I feel there is an easy explanation as to why the Braves have lost three straight games.
Neither Julio Teheran or Mike Soroka have pitched, and Freddie Freeman has registered one hit in 11 at-bats.
Is this a oversimplification? Probably.
Does that take away its validity as a statement? In my opinion, no.
The Braves find themselves with a 30-27 record on June 1 after going 16-12 in the month of May. Many probably expected a better record, but the Braves currently find themselves right in the middle of the playoff hunt. Yet, things feel a bit differently than they did just last Sunday. At that time, the Braves had completed a sweep of the Cardinals and had won 12 of their last 17 games.
Three games and three losses later, it seems like much of the positive momentum is gone. A three game stretch to end May certainly does not define a season, but it does shed light on some concerns for Atlanta. It is not far fetched to say Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran, Austin Riley, and Freddie Freeman carried the Braves in May (to some extent, the bullpen as well). The Braves were 7-3 when either Soroka or Teheran started. Before this week, they were 9-3 since Riley had joined the lineup.
The successes of these four players hid the struggles of their teammates. As yesterday’s game preview astutely observed, the Braves offense struggled in May. Ten Braves had more than 40 at-bats for the month. Besides Riley and Freeman, each of the other eight position players experienced a significant decline in their OPS in May compared to March and April. Here are the numbers:
Ronald Acuna Jr. .887 to ,764
Josh Donaldson .890 to .752
Ozzie Albies .844 to .615
Dansby Swanson .860 to .694
Nick Markakis .881 to .688
Brian McCann .867 to .683
Tyler Flowers .954 to .570
Johan Camargo .665 to .460
The smallest decline in these numbers was 123 points for Ronald Acuna Jr. Five of the eight players saw a decline of greater than 190 points. Flowers had his OPS decline by 384 points! Overall, the average individual decline among these eight players was 205 points. It should come as no surprise that the Braves have not won during Freeman’s small slump over the past three games.
It cannot be stressed enough that the Braves must regain their offensive successes from April immediately. Starting with Washington, the Braves have five straight series totaling 15 games against teams currently with records at .500 or worse. Losing three straight to begin that stretch is significant. All the playoff percentages, projected records, and praise the Braves were receiving a week ago were under the assumption the Braves would have good success in early June.
Immediately following this stretch of games is a series against the Phillies. In my opinion, there is little doubt the Braves are the best team in the NL East. However, it will be hard to find a more favorable part of the schedule for the Braves to take control of the division. The best way to right the ship is to take it one game at a time. Thankfully, today’s game features Mike Soroka on the mound.
Soroka (1.07 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 3.67 xFIP) has legitimately been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. For pitchers with more than 50 innings pitched, Soroka has produced the lowest ERA and OPS against measures in baseball. He also has registered the third highest GB percentage this year. He has not allowed more than one earned run in each of his eight starts. He truly has become Atlanta’s stopper and ace, and his turn in the rotation could not come at a better time.
Opposing Soroka for the Tigers will be southpaw Daniel Norris (4.18 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 4.71 xFIP). Norris is 2-3 on the season, but is coming off back to back starts of allowing just two runs while pitching more than five innings in each. While Norris has produced the best GB% of his career in 2019, he has allowed nine home runs in just over 51 innings pitched. Of those nine home runs, five have come in his past four starts. With Norris also carrying the best walk rate of his career, Atlanta will see plenty of pitches to hit. Hopefully, with the success they have had against left-handers, they will be able to grab the lead early for Soroka.
The Braves definitely will be favored to win, and with their ace on the mound, they have no excuses not too. After two embarrassing losses, it is critical the Braves offense and bullpen gets back on track as soon as possible. The Braves are a very talented team: they must start playing like it again immediately to achieve the special season they are capable of having.
WPA-Soroka-No Words Needed.
Game Date/Time: Saturday, June 1st, 4:10 PM ET
Location: SunTrust Park, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: 680 AM / 93.7 FM The Fan, Rock 100.5, Braves Radio Network