Home Sports Braves, down Ronald Acuña Jr., hope May’s malaise doesn’t lead to June swoon — ‘We’re too talented’

Braves, down Ronald Acuña Jr., hope May’s malaise doesn’t lead to June swoon — ‘We’re too talented’

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ATLANTA, GA – MAY 31: Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves slides home scoring a run in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Truist Park on May 31, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

ATLANTA – There are two ways to look at an early season slump like the one the Atlanta Braves are enduring now. The first way is to look at the calendar and remember that it is still early in the season and there are four full months left on the calendar.

The second is to look at all those playoff flags from seasons past hanging over the right field fence at Truist Park, and remember that for most of their history in Atlanta, the Braves were the living embodiment of a truly baseball club. Well. “Pretty good” keeps fans interested. But “pretty good” doesn’t win world championships.

Atlanta is less than three years removed from its most recent World Series victory, and many key members of that team are still on the roster. The team entered 2024 as one of the big favorites to win another ring. But a season-ending injury to Cy Young favorite Spencer Strider early in the season opened a hole in the rotation, and another season-ending injury to Ronald Acuña Jr. just last weekend It sent an already reeling team into a tailspin.

Heading into Friday night’s game against the Oakland Athletics, the Braves had lost 10 of their last 15. They have fallen in three of the last four series, including two in a row against the Pirates and the Nationals below .500. They were already 6½ games behind the Phillies in the division they have won the last six years in a row.

“It’s something that seems to be the topic of conversation every day,” manager Brian Snitker sighed before Friday’s series opener with the weariness of a baseball player who has been through this kind of tough time many times before. “We are working to improve it, and it will be so. At some point, we will warm up.”

Troll the Braves message boards and social media responses, and you’ll find plenty of excuses, justifications, explanations, and interesting opinions.

All those long-term deals the Braves used to capture young talent have softened the team.

Third base coach Ron Washington left Atlanta and took the heart of the team with him.

Chipper Jones is no longer giving batting instructions and now the team can’t determine which end of the bat to swing.

Call it a slump, call it a blackout, even call it depression if you’re feeling brave: The problem with a bumpy road in a baseball season is that there’s no real way to combat it head-to-head. You can’t waste a fastball on a slump, you can’t swing a bat hard enough to break it. It’s like bad luck; Recognizing that it exists makes it more powerful and the only way out is to go through it.

“Baseball is a strange game,” left fielder Jarred Kelenic admitted. “The game will unfold in waves and we are at a low point right now, but we will get out of it. “We have too much talent.” (Kelenic, for the record, scored a two-run double in the second inning about four hours after saying those words. The Braves won 4-2.)

“Sometimes you do everything right and things don’t go your way,” reliever Joe Jimenez said. “It’s baseball.”

Even by “It’s Baseball” standards, this has been an exceptionally bad run of bad luck for the Braves. Strider, the latest in a long line of Braves aces, left the team’s home opener with elbow soreness, and an exam revealed that he needed season-ending UCL repair surgery. . (He remains with the team, in uniform and sporting a huge brace on his right arm to support his recovering elbow.) Then last Sunday, Acuña tore his ACL, costing him the rest of the season for the second time in his career. Fans and teammates have shown him nothing but love, and on Friday he finally spoke to the media to express his gratitude.

“All that support finds me crying alone at home, and the reason this happens is because I feel like I’m the one abandoning the team,” Acuña Jr. said through interpreter Franco García. “It feels like I’m the one who let everyone down.”

“You feel bad for him, because this is the second time he’s gone through that,” Kelenic said. “He is one of the best players in the game right now. The impact he has not only on our team, but also on the game of baseball, is the hardest part to swallow.”

Even before his injury, Acuña was one of many Braves struggling at the plate, and the team now faces a roster-wide blackout. This is what happens when a team built to shoot the ball to the moon suddenly can barely get it out of the infield. Heading into Friday night, the Braves were 16th in the majors with 57 home runs, one below the league average, just a year after tying the team’s all-time record for home runs in a season. They are faring slightly better in other offensive statistical categories, ranking seventh in OBP and eighth in slugging.

“It’s tough when you’re a slugging- and power-based team like we are, and you don’t have that (working),” Snitker said. “But you know what? We’ve done very well over the last five, six, seven years, you know, built like that. “So we have to weather this storm like we have done in the past.”

The problem – or challenge – for Snitker is that you can’t just yell at a big league clubhouse. Professional players generally don’t respond well to that kind of theatrics. “You flip the screen, break the TV or whatever, and they look at you like you have two heads,” Snitker said. “These seasons are never easy. “I’ve never been lucky enough to go through one for six months and everything went well.”

“You have to trust the guys in this (locker room) and things are going to change,” third baseman Zack Short said. “It’s not that everyone goes (to the plate) thinking, ‘Oh, it’s okay, it’s okay.’ “Everyone wants to play better.”

There is some statistical merit in staying calm and carrying on. In 54 games this year, the Braves went 31-23. Last year, at this same point, Atlanta was… 32-22, exactly one game better. The key difference has been the Phillies’ good start; This time last year, Philadelphia had 6½ games. behind Atlanta, not ahead. Philadelphia, at 39-18 entering Friday, is off to the best start in franchise history and the longest winning streak to start a season since the 2001 Seattle Mariners; It’s not great news for Atlanta, given that Phillies teams weaker than this one have knocked the Braves out of the postseason the last two years. The Phillies won on Friday.

Speaking of the postseason, there is still hope for the Braves. At the 54-game mark in the 2021 world championship season, Atlanta was under .500, 26-28 and four games out of first. They didn’t take over the division lead until August 15th…and Acuña missed most of that season as well.

“It’s not like anyone is pouting,” Short said. “Everyone is excited to get to the first pitch, right the ship and get back to doing what this lineup is comfortable doing.”

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