Braves’ offensive troubles brought to forefront after getting swept in Los Angeles

Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson looks on during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson looks on during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

LOS ANGELES – The Braves and Dodgers looked like equals Friday in a scintillating extra-innings affair that made the stakes feel greater than your typical May evening. It built an expectation the next two days would provide pristine baseball.

Instead, the Dodgers mercilessly annihilated the Braves, outscoring them 16-3 to complete a sweep. The Braves came to Los Angeles with MLB’s best record. They’re headed home trailing the Phillies by at least 1-1/2 games in the National League East.

It was familiar yet unfamiliar. Explaining the enigma:

During this scribe’s days as a Braves beat writer (mid-2018 through ‘21), they went 1-10 at Dodger Stadium, including the playoffs. They were swept in 2019 and 2021. So hearing Randy Newman after every final out was nothing new. But I don’t remember a series here where the Braves looked this overwhelmed.

The unfamiliar: Watching this team flailing at the plate with dumbfounding struggles putting the ball over the fence. The Braves, who’ve won 100 games in consecutive seasons with masterful offense, looked borderline helpless at points this weekend.

But it wasn’t just at Dodger Stadium. The Braves are going through an uncharacteristic two-week stretch. They have scored more than five runs just once in their last 14 games (they were averaging 6.44 runs across the prior 18 contests). They scored six runs this weekend – one came via ghost runner Friday – and 14 runs over the 1-5 road trip.

“It’s just an offensive rut, that’s all there is to it,” manager Brian Snitker said.

Dodgers’ southpaw James Paxton, who entered Sunday’s start walking nearly seven hitters per nine innings, exited the mound to a standing ovation.

That tells you about all you need to know.

The Dodgers are better than the Braves right now, but it shouldn’t be by this much. This is a feebler, subdued version of the Braves that we never really saw in the 2023 regular season. A series here or there, sure, but not across a multi-week period.

Remember when the Braves’ offense set records about every day last September? Remember that same month when the Braves rolled into Dodger Stadium and took three of four? Heck, remember a few weeks ago when the Braves won 11 of 12?

Here’s something even clearer than the San Gabriel Mountains backdrop of Dodger Stadium Sunday: The Braves aren’t themselves right now. They’re nowhere close to the team of three weeks ago, much less last season.

“For us, it’s important to understand and honestly assess ourselves, but we’re still a really good, talented club and we have a lot of baseball left,” starter Max Fried said. Fried allowed four runs – off two homers – in seven innings Sunday. Normally, that’d still give the Braves a chance to win. But the Dodgers’ early lead felt insurmountable.

We’ll downplay it because it’s May. Understandably so, conversations these days center on how the team sets up for October, not whether it’ll be there. The Braves were humiliated in Toronto a year ago this month yet won 104 games. It’s a clubhouse of players who’ve experienced consistent success. Even in the lowest points, they know how to maintain perspective.

But understanding the macro view doesn’t mean dismissing the present.

The Braves were shown up this weekend. Their offense remains perplexingly putrid. Their pitching was outclassed. They’ve dropped out of first place in the National League East while the Phillies own MLB’s best record.

Now, the pitching has been pretty good lately. It was OK here in two of the three games. The offense is where concern lies. This is supposed to be MLB’s most fearsome lineup. Yet entering Sunday, the Braves had seven homers over 13 games – tied for fewest in MLB over that span. In four games this month, the team is hitting a collective .172, third worst. The .504 OPS is second worst.

While the Braves will surely explore adding more pitching in the coming months, their offensive boost will need to come from players performing to their expectations.

“This game is one that will always find a way to humble,” said first baseman Matt Olson, who’s hitting .197 with three homers in 32 games a year after setting the single-season franchise homer record. “What’s happened has happened. You can’t do anything about it now. Just put your head down, try to get back on the right track and remind yourself there’s a lot of season left.”

Some of it is bad luck. That always plays its part in any trying times. Some of it is All-Stars frustratingly missing low-90s fastballs down the middle. Some of it, as they’ve cited, is the opposing pitching.

The Braves didn’t have a stretch like this last year, and it was naïve to think that’d happen again. A team assembled to hit home runs isn’t hitting them. Dodgers’ international sensation Shohei Ohtani hit three homers over the past two days; the same amount as the Braves over this road trip. All the Braves can do is stay level-headed and patient, hoping their work eventually yields results.

“We’re a slug team,” Snitker said. “We haven’t been doing that, but we will.”

The question is, “When?”