Welcome to an abbreviated, off-day week-in-review. The Atlanta Braves mostly played terrible baseball last week. Let’s talk about why.
Atlanta Completes Padre Sweep; Gets Swept by Gnats and Phillies
Ah, the good old days of seven days ago. I remember them like it was only six days ago. The Braves and their fans were floating on the good vibes of a new ballpark and swept the poor, hapless Padres out of town like they were the 2015 Atlanta Braves after a walk-off single by struggling rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. The Braves record stood at 6 wins, 6 losses and it felt like they could take on the world.
Now the Braves are 6-12 after getting first swept at home by the the rival Walgreen Nationals and then swept on the road by the rival Philadephia Phillies. They lost in close games. They lost in blow-outs. They got some good starting pitching. They got some good hitting. They got some good bullpen work. Unfortunately, they never got all three of those things all in the same game.
So three weeks into the season, and needless to say all is not well in Braves Nation.
How To Fix the Atlanta Braves
I don’t think “How to Fix the Braves” articles really should be written prior to May 1. Small samples, guys.
— Brent Blackwell (@brentblackwell) April 20, 2017
When a team starts out like the Braves have this season, fanbases immediately want changes to fix things. Promote players. Demote players. Fire managers. Fire coaches. All of the above.
Here’s the thing. There’s no magic switch that will suddenly flip the team into high gear. Maybe they’ll switch out some bench guys (paging Lane Adams). They will continue to play bullpen patty-cake with Gwinnett. But what will “fix” the Braves is key players playing up to their talent level. In particular that’s shortstop Dansby Swanson and centerfielder Ender Inciarte.
As of this writing Swanson is hitting .139/.162/.194 (-6 wRC+). To say I expected this poor of a start would be disingenuous, but it shouldn’t be somewhat surprising that a young player with only six weeks of major league experience (and only a little over a year of pro experience) may have some adjustments to make coming into his first big league Opening Day assignment. A look at Swanson’s batted ball profile suggests that a) he’s having trouble with sliders and b) he’s been experiencing awful luck on balls in play. Swanson is a smart guy and a talented hitter. He will improve against the slider and as long as he keeps hitting the ball hard, things like this will stop happening him.
Ender Inciarte is currently hitting .208/.238/.390 (64 +wRC+), which is not ideal for a top-of-the-order hitter either. There’s more of a track record with Inciarte than with Swanson, so it seems like Inciarte is getting more of the benefit of the doubt with fans. It also helps that Inciarte also just went on a power surge the week before. Inciarte is a career .248/.289/.329 first half hitter, so perhaps some of these struggles could be expected. The question is how long do the Braves keep Inciarte hitting lead-off? With few good other options, I’m guessing he’ll be on a long leash.
The third major lineup under-performer is Adonis Garcia, who is hitting .194/.229/.299 (43 wRC+) on the young season. Garcia is a better hitter than this obviously, but unlike Swanson and Inciarte he’s not a high-grade defender with a strong pedigree like Swanson or a top-grade defender like Inciarte. Quite frankly, Garcia is probably one Rio Ruiz hot streak from slipping into a platoon.
These guys will start producing. Hopefully that happens before some of the hot starting players inevitably cool off.
OFR’s Players of the Week
Atlanta Player of the Week: Freddie Freeman must have had a good week since FanGraphs has officially designated him an Elite Slugger. Nothing would obviously top that honor, so we will humbly just give him our meager Player of the Week honor for his ridiculous .455/.586/1.091 performance over the last seven days that included an Atlanta Braves record 12 plate appearance streak of getting on base.
Atlanta Pitcher of the Week: Last week winner Arodys Vizcaino had not one but two meltdowns this week, so this week we’re giving the Kiss of Death to right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, who pitched to a 1.93 ERA over two starts, going 7 innings in each and striking out 12.
Minor League Player of the Week: As upsetting as life the big league club’s struggles have been this week, things have been going pretty well overall down on the farm. One of the big stories has been Fire Frogs catcher Alex Jackson, who gets our Player of the Week honors for his .367/.387/.733, 231 wRC+ week and for helping make the early returns on the Braves two trades with Seattle look pretty good so far.
Minor League Pitcher of the Week: Gwinnett’s Lucas Sims will grab the ring for this one thanks to a 7-inning, 3-hit gem against Rochester on Wednesday.
…And Knowing Is Half The Battle
After another three game series in Citi Field versus the Mets, the Braves will travel to Milwaukee for three against the Brew Crew. Most fans know that the Braves played in Milwaukee prior to moving to Atlanta.
The Braves had a 1146-890 record while playing in Milwaukee from 1953 to 1965, good for a .563 winning percentage. That winning percentage is the second best of any Major League Baseball team playing in a single city, bested only by the New York Yankees .569 mark.
Quote of the Week
I’m starting to feel a little better about where I need to be. A lot of that is Freddie [Freeman] and Matt [Kemp], and [hitting coach Kevin] Seitzer. I have a lot of good resources around me. A lot of it is mental. They’re really good at keeping you positive, and throwing all of the mental things out. So, yeah, it’s a blessing to have guys like that around me.
– Dansby Swanson, on his early struggles