Braves stumble through first 20 games
As yesterday’s game at Dodger Stadium entered the ninth inning, I was wondering what to make of the fact that the Braves were just three outs away from suffering their 11th loss in a span of 16 games. Once David Ross delivered his go-ahead single with two outs in the ninth, I started thinking Fredi Gonzalez’s club might be three outs away from notching the win that would get them rolling.
Then after Craig Kimbrel experienced his worst inning of the young season and Matt Kemp was given a chance to swing with first base open, it felt like the Braves were staring at their most demoralizing loss of the season.
Such is life in a baseball world where every pitch of every day is scrutinized. Less than an hour after positioning themselves for what could have been the most inspiring win of the young season, the Braves suffered what has been their most demoralizing loss of this young season.
The 8-12 record the Braves possess entering tonight’s series opener in San Francisco equals the mark they had through the first 20 games of last year. On the way to completing a nine-game losing streak, last year’s Braves actually fell to 8-14.
There wasn’t a whole lot of optimism at this time last year and truthfully, there isn’t a lot to like about this team right now.
The pitching has provided some reason for optimism. But this has obviously been a rough week for the bullpen, which lost Peter Moylan to a lower back strain last weekend and then spent the past couple days without Jonny Venters, who is dealing with discomfort in his left biceps muscle.
The Braves seem optimistic about Venters, who hasn’t pitched since Tuesday’s 27-pitch appearance. Multiple sources have said he could be available to pitch tonight. But it still isn’t comforting to know that this valuable left-handed reliever is ailing this early in the season, especially at the same time as Moylan, who serves as the bullpen’s other workhorse.
Nor has it been comforting for Braves’ fans to watch their offense at any point this season. With just 12 percent of the season complete, this is the time of year when folks in the baseball world stress the need to remain patient.
While telling media members and fans to remain patient, the Braves might need to start showing more patience at the plate. Or at least something similar to the amount they displayed last year.
The Braves led the National League with a .339 on-base percentage last year. With many of the same players, they have posted an NL-worst .297 on-base percentage this year.
Through the first 20 games of this year, the Braves have batted .230 drawn 61 walks and scored 69 runs. After 20 games last year, they had batted .228 drawn 98 walks and scored 77 runs.
Every season and situation is different. But through an equal amount of games the Braves have drawn 37 fewer walks than they did last year. Oddly, they have also compiled exactly 37 fewer plate appearances than they did through the first 20 games of last year.
I’ve started to hear some rumblings about how some of the guys haven’t clicked with new hitting coach Larry Parrish. But I discount this like I did many of the criticisms directed toward Terry Pendleton, when he was the hitting coach the past couple of seasons. (As a reminder, if any of you feel the need you can still issue those apologies to TP at many different first base boxes throughout the summer).
Most of these guys in the lineup are established Major Leaguers who know what it takes to find success. With that being said, I think it’s very important that Parrish address some of the mechanical and approach issues that have led Jason Heyward hit just .188 (12-for-64) with four homers this year.
Heyward still has great upside and potentially a tremendous future. But scouts seemed to have identified some holes that their pitchers are exploiting. It’s time for Heyward to respond with the necessary adjustments.
While Heyward has struggled, Freddie Freeman has flourished over the past week recording six hits, including a double and three homers in his past 17 at-bats. The 21-year-old first baseman will be subjected to some more unavoidable rookie struggles. But this kid seems to be one of those who was born to hit.