Through 60 games, the Braves are now 29-31 — good for third place in the NL East — and four games back of the Mets for first. If this were 2020, the season would be over, and the Braves probably would have been left out of the expanded playoffs. That’s how brutal it’s been, and it’s well past time to accept that this is much more than a slow start. The Braves just aren’t clicking, and it feels like a different aspect of the team betrays them each night.
You can’t blame injuries and missed games for everything. That is something every club will deal with at one point or another; just look at the Mets, who have handled it much better than the Braves. However, it’s impossible to ignore all the firepower Atlanta has lost since opening day.
Mike Soroka never even played, but he was expected to be a critical piece to the rotation by early May. Now, he’s not likely to return this season. Then Huascar Ynoa, who was one of the few bright spots on the Braves during the first month-plus of the season, joined him on the IL when he foolishly punched the dugout after a poor start in Milwaukee. However, the rotation really hasn’t been the problem for the Braves — at least of late — even as disappointing as the Drew Smyly signing has been.
The missing pieces that have hindered Atlanta the most are Travis d’Arnaud and Marcell Ozuna. d’Arnaud tore a ligament in his hand and might not even return this season. Thankfully, William Contreras has stepped up in his place, but who knows if his offensive production is sustainable over an entire season. Hopefully, it is, or the Braves are in even more trouble. We all know what happened to Ozuna, and there’s little doubt about it — he won’t play this season, and he may never play in Atlanta ever again if what’s been reported so far is 100% accurate.
On paper, the Braves’ offense hasn’t been terrible. They are 10th in runs scored and 4th in OPS, but it’s been extremely hit or miss, and they’ve scored three runs or less in far too many games. The missing pieces haven’t helped, but it’s more than that.
Freddie Freeman, who carried Atlanta’s offense for significant portions of last season on his way to the NL MVP award, is amid the worst season of his career. Much of it is abysmal luck, as the advanced analytics suggest he’s due for substantial positive regression. However, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and right now, his .784 OPS is very underwhelming for his standards.
I’m incredibly confident Freeman will turn it around and potentially be the best offensive player in the National League for the rest of the season. Still, the black hole in the lineup is in centerfield, and it could have been avoided. Everyone thought Cristian Pache was the answer, but unfortunately, he just isn’t ready offensively for major-league baseball. The Braves decided not to retain a high-quality backup plan like Adam Duvall, and they are paying the price. This was simply oversight from Alex Anthopoulos. Even if Anthopoulos didn’t believe Duvall was worth the money, which he probably hasn’t been in 2021, the Braves shouldn’t be relying on guys like Abraham Almonte and Ender Inciarte.
This one undoubtedly should have been first, but I thought I would ease the readers into it. The Braves bullpen has been miserable all season. They own the fifth-worst bullpen ERA at 4.78 — a complete 180 from last season. And once again, this is something that could have been easily avoided. Alex Anthopoulos let two of his top relievers walk in free agency without replacing them, and it’s constantly bitten them in the ass. The Braves bullpen has lost a league-leading 16 games and is one of the primary reasons why the team is a remarkable 0-9 when tied after seven innings.
Meanwhile, Mark Melancon is enjoying sunny San Diego while blessing their fans with an NL-leading 19 saves and sporting a minuscule 0.66 ERA. Look, I understood what Anthopoulos was thinking. Melancon’s peripherals were murky, and he’s inching toward 40. Not to mention, the Braves had a lot of high-quality relief options on paper before the start of the season. Unfortunately, Anthopoulos didn’t account for all the regression that could occur from guys like Chris Martin, AJ Minter, Tyler Matzek, and Jacob Webb. He also underestimated what it takes to be a closer because the Braves certainly don’t have a guy who is mentally prepared to get the final three outs of a game.
The Tables Have Turned
There are so many stats you can look at, but for the last three seasons, the Braves have been the comeback kids. They’ve come through time and time again when it looked like they were dead to rights, which is why they cruised to three straight division titles. Now, the baseball gods seem to be getting even. The Braves have already lost six games this season when leading going into the seventh inning. They were 103-6 in such games from 2019-2020.
The Braves are now 25-6 when leading going into the seventh inning. That matches their combined loss total of the past two seasons, when they went 103-6 in such games.
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) June 10, 2021
As I stated earlier, the Braves are also 0-9 in games when tied in the 7th inning or later. Some of it has to do with a dreadful bullpen; some of it is the bats not coming through when needed, and some of it is just plain luck that is finally going against them. The good news is they can’t possibly continue to lose every close game they are involved in. Still, the longer this trend continues, the more pressure they will feel to close games, which became overwhelmingly apparent in this past series against the Phillies.
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