The 2022 Braves didn’t take their World Series rings and hit the ground running. They’ve been neither remarkable nor wretched. They’ve been above .500 at the close of one business day – April 8. They rank 18th among MLB clubs in runs scored, 17th in OPS. They’re 20th in ERA, 21st in WHIP.
Among Braves’ position players, Contreras – who appeared in only one postseason game last fall and who’s here because backup catcher Manny Pina is lost to injury – ranks fourth in Baseball-Reference WAR, trailing Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuña and Matt Olson. Contreras ranks ahead of Travis d’Arnaud, Austin Riley, Marcell Ozuna, Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall. Contreras has played in 12 of the Braves’ 43 games.
This marks the Braves’ third meandering start over the past four seasons, the exception being COVID-shortened 2020. We assume they’ll get going. We also assume they’ll be among baseball’s best teams when they do. They haven’t risen above average yet. They’re tied with Philly for MLB’s 17th-best record. They’re eight games out of first place. They’re 3.5 games back of the National League’s third wild card, which would be the Giants, who just lost seven of nine.
Desperation is said to be the mother of invention. The Braves aren’t yet desperate, but they were, shall we say, starving for a spark. Such a moment might impel some managers to pick a lineup out of a hat. Snitker picked a reserve catcher and made him a left fielder and the team’s second-place hitter. This probably isn’t a long-term solution, assuming it’s a solution at all. Still, we’ve seen seasons turn on the smallest of things.
On Aug. 21, 1991, the Braves trailed the Dodgers by 2.5 games – no wild cards then – and trailed the Reds 9-5 after six innings in Cincinnati. Making a rare start, backup catcher Francisco Cabrera hit a seventh-inning home run off Ted Power and hoisted a ninth-inning blast off the then-unhittable Rob Dibble to send the game to bonus cantos. David Justice doubled in the 13th off Randy Myers to drive home the winner. Within a week, the Braves nosed ahead of L.A.
Yes, this is May – not August, not September. Only hindsight will tell us whether Snitker’s move to change his team’s dynamics had much, if any, effect. But this is why a manager earns his pay. If something’s not quite right, he can try something else. If that doesn’t work, he can try another something.
These Braves haven’t been what we – or they – expected. Nobody’s writing them off, but we’d all begun to wonder. If Contreras in the outfield doesn’t pan out, could we see Contreras on the mound? He has a nice arm, you know.