October 2, 2022

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After struggles in LA, Braves look to regroup

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LOS ANGELES — Before becoming concerned about how the Braves have fared through the first two weeks of this season, it’s worth remembering that they also began last season with a 6-8 record. And if that’s not enough to halt panic, then remember that they also lost eight of their first 14 games in 2002 and 2003, which were both 100-win seasons.

Instead of sprinting out of the gates during this marathon, the Braves have managed to keep their heads above water while basking in the glow of last year’s World Series win. Their latest setback occurred at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, when Charlie Morton was victimized by Freddie Freeman’s power in a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers.

Freeman’s first-inning homer off Morton proved to be enough to sink the Braves, who split a four-game series in San Diego before losing two of three against the Dodgers. The defending World Series champs will have an off-day on Thursday before beginning a three-game series against the Marlins Friday at Truist Park.

“I would have loved to have won today and took a series and had a winning road trip,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s like I’ve always said. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we’re capable of yet. Guys are hanging in there and working. That’s all you can ask for. We’ll be fine. It’s a good team.”

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss:

Lamenting one pitch
Dodgers designated hitter Edwin Ríos began the bottom of the fifth by homering against a center-cut, 93.1 mph fastball. Still, Morton said the worst pitch he threw was the 1-0 sinker that Freeman lined over the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning. The pitch was at the bottom of the thigh. But as it came back across the plate, the veteran hurler regretted making a rare attempt to slip this pitch past a left-handed hitter.

“If I had executed it, maybe I get a ground ball,” Morton said. “I don’t even know because we’re shifting. So, he could have just shot it the other way. He’s such a pro hitter. There’s not that many holes. I was trying to keep him off balance. That’s a pitch, the two-seamer down and in to a lefty, was like the worst pitch.”

Though Morton allowed nine runs over 10 1/3 innings in his two starts on this road trip, the Braves are heading home with their rotation in good shape. Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson were both impressive this past weekend in San Diego, and Max Fried looked like a potential Cy Young Award winner on Tuesday. The Braves plan to go with a five-man rotation moving forward, with Bryce Elder currently the fifth starter.

Top-heavy lineup
Recording just three hits in Wednesday’s series finale, the Braves’ offensive frustrations continued, especially highlighted by the futility at the bottom of their lineup. The first three hitters on Wednesday were Ozzie Albies, Matt Olson and Marcell Ozuna. Albies ranks second in the Majors with five homers. Olson is hitting .400 with a 1.156 OPS and Ozuna leads MLB with 28 balls hit 95 mph or higher.

But Adam Duvall has produced a .553 OPS and Dansby Swanson has hit .143 with a .432 OPS and an MLB-high 22 strikeouts. Swanson is the only player in Braves history to strike out 22 times through the season’s first 14 games. He and Ronald Acuña Jr. had previously set the mark when they both struck out 21 times through the first 14 games of the 2020 season.

Before getting overly concerned about Swanson, remember Austin Riley began last year’s breakout season by hitting .190 with a .467 OPS through his first 14 games. He ended up hitting .303 with 33 homers.

“There’s at least once or twice over the course of 162 games, you’re going to stink and all you can do is wear it and handle it, because on the back end will be really good things if you handle it,” Snitker said.

New guy vs. old guy
Freeman repeatedly said how much he loved the Braves and enjoyed having his former teammates in town. But the All-Star first baseman didn’t have any compassion for his longtime employer during this three-game set. He homered in Monday’s series opener and again during a three-hit game on Wednesday.

This marked the first time Freeman played the Braves since his long tenure with the club unceremoniously ended with Atlanta trading for Olson in March. Olson maintained the respect of his predecessor by recording a three-hit game on Monday and drilling a double that led to a run in Wednesday’s ninth.

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