I’ve talked a lot about how it’s way too early to worry about the Braves. Is being 10 games back in the division as the calendar turns to June ideal? Absolutely not. Will it be extremely difficult to catch up to the Mets? Yes. But is it possible? Very much so, and the Braves can also make it into the postseason by nabbing one of the Wild Card spots, which are well within their reach.
The panic meter is still low with this team; there’s so much baseball left to play. But with that being said, there are three aspects of this team that I feel need to be addressed if they want to make a serious run and repeat as champions.
I’ve mentioned it several times early this season; if there’s one player in the lineup I’m worried about, it’s Adam Duvall, and it’s because we’ve seen this from him before. Back when the Braves acquired Duvall from the Reds in 2018, he came to Atlanta and hit .132 with a single extra-base hit and no home runs in 33 games. At that time, there was no saving him, and it took a lengthy stint in AAA for him to return in 2019 like the guy who was an All-Star in Cincinnati.
Unfortunately, the Braves don’t have the luxury to stash him in AAA this time around, and there is nothing to suggest that Duvall is coming out of this slump. All of his peripherals paint the picture of one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Here are some highlights from his Baseball Savant page:
- Bottom 41% in HardHit%
- Bottom 25% in Avg Exit Velocity
- Bottom 14% in xSLG
- Bottom 6% in xwOBA
- Bottom 3% xBA
- Bottom 3% in K%
If it weren’t for Duvall’s above-average defense, he would be performing as poorly as any player in the majors. Even still, I’m not sure how much longer the Braves can stick with him. There’s a reason Atlanta didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Michael Harris. If Duvall can’t find some success soon, he might find himself out of the lineup altogether.
Like most Braves fans, I’m sick and tired of Brian Snitker trotting Will Smith out to the mound in high-leverage situations. Outside of his magic October last season — which, don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly grateful for — Smith has been a dismal relief pitcher since the Braves signed him. In his three seasons with Atlanta, he’s posted a 4.95 FIP. That can’t be the case for a pitcher that’s constantly asked to set things up in the eighth inning.
And to make matters worse, it appears as if Smith is on his way to his worst season in a Braves uniform. His FIP is sitting at 5.68, his WHIP is the highest it has been in his career since 2014, and his 8.4 K/9 is below 10 for the first time since he was a rookie. The eye test doesn’t do Smith any favors either. The more he’s used in high leverage situations, the more games the Braves are going to find themselves losing.
I’m not in the locker room, so there’s no way for me to attest to this, but it sure feels like there isn’t a lot of accountability in the clubhouse. The amount of boneheaded errors the Braves make on a nightly basis is mind-boggling, and yesterday was a perfect example of that. These are little league mistakes that focused teams almost never make, yet the Braves are making several every time they step on the field.
I believe it is a mixture of things, but the losses of key leaders like Freddie Freeman and Joc Pederson have obviously hurt a little more than many might have initially imagined. Baseball is extremely analytically based, but every winning team has players that mean more than what’s on the back of their baseball card. I’m not sure who that is for the Braves right now, and it should be a priority for Alex Anthopoulos if he makes any moves before the trade deadline.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire