3 takeaways for Braves after another vexing loss to Nats

June 9th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- Braves players and coaches have spent the past few weeks repeatedly saying their underperforming offense will eventually erupt and live up to its potential. They might be as tired saying this as the fans are of hearing it.

But hope is all they have during a rough stretch that was extended with a 7-3 loss to the Nationals on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park. Or maybe that’s not the appropriate term.

“I think this team is too good to hope,” Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton said. “I think this team is really, really good. I say that based on what this team has done the past three-and-a-half years since I came back here. The core is the same, essentially.”

Even with the season-ending losses suffered by Cy Young Award candidate Spencer Strider and reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves still have a star-studded roster. So how has this team lost 20 of its last 36 games, including 14 of their past 23?

“We haven’t not been playing good baseball. We just haven’t been hitting,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ve been pitching really good. We had a great start [from Chris Sale on Friday]. We’ve just had a tough time scoring runs.”

This marked just the 12th time in 45 games the Braves lost when scoring at least three runs this year. Unfortunately, it was just one of those days for Morton, who was questioning his approach after this outing.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s loss:

Former teammate foils Charlie

Morton’s day began inauspiciously, as Nationals leadoff hitter CJ Abrams became the latest left-handed hitter to be hit on the foot by Morton’s breaking ball. Lane Thomas followed with a single and set the stage for former Brave Eddie Rosario’s two-run double in the first. Rosario, who entered the game hitting .181, added an RBI single that helped the Nationals score an unearned run in the fifth.

Morton ended up allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits over five innings. He certainly wasn’t as good as he had been on Sunday, when he blanked the A’s over six innings. But the 4.12 ERA he has produced through 12 starts is pretty much what should have been expected from a 40-year-old fourth starter.

Or maybe, it’s better to point out that he would have a 3.00 ERA if you take away the two starts he’s made against a Nationals team that consistently puts the ball in play.

“My execution and command was no better or worse than it’s ever been,” Morton said. “They spit on all these curveballs below the zone. They foul off the ones that are in the zone or at the bottom of the zone. Then they stay on them and put them in play or drive them.

“If my stuff is down and I’m not throwing mid-to-upper 90s and I’m not getting a lot of swing-and-miss, I might need to re-think what we’re doing here.”

Murphy's homer

Sean Murphy’s seventh-inning home run didn’t create much suspense on Saturday. But the solo shot certainly provided a reminder of what the 2023 All-Star catcher could do to lengthen the lineup. He strained his left oblique on Opening Day and remained sidelined until May 27. He is now 5-for-31 with two extra-base hits since being activated.

“We’ll keep making adjustments,” Murphy said. “One homer doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods or whatever you want to call it. But it was a good swing. I’ve just got to bottle it up and take a few more of those.”

Ugly fifth inning

Unfortunately for Murphy, he also committed one of the multiple errors that plagued the Braves throughout the fifth. He struck out on a pitch-clock violation after Michael Harris was hit by a MacKenzie Gore pitch to begin the top half. Harris scored on Ozzie Albies’ two-out double.

Austin Riley was charged with an error when Matt Olson couldn’t pick his throw out of the dirt in the bottom half of the inning. Morton then made an errant pickoff attempt that moved Lane Thomas to third, and in position to score on Rosario’s RBI single.

This led a reporter to ask Snitker if he felt he needed to say anything to his team to make sure they remained focused.

“I don’t know,” Snitker said. “I’ll say something when I feel something needs to be said.”