they take two steps back, or perhaps it’s just the Blue Jays. But regardless, they haven’t been able to get over the .500 hump this season, which is odd for a team that was so dominant a year ago. A lot will be made of Atlanta’s pitching, and it certainly hasn’t been good — in both phases — but this team has always been about the offense. If they want to turn this ship around and catch the Mets, the bats will have to wake up.
The Braves pitching has been abysmal so far this season. Their starting pitchers have accumulated just 0.9 fWAR (27th in the MLB) and own a combined 4.45 ERA. The relief pitching has been equally as concerning, boasting a 4.66 ERA through the first month-plus. However, the Braves didn’t have much pitching last year, either.
Sure, they featured an elite bullpen that never blew a lead after the 7th inning (wouldn’t that be nice), but their rotation was a certified dumpster fire. They were sending out the likes of Tommy Milone, Robbie Erlin, and Josh Tomlin for over half of their starts. Outside of Max Fried, the rest of their rotation combined for -0.4 WAR. And even with Fried, Atlanta’s starting pitchers had a combined ERA of 5.66. This was among the worst rotations in baseball, but the Braves still had no problem running away with the NL East. Why? Because their lineup was unstoppable.
Atlanta finished 2020 first or second in every offensive category. They were 1st in OPS, 2nd in runs scored, 2nd in slugging, 1st OBP, and 2nd in batting average. This group was a juggernaut, but that’s been far from the case in 2021.
Outside of slugging (6th) and OPS (9th), the Braves aren’t top-ten in any offensive category. They are 11th in runs scored, 16th in OBP, and 19th in batting average. That’s not abysmal, but they will need a lot more if they want to win their fourth consecutive NL East title. The Braves rely on offense, and so far, it has been the key contributors that haven’t stepped up.
Besides Ronald Acuna, who has even been in a bit of a slump himself recently, none of the Braves bats in the middle of the order seem to know the season has already started. Freddie Freeman just recently eclipsed the Mendoza Line (the .200 batting average threshold), and both Marcell Ozuna (.204) and Dansby Swanson (.212) have worse batting averages than him. Ozzie Albies is hitting just .230, and the frightening part about that is, he has the third-highest batting average among the Braves starters. Only two (Acuna and Riley) have an OPS above .800, and four of them are boasting an OPS of .650 are worse. Top prospect Cristian Pache is hitting just .113, and his OPS is a just as unsightly .331 mark.
We can sit here and point the blame at the pitching, Alex Anthopoulos, Brian Snitker‘s decision-making, and Liberty Media’s lack of spending. However, those things have been constants throughout the Braves’ recent three-year tear through the NL East. The offense has always carried this team, and if they want to turn this around, the bats will have to pick it up.
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