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Braves drop five of six as hitting woes continue

Atlanta has lost five of their last six games and their struggles with runners in scoring position are a big reason why.

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves are still one of the better teams in baseball. They lead the National League East over the Miami Marlins by five games and are currently 26-16, but they have stumbled a bit this past week; losing five of their last six games, including a sweep at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.

On Tuesday night, the Braves dropped another game, this time to the American League West-leading Texas Rangers, 7-4 in Arlington. And just like in their games against the Blue Jays, a couple of problems reared their ugly heads: the bullpen and the Braves struggles with runners in scoring position.

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On the latest episode of Locked On Braves, host Jake Mastroianni discussed how he believes the Braves’ early struggle with runners in scoring position can correct itself and also revealed his biggest problem with Brian Snitker’s bullpen moves in Texas.

Mastroianni agreed with Snitker taking out starter Jared Shuster who pitched well enough to win—he pitched five innings and gave up three runs—but it looked like the Rangers’ lineup was getting to Shuster, so the timing was right for his exit. What Mastroianni didn’t agree with was Snitker's choice of relievers. Specifically Dylan Lee. Mastroianni said, “You bring Dylan Lee, another lefty, who throws the exact same three-pitch mix as Shuster, and like I said, the Rangers were starting to see Shuster and take better swings out of him. And then you throw in a guy who throws the exact same pitches with the same handedness, and the Rangers have already seen that for five innings.”

Lee ended up giving up three runs (two earned) in only one and one-third innings of work. He gave up six hits, walked one, and struck out one. That put the offense in too much of a hole, and even after a three-run inning in the eighth, the Braves dropped the game 7-4. 

But Mastroianni was frustrated with the offense on Tuesday because it took them so long to string together some hits, and by then, it was too late. He said, “It reminded me of that game on Saturday against Toronto where the first six innings had a lot of base runners but only managed to score two runs.” In that 6-5 loss on Saturday against the Blue Jays, the Braves were 0-9 with runners in scoring position. They also left 10 men on base.

On Tuesday night, they only had two runners in scoring position and were 1-2 while leaving five guys on base.

Mastroianni mentioned how Ronald Acuña Jr. led off Tuesday’s game with a single and was stranded on first base. None of the guys behind him were able to advance him. Matt Olson hit a lineout, Sean Murphy struck out looking, and Austin Riley grounded into a force out. And it wasn’t only because the combo of Olson, Murphy, and Riley stranded him. Mastroianni was also frustrated with Acuña Jr. not even attempting to steal a base. He said, “You cannot have Ronald Acuña Jr. lead off with a base hit and have him stay there.”

The Braves' batting average with runners in scoring position is currently .231, which is 25th in MLB. They also have the 13th most plate appearances with runners in scoring position. So they’re getting people on base and having opportunities, but they have also hit into 15 double plays with runners in scoring position (third most in MLB), which is a glaring problem. They have the 12th most strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and with two outs and runners in scoring position, the Braves have an OPS of .595, which puts them at 29th in the league.

So after looking at those not-so-great numbers, why does Mastroianni believe the Braves’ struggles with runners in scoring position will improve? It’s because their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) with RISP is .269 (26th in MLB), but their hard-hit ball percentage with RISP is leading the league. 

Mastroianni believes it’s only a matter of time before good luck starts heading the Braves' way, and you’ll see them be more productive with men on base and, in particular, in scoring position in the near future.

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