The Atlanta Braves are struggling through a handful of games on the West Coast, losing seven straight in a stretch of games that has dropped Atlanta to three games behind the Washington Nationals and has left fans and analysts alike wondering if this team plans to bounce back any time soon.
Atlanta’s struggles through the past seven games boils down to poor pitching combined with putrid batting efforts from the majority of the men that have stepped up to the plate. The Braves have had more than their fair share of bad efforts on the mound in the last week, giving up a little more than four runs per outing that included an eight-run output by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jul. 29 followed by ten runs from the hapless San Diego Padres on Aug. 1.
The loss to the Padres to start the month of August is the most concerning due to the continued struggles of starter Mike Minor. Minor was forgiven for his unsuccessful efforts to start the 2014 campaign due to his offseason injury issues, but his last start’s stats are jarring: 9 hits, 5 runs, 2 home runs allowed, and just one strikeout. This effort–which came against a Padres club that is 10 games below .500 and is ranked dead last in batting average, runs, on base percentage, and slugging percentage–sadly stands as just another chapter of the disappointing season that the twenty-six-year-old has had.
It seemed to be a forgone conclusion that the former first round draft pick by the Braves would have to step up and take charge in the absence of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, yet the former Vanderbilt Commodore has regressed tremendously. Through seventeen starts in 2014, Minor holds a 4-7 record with an ERA of 5.42 and 87 strikeouts, numbers that are well below expectations. Atlanta is currently in an uncomfortable funk that needs to be vacated quickly, which means that changes in order to right the ship are likely. If Minor has another awful outing when he takes the mound again on the Washington Nationals on Sunday, Aug. 10, look for manager Fredi Gonzalez to opt to remove Minor in favor of David Hale or another starter who is waiting in the wings.
In case you have been living under a rock for the last four months, the Braves’ batting numbers are dreadful, leaving the team slotted 28th in runs, 22nd in batting average and on base percentage, and 26th in slugging percentage, and those numbers were verified by several mediocre games against the Dodgers, Padres, and the Seattle Mariners. It is important to point out that Atlanta has faced a few aces in their time out west in L.A.’s Clayton Kershaw and Mariners star Felix Hernandez, but it does not excuse the struggles that have been felt night after night.
The team’s worst offensive production was undoubtedly the aforementioned Aug. 1 game against the Padres when they faced Eric Stults. Stults is tied with Minnesota’s Kevin Correia with thirteen losses on the year, yet he fooled the likes of Freddie Freeman (0-4, 1 K) and shortstop Andrelton Simmons (0-3) into thinking he was a Cy Young candidate, allowing just two hits in 6.1 innings of work. It is no secret that the Braves are an all-or-nothing offensive squad, but something needs to change considering the fact that it has been not nearly enough in the past few matchups.
In order for the Braves to continue to their winning ways, the team needs to focus on getting Freeman back on track. Freeman was putting up All-Star quality numbers in the first half of the season but has struggled as of late, hitting .206 since play resumed on Jul. 18. Known as one of Atlanta’s more consistent hitters in a lineup with players like Justin Upton who rely greatly on home run power, Atlanta desperately needs Freeman to return to form to avoid stranding runners in scoring position on a nightly basis. The Braves have certainly not faired very well away from home these past few days, but if Freeman can deliver a few hits in Wednesday’s game against Seattle, it can provide the hope the team needs as they continue on.
The Braves finish their West Coast visit on Wednesday afternoon with a matchup against the Seattle Mariners, which is then followed by a three-game series against the Washington Nationals that starts on Friday. The Washington matchup, which could prove to be sink or swim for the Braves, is then succeeded by another series against the Dodgers followed by a visit from the AL-leading Oakland A’s before the Braves hit the road again to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.