This week has been tough on all of us. The Atlanta Braves are mired in the biggest slump of the season, they’ve lost 6 games in a row, and they can’t hit their way out of a wet paper sack. For many, this will be their first taste of panic in the 2014. For me, this is just the other side of the bang-or-bust pendulum. Many Braves fans out there are concerned. Let me spend this week telling you why it’s far too early for that kind of that thinking.
Let’s start with some simple historical context. In May of 2012, the Braves lost 8 games in a row. They still ended up winning 94 games. The Braves lost 5 of 6 in May 2013 last year, including 3 of 4 to the Giants. They won 96 games that year. Other teams have huge early lulls as well. Boston lost 9 of 11 games in May last season, and they ended up winning 97 games and a World Series. Losing streaks in late April and early May are largely irrelevant in terms of the standings. What matters is that the Braves were 10 games over .500 before they started this precipitous plunge, and they are still in the lead of the division as of Sunday.
Facing Miami and San Francisco back-to-back is no picnic, as those teams are both in the top 10 of team ERA. It’s not going to be any easier with St. Louis, whose pitchers have moved into the #2 slot in MLB ERA. This is a tough stretch for the Braves hitters, and they are going to have to make some small adjustments to get things going again. In the last week, the Braves are hitting .203 as a team, with 3 homers and only two sacrifices. If they’re not hitting many bombs, or hitting well at all, they need to get better at the little things. That means hitting for contact, moving runners, and getting bunts down.
The cause of most consternation is the Braves hitting with runners in scoring position. While it’s a major problem now, RISP hitting over time should mirror the team average. When it gets completely out of whack, statisticians will tell you it will self-correct. While that’s absolutely true over 20,000 at-bats, it doesn’t really help fans who are watching their team flounder at the plate currently. The Braves are hitting .214 with runners in scoring position. That sounds awful, but then Atlanta only hitting .236 for the season. It’s not that huge of a gap. The good news is that the Braves have never finished lower than .243 for the season in the last 5 years. The averages will almost inherently go up.
So for now, the team just needs to hit better in totality, and the rest will work itself out. Shocking, I know. You can nominate me for a Captain Obvious award later. Part of the reason that the Braves are in this slump is because Freddie Freeman is hitting .125 on the week. As Freddie goes, the team goes. However, Freddie wasn’t alone. Johnson, Simmons, Gattis, and Uggla were also hitting under .200 on the week. In fact, the entire outfield of Heyward, Justin, and BJ were the only players hitting over .250 for the week. I was floored by that as well. Go figure that the 1-2 hitters in the Braves lineup would get hot just in time for the rest of the lineup to play hide-and-seek in a meat locker. It’s a complete reversal of the first four weeks.
What should make you feel better as a Braves fan is that this week stands out as a statistical anomaly. Freddie Freeman (clearly) isn’t a .125 hitter. The 4-8 hitters aren’t sub-Mendoza line players. Well, Dan Uggla has been, but that’s beside the point since we’re all just waiting for him to get benched again. By July, I still think Dan Uggla will be the most expensive cheerleader in baseball. Anyway, the point is that this week was so horrific at the plate, the Braves won’t stay there for very long. This is simply one of the many Braves hitting droughts that fans will witness this season. There will come a game very soon when Atlanta puts 8 runs on the board, and the floodgates will open.
Until then, pray for rain.