Behind the Braves’ juggernaut offense

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., right, reacts after beating the throw for a single past Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Kody Clemens during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., right, reacts after beating the throw for a single past Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Kody Clemens during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

PHILADELPHIA — At one point during the Braves’ hitters meeting before the series opener in Detroit, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer focused on one area he felt needed to improve. As dangerous as the Braves are, they had not been good enough with runners in scoring position.

Their .226 batting average with men in scoring position ranked 28th of the 30 MLB teams. Their .719 OPS in those spots was 19th.

“I just challenged the whole team to just think about just getting a base hit when you’ve got men in scoring position and not trying to do damage,” Seitzer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. “We just need to hit to score a run. We don’t need a big ball to score a run.”

And when he brought this up, Seitzer also threw some numbers at the players. They had excelled with runners in scoring position in past seasons, he told them.

“I told them: It’s not anything more than just trying to do a little too much,” Seitzer said. “And the way you combat that is you just focus on a single instead of damage. We get the runner on third, less than two outs and the infield’s back, a ground ball gets us a point. And so it’s just a matter of hitting according to the situation and just more trying to stay within yourself and not do too much.

“Coming from being a former player, and these guys know it, I say it all the time: It is unbelievably hard to do what they do. There’s already enough pressure in this game to go out and do good. They ain’t getting extra pressure from me. They’re gonna get understanding and direction.”

Since that hitters meeting, the Braves’ .901 OPS with runners in scoring position – entering Wednesday – ranked eighth. Their 45 runs in those spots were fourth.

It begs the question: If the Braves continue hitting with runners in scoring position, how good can this offense be?

This – the Braves’ performance with runners in scoring position over the past week – is one reason they’ve been MLB’s best offensive team in June. But it might be accurate to call them the sport’s top offense this season.

The Braves have had better at-bats lately. This season, their walk rate is better than a year ago. After finishing last season with the second-most strikeouts in the game, and the third-worst strikeout rate, the Braves have the eighth-best strikeout rate this season.

Powerful lineups can be boom or bust.

The Braves have the power: They entered Wednesday with the most home runs, and highest OPS, of any team. Their 91.2 mph average exit velocity is the best mark in the sport, as is their 45.9% hard-hit rate.

But they’ve become tougher outs.

“I think it’s just guys that are maturing and getting older and growing into the game, I guess, so to speak,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said Tuesday. “They’re another year older and, I think, more experienced, and I think that’s got a lot to do with, really.”

The Braves arrived at the ballpark Wednesday with 60 runs on 80 hits over their past seven games – all wins. Their .920 OPS in June is the best in baseball. And this month, the Braves lead the majors in batting average, home runs and runs per game.

The pinnacle of this stretch: A four-game sweep of the Rockies in which the Braves hung 40 runs on Colorado.

“That series at home against Colorado,” Seitzer said, “was probably the best four-game set that I’ve ever seen (batters) one through nine have.”

The Braves are at their peak as an offensive juggernaut. Ronald Acuña Jr. should be the front-runner for the National League MVP Award. The Braves are dangerous top to bottom. They have stars. They have contributing role players.

This has been really, really fun for those inside the clubhouse.

“I’ll say this about this team: For the last six or seven years, there’s no quit in these guys, no matter what the score is,” Seitzer said.

That quality seems to define this group.

But all teams talk about being gritty like this. Why are the Braves actually this way?

“I feel like it’s a result of leadership,” Seitzer said. “Since Snit’s been here, these guys love him. They love playing for him. He’s real easy to play for. These guys show it every night. Since he’s taken over here, it’s been awesome to be a part of the energy and the competitiveness that these guys bring every single day.”

Don’t forget about the hitting coach. In addition to helping players implement adjustments, he’s understanding about their situations.

Seitzer played this game. He lived it.

He knows it’s difficult.

“These guys know me really well,” Seitzer said. “I’m their biggest fan and biggest cheerleader and biggest support. I feel like the relationships that we have, they know where I’m coming from, they know my heart, that I just want the best for them. The game is hard. ... I tell them all the time: If this game wasn’t this hard, you guys wouldn’t make as much money as you make.”

Murphy update

Catcher Sean Murphy worked out his right hamstring again Wednesday, Snitker said.

“He feels better,” Snitker said.

Is it too far-fetched to believe Murphy could be in the lineup Thursday?

“Just see how he is (Thursday) when he comes (to the ballpark),” Snitker said.