Kyle Wright's return helps, but the Braves will need to score more runs here soon

Atlanta Braves starter Kyle Wright boost the rotation, but the lineup must produce runs to win.
Atlanta Braves starter Kyle Wright boost the rotation, but the lineup must produce runs to win. / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
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Atlanta Braves, Ronald Acuna Jr.
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is entirely healthy and once again an elite player. / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Lineup Isn’t Hitting on All Cylinders

Before I start, I know we’re only 11 games into the season, but the lineup isn’t giving pitchers much help.

After last night’s walk-off win over the Reds, the lineup’s batting .269/.347/.417/.765 with a 102 OPS. That line exists because of Acuna. Olson, Riley, Arcia, and a finally settling in Murphy are batting a combined .318/.418/.538/.957.

Ignoring White and Adrianza haven’t had a hit in a combined five PA, the rest of the lineup is batting a combined .215/.267/.298/.565. It’s not a chock that Ozuna’s at the bottom of the pile, batting a puny .071/.212/.286/.498, and his line only looks that good because both hits were homers.

With apologies to Seth Myers, I’ll take a closer look.

A Closer Look at Two Key Players

It appears everyone thought Travis d’Arnaud was hitting well before landing on the concussion IL, and as a DH he was, posting a .500/.500/.611/1.111 line (9-18). When he caught, TDA batted only .133/.133/.200/.333 (2-15), 

Eddie Rosario hasn’t found a bat with hits in it. He’s always been a streaky hitter, and effectively losing last season due to eye surgery and adjusting to his new eyes was a setback. I expect Eddie to catch fire at some point and hit 11 homers in a month, as he did in April 2019. I hope that month starts soon.

Ozzie killed pitching in Spring Training, but that hasn’t translated to the regular season. Baseball Savant shows he’s not consistently hitting the ball hard. His 84.3 average exit velocity and 27.8% hard-hit rate are down from 88.9 and 34.0 in 2019. His 7.3-degree average launch angle and a 2.7% barrel rate are also significantly lower than his 15.6 and 6.6, respectively, in 2019.

The Marcell Ozuna Conundrum

Like Ozzie, Ozuna hammered pitchers in Spring Training but is so far unable to duplicate his recovery when it counts. Both of his hits are homers; the first came with the Braves up 4-0 over the Nats, the second off a hanger from Nick Martinez leading off the third on Saturday.

I’d like to have the same confidence in Ozuna as I have in Ozzie and Eddie, but his peripherals, as shown on Baseball Savant, don’t support it. 

Ignoring the outlier that was 2020, Ozuna’s ability to hit fastballs and offspeed pitches declined in every season since 2018. He had the best year in his career hitting breaking pitches in 2022, but that looks like an outlier based on limited ABs. So, what’s changed?

I’m not a hitting coach and don’t play one on TV, but I’ve always been amazed at the way he stepped in the bucket, opened his hips so quickly, and still hit balls out to center and right. This year it doesn’t appear he’s stepping as far towards the third base dugout or opening his hips as quickly. Whether that’s intentional after his struggles, I can’t say, but as bad as his original approach was, it worked for him, and this one isn’t.