Atlanta Braves: 10 Reasons the Braves Are Prone to Massive Slumps

Daniel KockContributor IIIJune 8, 2012

Atlanta Braves: 10 Reasons the Braves Are Prone to Massive Slumps

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    The Atlanta Braves trail the Washington Nationals in the NL East Division due to a couple losing streaks this season.

    If you include last September's collapse, that is three major losing streaks in the last two seasons.

    The Braves went 9-18 that September, which included a five-game losing streak to finish the season. They started right where they left off in 2012 by losing the first four games of the year. Recently, the Braves suffered through an eight-game losing streak before turning it around against the St. Louis Cardinals.

    The losing streak cost the Braves a playoff berth in 2011, and the team will have to prevent streaks like those to earn a spot in 2012.

    When a team goes through a losing streak, there are generally a combination of factors that go against the team.

    It is no different for the Braves, and there are some recurring patterns that show up in these losing streaks.

    Here's a look at the reasons why the Braves have been prone to massive slumps.

1. Offense

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    The Braves' bats go missing during their losing streaks.

    Take a look at the three major slumps over the last two season. The Braves averaged 2.5 runs in both their four-game and eight-game losing streaks this season. They averaged just two runs a game during the five-game losing streak to end the 2011 season.

    That's simply not getting it done from an offensive standpoint.

    Hitting is contagious, and it appears especially true in the case of the Braves. The hitters in the Braves lineup feed off each other. Top of the order hitters don't get on which leads to a domino effect throughout the entire lineup.

    It's a collective lack of production from the lineup that always seems to pop up when the Braves go on a losing streak.

2. Chipper Jones Health

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    Chipper Jones is nearing the end of his career but still remains an effective offensive player.

    However, Jones is constantly beat up and has a tough time staying on the diamond. Currently Jones is on the disabled list due to a bruised shin.

    The Braves are 21-8 with Chipper in the lineup and just 11-17 without him this year. They score 5.7 runs a game with him in the lineup. Just the presence of Jones in the lineup adds a different dimension to the Braves offense.

    He gives quality at-bats that his replacements, Juan Francisco and Jose Constanza, cannot produce on a consistent basis. 

    Pitchers still fear Jones, and the numbers clearly suggest that the Braves are a different team with him in the lineup.

3. Bullpen

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    The bullpen was the backbone of the 2011 Atlanta Braves team. If the Braves led after six innings, the combination of Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel would finish the game.

    Kimbrel leads the National League in saves and looks to become even more dominant in 2012. However, Venters and O'Flaherty have struggled. O'Flaherty and Venters have posted respectable ERA's at 3.66 and 3.54, respectively. However, it is nowhere near the 0.98 and 1.84 ERA the two posted last year.

    It was O'Flaherty who got off to the bad start while Venters has struggled in recent weeks. The seventh and eighth innings are no longer automatic shutdown innings for Fredi Gonzalez.

    In the recent eight-game losing streak the bullpen had opportunities to carry the team to a victory. In a game against the Reds, Kris Medlen came in only to give up a grand slam and relinquish the lead.

    The Braves battled back in the next series against the Nationals against phenom Stephen Strasburg to watch Medlen and Venters give up four runs in two innings.

    Those inconsistencies from the bullpen have plagued the Braves at times. The bullpen looked tired and fell apart in the September collapse.

    In 2012, the bullpen has not had the same overall dominance.

4. Fluke Injuries

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    Baseball is a funny game.

    A hitter can do everything right by squaring up the barrel on the ball only to see it hit right at a fielder. A pitcher can make a perfect pitch only to watch the batter hit a bleeder that somehow finds the outfield grass.

    The Braves had some rough luck during their eight-game losing streak.

    All-star catcher Brian McCann was suffering from the flu and missed a significant amount of time. He was forced into action one night when his backup David Ross injured his groin.

    First baseman Freddie Freeman suffered from blurred vision out of his right eye due to a corneal abrasion at the beginning of the losing streak. That forced Freeman in and out of the lineup, and he generally looked uncomfortable during that stretch.

    Those fluke "injuries" combined with the absence of Chipper Jones and Matt Diaz's own flu issues left the Braves short-handed.

    It was a bizarre week for the Braves, and sometimes that's the way it goes in baseball.

5. Jason Heyward

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    Unfortunately for Braves fans, Jason Heyward has not lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him as he ascended through the minors.

    Heyward has shown flashes of stardom but lacks consistency with his bat. In 2012, he's hitting a pedestrian .246 with six home runs and 26 RBI.

    Those are decent numbers but not the type of production the Braves expected to get from him.

    The inside pitch continues to be Heyward's Achilles' heel. He struggles to pull his long arms inside and get the barrel of the bat on the ball.

    Heyward had an opportunity to carry the team while McCann, Jones and Freeman all were sidelined with injuries. He went 4-24 during that stretch.

    That's been the story for Heyward. He has the talent of a five-tool player but goes through too many cold stretches to become the player the Braves thought he'd be.

6. Young Rotation

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    The Braves have some of the best young pitching talent in all of baseball. While the talent is visible, there are still growing pains with any young pitcher.

    Besides Tim Hudson, the Braves have four pitchers 25 years old or younger in the rotation.

    These guys are still learning how to become effective pitchers at the major league level.

    Brandon Beachy has emerged as a top of the rotation pitcher as he leads the National League in ERA at 1.87. Even he had a start against the Reds where he gave up four home-runs.

    Tommy Hanson seems like a veteran since he's been in Atlanta since 2009. However, he is just 25 years old and will have starts every once in awhile like he did against the Cardinals during the losing streak. Hanson lasted just 3.1 innings as he gave up six earned runs.

    Pitching in the majors is an art. It takes changing locations, mixing speeds and knowing the opposition along with the physical tools to fully master pitching.

    Right now the Braves rotation is a majority of guys who are still learning that process.

7. Dan Uggla

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    Dan Uggla has bounced back in 2012 and returned to his former self.

    He's driving in runs and has a good average but is a feast or famine type player. Uggla goes to the plate with the mindset of hitting a three-run homer. Sometimes he hits it 400 ft. while other times he strikes out.

    Braves fans have to live with the strikeouts because they're going to happen.

    Uggla started off the season during the Braves losing streak by going 1-13 with no RBI and then went 5-23 during the eight-game losing streak.

    Uggla isn't going to attempt to get the runner on second base to third. He isn't going to choke up on the bat with two strikes.

    With that approach, he's going to get inconsistent results. Braves fans just need to enjoy the hot stretches but realize that there will be cold stretches.

    There will be a major impact overall on a lineup when the cleanup hitter is in a slump.

8. Shortstop

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    The Braves have made an attempt to cure the defensive issues at shortstop with the recent call-up of shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

    Tyler Pastornicky got the Opening Day start at shortstop for the Braves and came up with some key hits for the club.

    However, Pastornicky was below average in the field as he made seven errors in just 42 games. There were numerous other plays that a major league shortstop should make that were not considered errors.

    Professional baseball teams need to be strong up the middle defensively. Uggla at second and McCann behind the plate are not exactly known for their defense.

    That makes it all the more vital for the Braves to have a legit shortstop. When a team is struggling it has to at least play good defense.

    With Pastornicky, the Braves defense was too sketchy up the middle. Simmons should be able to provide much improved defense at the position, which will help prevent prolonged slumps.

9. Youth Factor

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    The youth in the rotation is obvious, but there are key players throughout the entire roster who are still very young.

    Dan Uggla is the only position pitcher in the starting lineup that is over 30 years old when you discount Chipper Jones.

    The key contributors coming out of the bullpen in Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty are 24, 27 and 27 years old.

    The Braves are the third youngest team in the league according to the opening day rosters and have a ton of youth playing prominent roles on the team.

    Young players are usually more inconsistent. They'll struggle to handle adversity because they haven't had to deal with it.

    When the team struggles, it's the young guys who turn to the veterans to lead the way. There aren't many of those in Atlanta.

    Youth and inexperience leads to inconsistent results in anything in life. The Braves suffer from those rough losing streaks partially because of that lack of experience.

10. Toughest Division

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    The Philadelphia Phillies are currently in last place in the NL East Division just three games under .500. That shows how tough the NL East is this year.

    To win your division you have to beat up on the teams inside your division.

    The Braves failed to do that at the end of last season as they lost five straight against the Nationals and Phillies. However, the Phillies had the best rotation in baseball last year, and the Nationals went 9-2 down the stretch last year and arguably played their best ball of the season.

    The Braves opened 2012 by getting swept to the Mets. The Mets had low expectations coming into the season but have been one of the surprises in the National League and sit just a few games behind the Nationals for the division lead.

    Then the Nationals swept the Braves in Atlanta as part of the eight-game losing streak in May. The Nationals will be in the hunt all season due to the pitching duo of Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg.

    The Phillies still have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels while the Miami Marlins boosted their roster in free agency this offseason.

    The Braves play in the best division in baseball this season, and their losing streaks have been caused by their division rivals.

    Playing good teams, inconsistent players, youth and bad luck have all had their hand in these past losing streaks for the Atlanta Braves.