Advice for fans: Have a little faith in these Braves

Braves pitcher A.J. Minter reacts as manager Brian Snitker pulls him during the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays after he loaded the bases and gave up a RBI single Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Atlanta.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Braves pitcher A.J. Minter reacts as manager Brian Snitker pulls him during the eighth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays after he loaded the bases and gave up a RBI single Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Baseball folks learn the drill early: “It’s a long season.” As the famous manager Earl Weaver said to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, “This ain’t a football game. We do this every day.”

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As of Saturday morning, the 2021 Braves were 18-20. They haven’t yet been above .500. They’ve been good at two things – hitting home runs, at which they lead the majors, and driving their audience nuts. Their batting average is .227. The big-league average is .235, which we might ascribe to the deadened baseball, except that Braves opponents – hitting those same baseballs – have batted .254.

This is a good team that hasn’t been very good. Some of this has to do with injuries, but every team deals with those. That the Braves have worked almost one-fourth of their season means their sample sizes are no longer smallish. That they’re within three games of first place is a function of geography. The National League East-leading Mets are at .563; every other division leader is playing at least .600 ball.

And yet: The 2019 Braves likewise were 18-20, which left them four games out of first. Back then, this correspondent asked manager Brian Snitker if his team had underperformed. “I think that’s fair to say,” he said. Five weeks later, his Braves were in first place. They stayed there the rest of the way. They finished with 97 wins, the most by any Braves team since 2003.

After 38 games in 2019, Washington was 15-23. After 50 games, the Nationals were 19-31. They would win the World Series. After 38 games, the 2018 Dodgers were 16-22. They would reach the World Series.

Anyone who follows baseball can cite dozens of sluggish starts that became a banner season. This doesn’t mean slow starts aren’t frustrating, especially from a team of which much is expected. The Braves no longer are an up-and-comer. They’ve been good for three years. There’s no reason they can’t make 2021 go right. Even Snitker, who’s 65 and who has worked in the sport since 1977, has nights when he wonders about this team, same as he wondered about every team he has managed.

Asked Friday if he ever feels like telling his men, “Hey, it’s time to get going,” Snitker laughed. “I’ve kind of been there for a while,” he said.

Then: “It’s a long season. At any point, you could get on a run and reel something off. You just hold out hope – and patience. I wish there was a button I could push to accelerate things. It doesn’t work that way a lot of times. I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t do any good to try and force the issue, either. There’s really nothing in my seat that I can (do). Just keep being patient with guys and positive with them.”

Then: “It’s hard individually when you’re (not) going. It’s hard as a team when you’re not hitting on all cylinders. You just have to keep going. You have to keep fighting through it. I know I keep saying that, but I don’t know what else we can do. At some point, you’ll get on a significant run. I think you just have to handle each day individually, and at some point that’ll happen.”

The Braves didn’t go 0-6 against Toronto – a team that’s 14-17 otherwise – because they weren’t trying. This is baseball. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is try too hard.

Through 38 games, Freddie Freeman is hitting .213. Over his first 11 big-league seasons, he hit .213 or worse in a month only three times, mostly recently in July 2015. He’s 31 and coming off an MVP season. His career BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .338. His BABIP this season is .198. If you’re Snitker, what do you say to Freeman? “How about getting a few more hits?”

These Braves haven’t pitched or hit as well as they should, but that’s not to say they won’t. The rotation has begun to stabilize, which figures to ease the load on the bullpen. There’s no way this batting order will hit .227 over 162 games. Pretty much this same lineup hit .268 last season, albeit with a DH in every game. The loss of Travis d’Arnaud and the continuing absence of Mike Soroka will have some effect, but every team seems to have seen a slew of injuries. (The Dodgers have lost Dustin May and Edwin Rios to season-ending surgery.)

If you liked the Braves’ chances in February, there’s no reason to dislike them now. Even good teams have bad patches. (Back to the Dodgers: They started 14-2. Then they lost their next five series.) This isn’t football, where teams play once a week. This is baseball, where you play six games a week for six months. “Be patient” often seems tepid counsel in our impatient world, but sometimes it’s all you can do.

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