Earlier this week, the Atlanta Braves and their fans celebrated a five-game winning streak – four of which were the first games at SunTrust Park. They had just climbed out of last place in the National League East, and there were visions of this team possibly contending for a playoff spot in October.
Since that winning streak, the Braves have lost five in a row – the second 5-game losing streak of the season. If you take away the emotion of a series sweep in the first four games of a new ballpark, the Braves haven’t started much better than the horrid first games of the 2016 campaign.
Going into Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies – a game they’d need to win to avoid their second consecutive series sweep at the hands of an NL East rival – the Braves have posted a 6-11 record and have slumped back into the last-place spot in the division. They’ve only scored more than five runs in one game this season, and their pitching staff has the fourth-highest earned run average in the NL.
First baseman Freddie Freeman has been hitting the cover off the ball, but despite a league-best .400 batting average and seven home runs that’s only bested by Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eric Thames, he only has nine runs batted in. Nearly every time Freeman has a chance to do some damage, there’s nobody on base.
To figure out why Freeman has driven in minimal runs, you don’t have to look any further than the top of the lineup. Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson, two players that have been billed as the future of the franchise, have a combined 25 hits in 141 plate appearances through Saturday night – a .177 batting average. These guys are supposed to get on base any way possible, but they’ve only walked a combined five times, so it’s not happening there, either.
Manager Brian Snitker demoted Swanson to a lower spot in the batting order and promoted second baseman Brandon Phillips, and that may help get the offense going, but the fact is this roster wasn’t built to win. This patchwork of 30- or 40-something journeymen was meant to entertain a fanbase that was just presented a new stadium, and that’s about it.
But even if they’re only built to entertain, they should start doing it.
For the most part, Braves fans entered the season with realistic expectations with regards to the franchise’s position in the current rebuild. A .500 record and a few sparks of hope during the season would’ve been enough to hold this fanbase over until 2018, when they hope the team will actually begin to contend.
From what we’ve seen in the first 17 games, this Braves team isn’t pathetically listless, nor is it showing any signs of a season-long surge that could put them in contention for a playoff spot. But if this team can only win six of every 17 games, that puts them somewhere between 60 and 70 wins over the course of the season. When you consider their 68-93 record a year ago, that wouldn’t really be a step forward in the rebuilding process.
Braves fans just wanted something to hold them over for the summer until the excitement of Falcons football resumed, and a third- or fourth-place Braves team would’ve done that. But if this squad is destined for 100 losses, and they’ve shown us little to suggest anything to the contrary, it could be a very long summer for Atlanta sports fans.Follow @Sean_Breslin