Last Week in Atlanta – Week 6

It’s been a tough week. Injuries and losses have left the Braves with a four-game losing streak going into a tricky week of games against a couple of the AL’s best teams. Are there reasons to be optimistic?

Overall Record: 25-15, 1st place in NL East

Record this week: 1-4

Best moment of the week:

The Braves’ one win this week was a solid team effort, with every Brave reaching base at least once alongside a quality start for Charlie Morton, but the standout performance this week came – once again – from Spencer Strider. He threw 110 pitches (with 80 strikes!) in 6⅔ innings of work, giving up five hits and two runs. While that’s usually enough to hand the win to a potent Braves offence, on this occasion, they were shut out by a complete game two-hitter from Chris Bassitt. The Braves had their chances, as they loaded the bases in the top of the fifth – but they couldn’t come through to pick up the win.

Worst moment of the week:

Even with all the losses, it’s back to injuries this week. After his six innings of work against the Orioles on May 6, Braves ace Max Fried landed back onto the IL with forearm tightness on Monday. That’s a dreaded injury designation, as it sometimes means that there are UCL issues at play – though in this case, diagnostic work revealed that there is no UCL damage and that Max just needs time for the forearm to recover. This probably won’t be a short stint on the IL, as it will require a complete shutdown from throwing and, therefore a complete rehab stint to get him back up to a starter’s workload – but really we’re just fortunate it’s not worse. The Braves now face an extended time without Fried and last year’s 20-game winner Kyle Wright.

Player of the week:

Have you heard the good news? Yes, Ronald Acuña Jr. is still playing like Ronald Acuña Jr. At 2.7 WAR, he’s now 0.8 WAR ahead of the second-place position player in the NL, former Braves World Series hero Dansby Swanson. Ronnie hit another leadoff home run this week, adding to the record he already holds for most Braves home runs from the leadoff position, while also hitting .400, stealing a couple of bags, and only striking out once in 23 plate appearances. At this rate, he might become only the fifth member of the 40-40 club (40 home runs and stolen bases). I’m playing to the baseball gods that he stays healthy for the year, and we get to witness history – and you should too.

WTF moment of the week:

More than a moment, it’s the whole Sunday game against the Blue Jays. The Braves were absolutely determined to throw the game away through errors and errant pitching. To be generous, the wind was playing havoc with flyballs – but even so, Kevin Pillar wandered into Michael Harris II as he was making a routine catch, Matt Olson biffed a popout, and Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuña Jr. collided in right field. The Braves somehow made it to the ninth with a one-run lead, where Raisel Iglesias – who hadn’t pitched since Wednesday – surrendered a long Vladimir Guerrero Jr. single, a walk, another single and a final walk-off hit to Danny Jansen for the Blue Jays to seal the 6-5 win. 

View from the other side:

Today’s contributor is Northern Ontario’s own J.P. Bernard, longtime Blue Jays fan and the receiver of some truly miserable throws from me at shortstop as the first baseman for the Bristol Buccaneers.

Before the Braves flew into the Six, the Jays had come off a miserable road trip which saw them drop six out of nine games, including an extra-inning heartbreaker against the Phillies. From someone on the outside looking in, despite Atlanta’s struggles with the Jays in recent years (Toronto is 10-2 against them since 2020), every game in this series was going to be hard fought. Friday night’s game saw former Mets starting pitcher Chris Bassitt take the mound for the Jays, who has become an important figure in the five-man rotation. He brought all of his eight pitches to strike out eight Atlanta batters in the Jays’ first nine-inning complete game shutout since 2015. Helping him out were Kevin Kiermaier and Bo Bichette who both made incredible diving catches, and CBass’ reliable battery-mate Alejandro Kirk who threw out Eddie Rosario as he attempted to steal third base. This game could have easily gone in Atlanta’s favour.

In Game Two of the weekend series, the Jays sent the constantly improving José Berríos to the mound, who was able to keep the Braves to only two runs in 5⅔ innings of work. Toronto showed their resilience by playing some old-school baseball. SuperVladdy and Bo highlighted a gritty comeback, and the game turned for good in the top of the seventh when Erik Swanson got the two outs required to get the team out of a bases-loaded jam. Toronto was able to take the lead for good when Bo hit a single, which allowed Kiermaier to score (following a double steal with Springer). It was a great team effort to win this game and a vast contrast to the style of play that the Blue Jays relied upon last year to win games.

Yusei Kikuchi started Game Three. I felt bad for him last season, as he really struggled with locating his pitches and giving up the long ball. A lot of people wanted him out of Toronto – I was not one of them. He’s arguably been our third-best pitcher thus far in the season. Unfortunately, he did end up having a bad night and looking like the Yusei of 2022, giving up three home runs, though he did tally seven strikeouts. The Jays were eventually able to bail him out in a game that went back and forth all the way to the bottom of the ninth when our clutch catcher Danny Jansen got a single to walk off the Braves. Overall, a good start to a long homestand for the Blue Jays and hoping for much of the same against the Yankees and Orioles, who are still to come.

Finally, it was great to see the return of Kevin Pillar – the ovation showed how much Jays’ fans appreciate everything Kevin did for the team from 2015-19. He made so many incredible catches in centre field. I wish him nothing but the best in Atlanta.

Optimism tracker:

Down to 7/10. The Braves looked anaemic in places, and the injury bug has bitten again. Starting pitching is becoming a worry – While Morton, Strider and Bryce Elder have looked good so far, Atlanta can’t keep using bullpen games to cover the cracks. They’ll be looking for some meaningful contributions from Dylan Dodd, Jared Shuster or Michael Soroka to take some of the pressure off – or Alex Anthopoulos might be active in the trade market once again at the deadline.

What’s on next week?

The Braves will look to avoid their first five-game losing streak since 2020 as they face the Texas Rangers in a three-game set from Monday, travel from Texas on Thursday and then host three games against the Mariners from Friday. Next Sunday’s game is likely to be a good matchup, as the Braves will likely start one of Soroka, Shuster or Dodd against George Kirby, who is currently boasting a frankly disgusting 35:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 44 innings so far this year.

UK friendly games:

Sunday 21 May vs Mariners (6:35pm)

Featured image of Ronald Acuña Jr. by Baseball Reference on Twitter.

Charlie Deeks is the Atlanta Braves correspondent on Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @Omashaft!

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