3 takeaways from the Braves disappointing series sweep in the City of Angels

Getting swept is never fun but there are a few positives following Atlanta's less-than-ideal trip to Los Angeles over the weekend.

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers
Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers / Harry How/GettyImages
3 of 3

Breathe Braves fans. It's been more than a day since Atlanta was swept by the Dodgers, capping off a 1-5 Western road trip. It's a long season, it happens. The Braves were off to a fantastic start and now they've hit a bump. But everyone knows how talented this team is and how quickly they can bounce back.

3 takeaways from the Braves disappointing series sweep in LA

Ronald Acuña looked the most like 2023 Acuña that we've seen this year

It's no secret that Ronnie has struggled this season. Many Braves fans, including myself, have pointed that out multiple times this season already. He's struggling to hit the fastball and that's affected his ability to succeed.

In fact, in the first article that I wrote for this website, I listed him as a player who could take a step back for the Braves this season. And unfortunately to this point in the season, that has been a correct take.

But even I didn't expect him to start the season as poorly as he has. The take in that article was that his expectations have now been set so high, that anything less than that is going to be a step back. And reaching the levels that he did in 2023 in back-to-back seasons, was going to be impossible. He's proving that point so far.

His slash line so far this season through 32 games is .268/.376/.362 with a .748 OPS. That's obviously underwhelming and not to the standard he sets for himself.

He's looked borderline uncompetitive in some at-bats this season, which is something that we came to expect from time to time from a younger Acuña, the one who had a K rate of 29.7% in 2020 and 23.6% in 2022.

That rate plummeted to an astounding 11.4% in 2023, leading to the season that he had, an NL MVP season.

This year, however, it's back up to 26.8% and though it's a much smaller sample size, that rate currently stands as the second-worst of his career and worst if you don't count 2020 where he played just 46 games.

Why is this happening? It could be several things. This season feels like the highest pressure that Acuña has felt to perform coming off a record-setting 2023. Is he thinking about that too much or trying too hard to live up to expectations instead of just playing the game? That's a possibility.

And with his lack of power numbers, just one home run, coming into the series, and now two with a home run in game one. It feels like that's weighing on him as well. But in this series, it feels like he got back to what made him so good last year. Contact.

When you talk to any coach that has any idea what they are talking about. A lot of them will say when a player gets into a slump like this, they need to just focus on putting the bat on the ball. For a person with as much skill as Acuña possesses, the rest of it, the power, the home runs, the stolen bases will come along with the contact.

In this series with the Dodgers, Acuña went 5-for-12 despite going 0-for-3 in game three. He was 5-for-9 in the first two games, including a three-hit performance in game two.

It felt like he got back to that contact swing, striking out just twice in 13 plate appearances. More contact means more chances for Acuña to show off his generational talent and most importantly, more chances to score runs for the Braves.

The first inning is becoming a problem for the Braves

To quote Michael Scott: "Well well, well... how the turn tables..."

What was the Braves' biggest strength a season ago, has arguably turned into their greatest weakness this season.

Last year, the Braves nearly set the MLB record for first-inning runs, with 146 of them. That was second to only the 2000 Cardinals' who had 147 that season.

In 2024 through 32 games, the Braves have a -7 first-inning run differential, being outscored by opponents 21-14 in the first inning.

Max Fried specifically has had bad starts to games this year as well. His 16.20 ERA in the first inning this season is the highest amongst qualifying starting pitchers this season and that ERA rose in his start on Sunday, as he gave up a two-run first-inning home run to reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani.

Fried went on to pitch seven innings in the contest, only allowing four hits but four earned runs in the loss. He still looked good, don't get it twisted.

But there is something about that first inning this year that just isn't working in the Braves' favor. Scoring that many runs in the opening frame last year was in large part luck for the Braves. The luck has run sour though in 2024 and hopefully, the Braves can get back to jumping on teams early here soon.

It might be time to see AJ Smith-Shawver again.

After two impressive starts against Miami and Cleveland to open Bryce Elder's 2024 campaipgn, he looked more like game three of the NLDS Bryce Alder against the Dodgers on Saturday night, giving up seven hits and seven earned runs in just 3.1 innings.

He relies on weak contact which for one, is just a bad recipe against a team that is hitting the ball like the Dodgers are right now.

But to make things worse, he was leaving far too many balls over the plate and a good lineup such as the Dodgers, made him pay.

It's one bad outing following two good ones so it's not time to bail on Elder, but the leash shouldn't be very long. Especially when you have a guy like AJ Smith-Shawver who is pitching well in Triple-A right now, dropping his ERA from 40.50 after the first start to the season to 5.09 after a start last Tuesday saw him throw five innings of three-hit shutout ball.

He's given up four earned runs over 14.2 innings in his last three starts and for the season has a positive strikeout-to-walk ratio through 17.2 frames with 21 strikeouts and nine walks.

He'd probably benefit from a few more starts in the minors to see if he can put together a few more quality starts. However, the leash for Elder should be short with a talent like Smith-Shawver ready to have another shot in the big leagues.

Atlanta will hope to get back into the win column as they welcome the Boston Red Sox and Vaughn Grissom back into town.

More Braves News from House That Hank Built