Last weekend, the Atlanta Braves had just won five straight games and had worked their record to .500 after a poor start.
After this weekend, it's a completely different story.
The Braves were swept in two straight series the past week, first by the Washington Nationals at home before being swept away at the Philadelphia Phillies. The six-game losing streak has brought the team down to a 6-12 record, resulting in the last place position in the NL East division.
This hole is very much like the 1-6 start the Braves had to begin their season. The club was able to turn that around once they returned to Atlanta and played their home-opening series, but this losing streak can be attributed to many of the same issues that plagued the team in their first seven games.
Similar to the initial losing streak, many of the problems the Braves are facing are not coming from one player or position. Atlanta's issues with the pitching performances this past week sum that fact up aptly.
Many different pitchers were tagged by the opposition during the last six games. Rotation-anchor Julio Tehran (1-1) was on the bad side of a blowout on Wednesday April 19, when he gave up seven earned runs to the Nationals. Four of those runs came off a grand slam by outfielder Bryce Harper in the 2nd inning. Starter Bartolo Colon (1-2) was lit up by Philadelphia during his start on Friday April 21, allowing four earned runs on 11 hits. Perhaps none of these performances were as unfortunate as closer Jim Johnson's (2-1) on Saturday April 22, when he blew a one-run lead in the 10th inning by giving up two runs on four hits by the Phillies.
In general, the Braves pitchers have not played particularly poorly, excluding Tehran's performance during the 14-4 loss to Washington. But they've given up a lot of home runs (back-to-back-to-back home runs against Phillies on Sunday and four total against the Nationals) and whenever the starters pitch well, it seems the bullpen struggles to close out games. The inconsistency from game-to-game is certainly hurting the Braves' chances of staying in tight matchups.
Scoring Struggles Return
When pitching is poor, it's essential for teams to produce plenty of offense to occasionally bail them out. This, however, has been the other problem for Atlanta during the current losing streak: very few runs are being scored. The Braves have scored four runs or less in all six of their losses.
First baseman Freddie Freeman currently leads the team in all main batting categories (batting average, hits, RBIs, home runs, and on-base percentage), which is not too surprising. The supporting cast of players who helped the Braves go on their win streak, however, have mostly struggled during the last six games. Shortstop Dansby Swanson is hitting at a painfully low rate (.139 batting average), while outfielder Ender Inciarte has cooled off considerably, managing only two hits during the losing streak. Outfielder Matt Kemp was activated from the disabled list for the final game against the Nationals, but even he went hitless in his first two game back on the active roster.
When Atlanta does manufacture hits, though, batters can't seem to get runs across home plate. In four of the six straight losses, the Braves have left seven or more runners stranded on base, which did not include the 14-4 blowout loss against Washington. The team is failing to capitalize on the opportunities they've gotten, which is even more crucial to do when pitching has been inconsistent.
Perhaps the Braves' mix of poor pitching and bad hitting for has been a product of some good play and good luck by the opponents. The Nationals are a team worthy of contending for a spot in the World Series. The Phillies hit a walk-off single in one game and back-to-back-to-back home runs in the next. Kemp was coming off the DL for Atlanta, so he likely needed time back into the regular lineup to return to the hot form he had before his hamstring injury (he did hit a home run in the 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday). They faced a rain delay in the middle of their game on opening game against the Phillies. Lastly, the Braves had played a baseball game for the past 10 straight days, so fatigue could also be a factor into letting the games in Philadelphia slip away.
But the true solutions for Atlanta's issues come from better play as a whole from the roster, which is not a simple or quick fix.
After a day of rest, the Braves will look to break their losing streak on Tuesday April 25 away against the New York Mets. Atlanta lost the opening series of their 2017 season against New York, 2-1.