Braves get to Burnes but still need more from bats

May 19th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Maybe it seems ridiculous to critique the offense after the Braves suffered a 7-6, 11-inning loss to the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon at American Family Park. The lineup did score four runs off reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes. And it was the bullpen that squandered leads in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings.

Still, if looking at the big picture and assessing what has been the Braves’ most glaring problem thus far, it’s hard to ignore how significantly the offense has underperformed this year. The back-to-back homers Austin Riley and Marcell Ozuna hit against Burnes in the four-run third created encouragement. But the scoreless six innings that followed left no room for error as Kenley Jansen’s streak of 26 consecutive saves ended with two outs in the ninth.

“Continue to add on in that game is what you need to do,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “[Burnes] is a rough ride, but you still have to do that.”

Keston Hiura’s two-run homer off Jesse Chavez ended this eventful battle. But the most influential plate appearance may have occurred when Jansen walked Jace Peterson to begin the ninth. Peterson scored when Kolten Wong smacked a high 3-2 fastball for a two-out, game-tying triple. Wong battled back from an 0-2 count.

“That’s just a great piece of hitting by Kolten Wong,” Jansen said. “What can I say? The leadoff walk killed me.”

Maybe in this one moment, Jansen didn’t do his job. But as the Braves have lost 21 of their first 38 games, their issue hasn’t been this veteran closer, who has posted a 1.71 ERA over the 46 appearances he’s made since his final blown save of the 2021 season. 

Jansen didn’t like the result and Max Fried felt he battled inconsistent fastball command while allowing the Brewers three runs in six innings. But it’s not the pitching staff that needs to turn things around for the Braves to get going this year.

“These guys are great,” Jansen said. “They are world champions. I expect them to continue keeping their head up and get better. I think it’s going to come around pretty soon here. We need to continue to pitch well. Great things will happen when you continue to pitch well and the offense will pick up.”

The Braves’ lineup includes six players who have had at least one 30-homer season within the past three years. Dansby Swanson, who has been the team’s most consistent hitter, finished three home runs shy of joining the 30-homer club last year.

So it’s not necessarily surprising to see the Braves second among National League teams with 47 homers. But the lack of consistent production throughout the lineup has also led the reigning World Series champs to rank ninth in the 15-team NL in both runs and OPS at the end of Wednesday’s game.

The Braves scored in just three of the first 27 innings of this three-game series. Yeah, the Brewers boast one of the game’s best pitching staffs. But championship caliber teams should only do so much hat tipping. 

“I’ve seen some things in this series start to come together in a good way,” Snitker said. “There’s some real good things are fixin’ to happen right now. I saw a lot of positive signs in this series.”  

Ozuna’s bat has been lifeless most of the past few weeks, but he did manage to go 4-for-11 with two homers in the series. Albies also drove a couple of balls to the wall. Riley’s homer was his eighth of the year, but his first since May 2.  

Another positive was the return of Ronald Acuña Jr., who had missed five games with a sore groin before coming back and making his presence known immediately in Tuesday’s win. His only significant contribution on Wednesday came when his elbow guard was nicked by a two-out pitch ahead of the homers Riley and Ozuna hit against Burnes.

Matt Olson leads then Majors with 15 doubles and his .820 OPS is the team’s only OPS above .800 among qualified hitters. But the first baseman has hit just .176 with a .631 OPS over 24 games going back to April 22. Making this problematic is the fact he has been more productive than Ozzie Albies (.598 OPS), Adam Duvall (.543 OPS) and Ozuna (.521) during this span. 

Still the Braves are remaining optimistic that they can follow last year’s path, which was bumpy through the end of July and then quite smooth through the end of the World Series. 

“I think things are starting to click and you’re going to see guys taking off soon,” Fried said.