Braves' bats showing areas for improvement ahead of critical month (2024)

June 30th, 2024

Braves' bats showing areas for improvement ahead of critical month (1)

Mark Bowman

@mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- The Braves’ lineup should improve once Michael Harris II returns from the injured list within the next few weeks. There’s also a chance president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos will land a quality hitter before the July 30 Trade Deadline.

But a little more than halfway through this season, it’s time to accept this Atlanta offense won’t be the juggernaut it was last year.

Spencer Schwellenbach surrendered a pair of two-run homers in the fifth inning of a 4-2 loss to the Pirates on Sunday afternoon at Truist Park. This wouldn’t have been much of a problem last year. But this year’s injury-depleted lineup has had trouble overcoming even slim deficits.

“You know what the guys are capable of,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They just haven’t put it together for an extended period, where it flows. That’s the hard part.”

Losing Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury on May 26 all but guaranteed this group wasn’t going to slug over .500 and hit 300-plus homers for a second straight season. But the month that followed has proven losing the 2023 National League MVP is far from this offense’s only issue.

The Braves have scored two or fewer runs 24 times this year, including four times in their past five games. This matches their 2023 total of such showings.

“Every year is different,” Braves third baseman Austin Riley said. “You go through your challenges. I feel like we still haven’t fully clicked offensively up and down the lineup.”

With Jarred Kelenic, Ozzie Albies, Marcell Ozuna, Matt Olson and Riley filling the lineup’s first five spots, the Braves have plenty of capable run-producers. But Harris’ absence combined with the struggles endured by Adam Duvall, Sean Murphy and Orlando Arcia have created a hole at the bottom of the order.

Along with not generating production at the bottom of their order, the Braves are not creating more opportunities for the top of their lineup.

“You don’t want those guys at the top feeling like they have to carry the whole load,” Snitker said. “I think when we get Michael back, it will do a lot for us.”

Harris, who strained his left hamstring on June 14, was recently cleared to swing off a tee and play catch. He still hasn’t resumed any running exercises. But he may be available to return soon after the All-Star break.

It should be noted that Kelenic has more than capably filled Harris’ roles as a leadoff hitter and center fielder. He has hit .328 with a .980 OPS since moving to the top of the lineup on June 15. Murphy has also shown some signs of life, producing a .960 OPS during this stretch. But no other Braves regular has constructed an OPS of .700 or better within this two-week span.

“It’s been tough to kind of get a big hit,” Snitker said. “I was feeling pretty good about today.”

It looked like the Braves might have turned a corner when they scored six or more runs six times while going 7-1 from June 13-21. But the offense has taken a step back over the past week. Fatigue could be playing a part. A Tuesday night rainout forced a Wednesday doubleheader in St. Louis. This was followed by a quick trip to Chicago for a makeup game against the White Sox on Thursday afternoon.

The Braves scored one run in the second game of the doubleheader and then wasted a Chris Sale gem, as they suffered a 1-0 loss against the White Sox bullpen arms. A five-run inning in Friday night’s win over Pittsburgh only halted the bleeding. A ghost runner scored the second run in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Pirates in 10 innings.

Duvall ended Saturday’s win with a drive that bounced against the right-center-field wall. It was a much-needed morale boost for the veteran outfielder, who has hit .169 with a .535 OPS this year. He has a .892 OPS in 91 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers and an unsightly .240 OPS in 106 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers.

Duvall can’t be counted on as an everyday player. So finding an outfielder should be at the top of Anthopoulos’ priority list as the Trade Deadline nears. Arcia’s .582 OPS isn’t pretty, but his glove at least compensates for some of his offensive shortcomings.

Adding just one piece could give the lineup the length it needs to back a strong pitching staff that was responsible for this weekend’s series win.

“We took two out of three,” Riley said. “You can’t complain about that. We get an off-day. We’ll refresh, regroup and get ready for Tuesday.”

Braves' bats showing areas for improvement ahead of critical month (2024)
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