3 Braves on thin ice with team’s cold start to August

These players should take some of the blame for the Atlanta Braves’ recent struggles, which have diminished them from the force they were through the first four months of the season.

The Atlanta Braves are alright in the big picture. With a record of 72-41, they lead the NL East by a 10-game margin over the Philadelphia Phillies. As long as they don’t continue to play like they did in the beginning of August, they should be able to contend for a World Series and are practically guaranteed to make the playoffs.

The Braves began the month of August by winning three straight games, including two over the Angels and an 8-0 victory over the Cubs in the series opener. But since then, Brian Snitker’s team has struggled by normal standards, going 2-4 with two losses in Chicago and splitting a four-game series with the pitiful Pirates, highlighted by a 7-5 setback on Thursday.

Poor spells are inevitable throughout the course of a 162-game season. That’s probably the case as well when you consider the Braves’ chilly August start. Some players, though, are in hot water because of how they’ve harmed this losing streak. Although they won’t be cut loose or anything of the sort, the pressure should be building for these three players to turn things around quickly in order to break out of their rut.

Three Braves players are on thin ice following a chilly August.

3. Sean Murphy has fallen out of All-Star form

Sean Murphy, a catcher with the Braves who was acquired in an offseason deal from Oakland, started for the National League at his first All-Star game this year, and he did so well. He’s been perhaps the finest catcher in MLB overall this season thanks to his two-way ability and improvement at the plate since joining the A’s.

However, that has changed far less since the beginning of August.

Murphy, who had six appearances in August, has been having a lot of trouble lately, batting just.222/.364/.389 with just one extra-base hit and three RBI during that time. Although August is not the only month in question, his recent month-to-month average has been a pitiful.143 with a.487 OPS. The fact that the Braves catcher has already started to turn things around recently with hits in his last four games makes those figures even a little bit exaggerated.

Having said that, when Murphy is in the lineup for the Braves, he hits after Atlanta’s outstanding heart of the order. And the offense has suffered as a result of him losing so much of his hitting consistency. Even though this player ranks in the Top 10 in baseball with an overall OPS of.899 this season, it has been visible and might not be as worrisome if it weren’t for other problems that we’ll discuss in a moment.

As previously said, Murphy is beginning to act more rationally lately, which is encouraging. But if the Braves are to return to being practically unbeatable, which is the expectation they set early in the season, he must perform completely as he did before the All-Star break.

2. Marcell Ozuna has cooled off quite a bit from his bounce-back May and June

For Marcell Ozuna, it’s been a season of extremes. The much-derided outfielder/DH (with a focus on the latter) got off to a terrible start to the season, batting just.091 with a.425 OPS in April and seemed to be unfit for the major leagues.

However, things took a drastic change in May and June as he put up an OPS around.950 while tallying 14 home runs, six doubles, and 35 RBI during those two months. Who knows what precisely changed, but he appeared to be the guy that the Braves and its supporters expected to sign a lucrative four-year deal with a few years ago.

Ozuna’s recent performance hasn’t been as poor as it was in April, but he still hasn’t come close to matching what he performed in May and June. Ozuna is only hitting.214/.313/.321 over eight games in August, putting up just one home run as his lone extra-base hit, two runs batted in, and 11 strikeouts.

This type of severe swings, where he is either super-hot or super-cold with very little in between, may be the new normal for Ozuna at the plate. That actually might not be too difficult if the lineup around him can continue to swing big bats, especially if he can find his stride at the proper times – the playoffs would be wonderful.

His lack of output, however, has undoubtedly contributed to the Braves’ difficulties and chilly start to August.

1. Braves starting pitchers have not been doing their jobs

Pick any starting pitcher for the Braves. They have probably been a problem for this club, frequently putting the players in difficult situations.

Newcomer Yonny Chirinos has made two starts in August and has pitched 10.0 innings while allowing 13 hits, three walks, and nine earned runs. In his lone August start, Charlie Morton allowed five earned runs over 4.1 innings while also giving up four hits and four walks. After getting hammered by the Cubs for seven runs (five earned) in 4.1 innings, Bryce Elder lost on Wednesday against the Pirates after allowing six hits, two walks, and five earned runs over 5.0 innings.

The worst offender is possibly Spencer Strider. With a 6.75 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in his two August outings, the mustachioed flamethrower who had established himself as the team’s ace this season has looked far from that. He has given up 10 hits, five walks, and seven earned runs in just 9.1 innings pitched. Yes, he is still striking out, but his ERA has skyrocketed to 3.94, which is obviously not ideal.

Ironically, Max Fried is the only starter with whom you probably won’t get along. He made his second start after returning from the IL on August 9, and despite allowing four runs, he held the Cubs scoreless and provided the impetus for the aforementioned 8-0 thrashing that series’ opening game.

The Pirates (6.21), who are the only team since the All-Star break, with a starters’ ERA that is worse (6.15 for the Braves). They’ve lost their mojo, which has put an excessive amount of burden on the offense for a squad that held it together so wonderfully and impressively when Fried, Kyle Wright, and others were sidelined with injury.

Despite the pitching performances they have had to deal with from their own staff, the team is still 5-4 in August, which is a tribute to the offense. However, the starters need to be improved if this squad hopes to win the World Series.