There have been many lows so far this season, and more often than not, it seems like nothing can go right, but last night’s loss to the Mets might have taken the cake as far as disappointment goes. Outside of starting pitching, as Tucker Davidson performed admirably in his first appearance for the Braves this season, the Braves failed miserably again in the other two phases.
Offensively, Atlanta clawed their way back in the later innings, but they still recorded just five hits and struck out an unsightly 15 times. That’s not how you win ball games, especially with a rookie pitcher on the mound. The bullpen was solid for a couple of innings, as Luke Jackson and Tyler Matzek cruised in the 7th and 8th, respectively, but like clockwork, Will Smith faltered in the ninth, leading to the loss.
The Braves are now four games back in the NL East about a quarter of the way through the season. They have some glaring holes, and it’s passed the time to shake things up.
Move Austin Riley up in the order
Frankly, this is a no-brainer, and I’m not sure why it’s taken Brian Snitker so long to make this move. Austin Riley — yes, Austin Riley — has been the Braves best hitter over the last month, and it isn’t particularly close. He leads the team in OBP and, as of late, has started to see a boost in the power department as well. Since April 17th, Riley is slashing .337/.451/.543 with five homers, four doubles, and perhaps most impressively, 17 walks. This is a player that projected as a cleanup guy when he was a prospect, and he’s beginning to show the signs of that with consistency. Albies has been pretty hot of late, but he’s not a cleanup hitter, and there’s simply no reason Swanson should keep hitting in front of Riley every night. The Braves shortstop has been a walking strikeout so far this season.
Move Freddie Freeman back to the three-hole
Moving Riley isn’t the only change to the lineup I would make. The decision by Snitker to hit Freeman second last season was one of his more brilliant adjustments over his tenure as Braves manager, but that’s because it made sense in 2020 with the DH in the National League. Deciding to move him back to the two-hole this season almost seemed like a desperate attempt to find the mojo the Braves offense was missing over the first couple of weeks. It doesn’t make much sense from a tactical perspective. I would like to see Snitker move Freeman back and put Ozzie up to second. That would allow Ozuna and Riley to hit fourth and fifth.
Remove the closer title from Will Smith
The bullpen definitely needs some shaking up; they’ve been the most disappointing aspect of the Braves in 2021. It seems like every night a different reliever decides to break the hearts of Atlanta fans everywhere. Yesterday, it was Will Smith, who has been underwhelming since the Braves signed him two offseasons ago. He now has an ERA of nearly five this season and a 4.68 mark as a member of the Braves. You can’t blame it on COVID anymore; there’s no reason for Brian Snitker to keep trotting him out there like a closer. In fact, Smith only has one year of experience as a closer. Perhaps, with a little less pressure, we could start to see the Smith that had so much success in San Francisco. I think Tyler Matzek has done more than enough to deserve an opportunity to close games with his performance over the last two seasons, and he also has much more powerful stuff.
Bring up Shane Greene and Jonathan Lucroy
The Braves made a couple of mid-season free-agent signings to patch up some holes, and they should be in Atlanta sooner rather than later. I understand they want to give Greene some time in Gwinnett to warm up, but with how bad this bullpen has been, it might be better just to get him to Atlanta and let him work out the kinks on the go. It certainly can’t be much worse.
Lucroy already had a Spring Training and even played well for the Nationals early in the season, hitting .357 in five games. He should be in Atlanta very soon. The Braves can’t keep sending Jeff Mathis out there, even as a backup to William Contreras.