The positive to come from Sunday’s Braves game: They get to play two on Monday. And the first one will be at 12:20 p.m.

The Braves will quickly flush Sunday’s 9-1 loss to the Padres. It got ugly early, and stayed that way.

Five observations:

1. To this point in this Braves season, it feels like there have been too many games like the one Sunday – not in terms of the margin of defeat, but in the overall ugliness. This is probably because we are accustomed to the Braves dominating, especially after they rolled through last season.

In reality, they are still 26-16. They went through rough stretches last year.

“I’ve said: You’re lucky if you only go through these ruts once,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “You get rolling, you get hitting on all cylinders. You’re going to go through these spots, or these spells, where you just gotta keep battling and fighting your way through it. We’ve got some key guys down, and now I feel like we’re kind of getting on the mend here little bit.”

Pierce Johnson just returned. Travis d’Arnaud will catch one of Monday’s games. Sean Murphy will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday. Austin Riley should start swinging soon.

Reinforcements are coming. The Braves on Sunday played two starters short, with Riley and d’Arnaud out of the lineup again.

The Braves are five games behind first-place Philadelphia in the National League East standings – the first time they’ve fallen five or more games back in the division since play began on Aug. 14, 2022. But Atlanta has 120 games remaining and has played six fewer games than the Phillies.

Still, Sunday was ugly. Bryce Elder struggled. The offense couldn’t do anything against Yu Darvish, who threw seven scoreless innings. It was a blowout.

“We’re gonna get whole again here eventually,” Snitker said. “And you just got to try and grind through that and keep your head above water until you get back hitting on all cylinders again. And we’re not. Like I say, it’s something we’ve been through every year. The good thing about those guys in there is they are consistent, they come to the ballpark and they’re ready to play. It doesn’t always work out – I mean, that’s just part of this business, this game. But we gotta keep fighting, keep grinding, keep working, and eventually we’ll get whole again.”

2. Elder retired the first two batters of the game. Two batters later, the Padres had a two-run lead because of a two-run home run. Then they added another run on three straight singles, the first being a swinging bunt infield hit.

The Braves trailed, 3-0, when they came up to bat.

“Obviously there was a couple (balls) that didn’t go my way, but at the same time, you put somebody on with two outs, it’s probably never gonna be good,” Elder said. “Then I kind of settled in. I thought I was gonna sneak through four or five (innings) with three (earned runs).”

Instead, Elder imploded in the fourth inning.

It went like this: Single, single, two-run double, run-scoring double.

Elder’s night ended with that final hit. He threw 93 pitches in three innings. He left having allowed seven runs – six earned – on nine hits. He issued three walks.

“It’s command, and couldn’t put hitters away,” Snitker said. “It’s just a lotta, lotta pitches in a short period of time, and didn’t have many easy outs. If he got two strikes, he had a hard time – they were fouling balls off instead of missing them.”

Elder is a sinkerballer. He’s going to have tough luck on some nights.

It comes down to execution. And he pointed to a realistic area for improvement.

“I think some of it could be choosing when to really attack and when to nibble,” he said. “And I think lately, I’ve been getting caught in nibbling too much at the wrong time, and I think a little bit of that’s tonight. There were some really, really, you could almost call them executed pitches, that were just off, but that end up in 2-1 counts. I think in certain situations, especially with nobody on, like in the first inning with two outs, I think that’s a spot where I just challenge him and if I give up a hard-hit ball there or a homer, it’s a solo (shot) rather than letting it get out of hand.”

3. Ronald Acuña Jr. did not sugarcoat his start to the season.

Asked if it has been a timing issue with his swing, he said this, through interpreter Franco García: “I don’t know if it’s timing or not, but right now, I’m not that good.”

And a couple minutes later, when asked if he’s simply missing the pitches he hit hard last year, he said: “I’m not sure what to tell you, because it feels like I’m missing everything right now. But I am confident that it’ll get turned around and there’ll be good things ahead.”

The reigning National League MVP went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk. He’s batting .242 with a .689 OPS. He has only three homers and 11 RBIs.

On Sunday, he dropped a fly ball in right field with one out in the fourth inning. And when Jarred Kelenic made a fantastic grab at the left-field wall, it was a sacrifice fly instead of an inning-ending flyout.

“It’s pretty hard when you lose the ball in the lights, but unfortunately, that’s not an excuse, because at the end of the day, I dropped it,” Acuña said.

4. Acuña, like anyone else, is human. This is the perspective that shouldn’t be lost when a player – even a superstar like him – struggles.

“He wants to do well, he works hard, he wants to perform,” Snitker said. “This game, it’s rough. These guys make it look so easy, and especially the really talented ones – and it’s not. They’re human beings that care, and try too hard, and try and do too much. And that’s the nature of this beast. And it takes a lot of years in this league, with a lot of success, to just be able to block all that out.

“And I’ve seen all them guys that have been through here that it doesn’t faze them when it goes bad. But he’s still a young player, with a lot of success under his belt in a short period of time. The hardest part of this game.”

Players say it all the time: Baseball is a humbling game. The next cold snap is right around the corner. Handling success is as important as handling failure.

And right now, Acuña is going through a rough time.

“You just gotta go out there with the same level of energy, same level of intensity,” he said. “You can’t hang your head. You gotta go out there and just play baseball, and you gotta play hard the way you do every day.”

That, of course, is easier said than done.

“Yeah, it’s tough, for sure,” Acuña said. “But I think the key is just to continue to play hard. We’re a team, we’re not one player. That’s the beauty of it: We just keep going out and playing hard.”

5. The positive from Sunday: In relief of Elder, Ray Kerr tossed 3 1/3 innings. He allowed only two runs.

He helped preserve the bullpen for Monday’s doubleheader. Only Jesse Chavez and Dylan Lee pitched the rest of the way – not counting Luke Williams, the utility man who threw the ninth inning.

Stat to know

166 - It might be rather meaningless, but this stat is cool: With their ninth-inning run, the Braves extended their streak of avoiding shutouts. They haven’t been blanked since May 12, 2023 – a span of 166 games. This is the longest such streak in the franchise’s modern era (since 1900).


“It’s plenty frustrating, especially since we all know what we’re capable of and the potential that we have as a group. But there’s nothing else to do. Just keep fighting, keep playing hard, keep playing the way that we’re supposed to be playing.”-Acuña on him, Olson and Riley struggling to this point

Up next

The Braves and Padres will play a doubleheader on Monday. In Game 1, Reynaldo López will start for Atlanta versus San Diego’s Dylan Cease. Chris Sale will pitch Game 2 against Randy Vasquez and the Padres.