As Braves’ slide continues, what if it doesn’t get much better?

Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson (28) hits a two-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson (28) hits a two-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics, Saturday, June 1, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The assurances have been many.

“I trust and have a lot of faith in this group that we’re going to be able to kind of right the ship,” pitcher Max Fried said May 5 after the Braves were swept on the road by the Dodgers.

“It’s just one of them things where eventually, we’re gonna get a big hit,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said May 21 after his team went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position against the Cubs in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings at Wrigley Field.

“It’s OK to have a couple bad stretches,” left fielder Jarred Kelenic said June 5 after the Braves were shut out at Boston.

“We’re gonna get better, we’re gonna kind of start hitting on all cylinders and things will be fine,” Snitker said Sunday after the Braves dropped three of four to the Nationals for the second time in two weeks, this time in Washington.

It remains difficult to believe the six-time defending National League East champions, the team that a year ago tied the major-league record for home runs in a season, won’t regain their form at the plate. In public statements, the Braves continually express confidence that more productive batting days are ahead.

However, the sample size continues to grow and has done little to back up the Braves’ statements of belief. After the series loss at Washington this past weekend, in which the Braves scored 14 runs in four games against a Nationals team that had allowed 23 runs in three games in its preceding series (to the dragging Mets, no less), the numbers are as confounding as they are difficult to ignore.

From April 29 through Sunday, a 37-game stretch, the Braves are hitting .220 (29th in the 30-team MLB in that span), have an OPS of .643 (also 29th) and have scored 130 runs (29th again). In those 37 games, which constitutes more than a fifth of the season, the Braves are 16-21.

This is more than some unlucky bounces or running into a streak of hot pitchers. It’s a stretch of ineffectiveness that is highly out of the norm. Prior to this season, the last season in which the Braves were at or below those meager standards (.220 batting average, .643 OPS, 130 runs) for a 37-game stretch was — brace yourself — 1988. That was a 54-win team that finished 39.5 games out of first place and was shut out 17 times. (Rather remarkably, the roster featured four future Hall of Famers — Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Bruce Sutter and Ted Simmons — and one legend who should be enshrined, Dale Murphy.)

And this prolonged slump is even more bizarre because, up until April 29, the Braves were hitting .277 (first in MLB) with an OPS of .801 (first) and had scored 149 runs (a mere fourth, although their 5.7 runs-per-game average was first). After a home series win over Cleveland, they were 19-7 and in first place in the NL East.

But with each passing game, the possibility only grows that this run-scarce form of the Braves is an approximation of what the rest of the season will look like, as entirely puzzling as that might be.

Blame Comcast, blame the absence of third-base coach Ron Washington (now managing the Angels), blame whatever food was served on the charter flight from Atlanta to Seattle that preceded this massive slide.

Whatever it is, it can’t be brushed aside. For while this drought doesn’t mean everything, it surely must mean something.

Consider the Braves’ performance at the plate (or lack thereof, har har) in the month of May. They hit .227 (24th in MLB), had an OPS of .662 (23rd) and scored 93 runs (28th).

Going back to 1995 (the start of the wild-card era) through last season, there have been 177 teams that have had similar months — hitting .232 or less, with an OPS of .672 or less and scoring 98 runs or fewer — according to Baseball Reference. (The footnotes, in case you’re wondering — Baseball Reference counts March/April and September/October as one month and I didn’t include July 2020, which was the start of the COVID-19 season and included a fraction of the usual number of games.)

First of all, it should be pointed out that that’s a small subset of all the months MLB teams have played over the past 29 seasons. It’s less than 5%. So this wasn’t a standard slump. This is an exclusive club that the Braves have reluctantly joined. The secret handshake is someone smashing his helmet with a bat.

But, more importantly, of those 177 that have flailed through a month of the season, 157 of them failed to make the playoffs. To be fair, probably most of those teams hit that poorly for a month because they just didn’t have much in the way of talent. In fact, almost 40 of them had more than one such month in a single season. It likely was not the mystery that the Braves’ forgettable May was.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be too difficult to find players and managers from many of those teams asserting their confidence that their form would return and that they just needed a few big hits to get things going. But what they thought was an anomaly ultimately proved to be reflective of their actual production.

You don’t even have to go back very far. In 2023, the Yankees were widely projected to win the American League East and be in the World Series hunt after leading MLB in home runs (254) and finishing fourth in OPS (.751) in 2022, powered by the historic MVP season of Aaron Judge.

However, the Yankees faded to fourth place in the AL East at 82-80. They dropped to ninth in home runs (219) and 24th in OPS (.701) as Judge was hampered by injuries.

There’s a fun comparison for you. Makes you want to pester Comcast to put Bally Sports back on, doesn’t it?

But on the other hand, a more optimistic way of looking at it is that putting up such a forgettable month isn’t the end, as 20 of the 177 teams overcame extended slides where it appeared they had forgotten how to hit and still made the playoffs. And while that’s a mere 11%, the Braves are undoubtedly more capable than nearly all of the 177, even with ace Spencer Strider and reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. out for the season.

Further, the Braves’ pitching resurgence this season offers additional credence for hope. Unsurprisingly, most of the 20 teams were stronger on the pitching side than at bat. Of the 20, 16 were sixth or lower in their league in OPS. However, 14 of the 20 finished third or better in ERA. And, after Sunday’s loss at Washington, riding the arms of Max Fried, Chris Sale and Reynaldo López, the Braves sat third in the National League in ERA at 3.68.

The Braves aren’t fated to stumble throughout the remainder of the season. But it’s also fair to say that a seventh consecutive postseason — to say nothing of a seventh NL East title in a row — is hardly a given, although the miserable shape of most of the NL gives them considerable margin.

The marvel of the 2023 season — how will the Braves demolish yet another opponent? — has given way to a different drama, this one a bit more angsty.

When will they pull out of this tailspin?

And will it be too late?