Despite strong start, Braves feel they can be even better

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

OAKLAND, Calif. – A.J. Minter was emphatic in saying this:

“You can ask anyone in this locker room, and I feel like we have underperformed so far.”

On Memorial Day – regarded as the first true point of reference in a baseball season – the Braves arrived in Oakland with a 32-21 record before losing the series opener to the Athletics. They were in first place in the National League East, and had a 4 1/2-game lead over the second-place Marlins.

The Braves have dealt with so many injuries, and have endured a few rough series, but they’re still one of baseball’s best teams to this point. By winning percentage, Atlanta entered the series with the Athletics with the NL’s best record.

And they might still have a higher ceiling than they’ve shown?

“And the fact that I’m saying that speaks volumes on how talented this group is,” Minter said. “We could play so much better than we’re playing and the fact that we’re where we’re at, we’re in a good place. I think we still have some improvements to get better at, including myself. Once everything starts clicking again, like we were the first few weeks of the season, I think we can really take off. Everyone knows: It’s not how you are right now, it’s how you are in the last few weeks of the season, going into the postseason. So that’s where we want to be the strongest.”

The Braves are without starting pitchers Max Fried and Kyle Wright. Michael Harris II and Travis d’Arnaud spent considerable time on the injured list, as did Collin McHugh and Lucas Luetge. Dylan Lee is currently on the injured list.

And yet, the Braves have continued rolling. “It’s good when you don’t feel like things have gone perfectly right and you’re winning games,” first baseman Matt Olson said. The Braves are that talented and that deep. They can withstand injuries, slumps and anything in between.

“I don’t think we’ve clicked yet,” Olson said. “We’re seeing flashes – a game here or there. But (not) consistently.”

Before this season, the Braves hadn’t lost four games in a row since August 2021. They have two four-game losing streaks this season. They’ve been swept by the Astros and Blue Jays. They have lost three bullpen games.

Despite all of that, the 2023 Braves are off to a much better start than the 2022 Braves. After play on May 28 last year, the Braves were 22-25. In the days that followed, they fell behind the Mets by 10 1/2 games in the division.

“You want to put yourself in the best position possible where you don’t have to play catch up,” Olson said. “I think we did have to rally pretty hard there then last year to win the division. That’s the goal every year, right? You want to put yourself with the best chance going into the playoffs, win the division. Check the first box before you check the other ones. I think a little sub-box before that is coming out to a good start. All things considered. I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot. I think we have a little more potential to go as far as everybody clicking.”

So, yes, even if the Braves are off to a great start, there might still be more there.

“I always feel that way,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I say there’s a lot of baseball to play. But I kind of feel like as a team, individuals and all that, we still can be better.”

Murphy returns

When he played for Oakland, Sean Murphy and his wife lived in Walnut Creek, an upscale city here in the Bay Area.

The Murphys had great neighbors. They’d often attend cookouts and block parties.

It was a fun time.

“We miss those folks up there,” Murphy said on Monday as he returned to the place where his career began.

Then he added: “If you’re reading this, hi.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Murphy looked right at home in his return to the Oakland Coliseum. In his first at-bat, he grounded a run-scoring single up the middle to score the game’s first run. Matt Olson, the other former Oakland player, homered for the other run as the Braves lost, 7-2.

Murphy is settling in nicely with the Braves. On Monday, he fielded questions from multiple Oakland reporters, who also caught up with Olson before the series opener.

One reporter assumed the trade probably wasn’t a surprise for Murphy.

“No, not a surprise,” Murphy said. “Certainly prepared myself mentally for it knowing it was a possibility. You never know how those things shake out. It wasn’t a 100 percent thing so I was prepared to come back to Oakland, but I was also prepared to leave if I had to.”

Rough travel night

The Braves had an unfortunate scheduling occurrence: They played on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, then made the lengthy cross-country tip to Oakland right after the game.

Minter estimated the team got to the hotel around after 3 a.m.

How was the trip?

“I don’t even know,” Snitker said. “I slept through the whole thing. I think I was asleep before we took off, and I heard the pilot say we’re getting ready to land.

Not only was Sunday a night game, but Monday’s series opener was not so much a night game as it was a late-evening contest. It began just after 5 p.m. local time, meaning the Braves had an even quicker turnaround.

“I think (Monday) isn’t really the hard part,” Minter said. “I think we’re gonna start seeing it the next day, as far as sleep, fatigue and being tired. Right now, I don’t think it’s too bad just because we’re still not adjusted to the time change.”

Added Olson: “It makes it a tough one. Would have liked the scheduled off day and mixed in here. But it’s all right. You got to find a way to get your body and mind ready for a game. Unfortunately, we have no say in the scheduling. Maybe a day game (Sunday) would have been nice, but you know, it is what it is.”

After the loss, Snitker was asked if the travel factored into the loss at all.

“No,” he said. “Nothing.”