Who could have predicted this?
Another night and another loss for the Atlanta Braves.
That's eight in a row now - eight losses in a row.
How can a team have two remarkable victories, one on a game-winning hit by Jason Heyward, and another on a tremendous comeback against Philadelphia, and turn around and lose eight games in a row?
I still maintain there is a lot of baseball left, and like I wrote yesterday, there's no need to panic.
But there's just not a whole lot to feel good about the Braves right now. They can't feel good about it. And the fans certainly don't feel too good about it.
There was no indication this was about to happen. They had a good spring training. The lineup was very productive. The team looked better, at least on paper, than last year.
But the Braves are not hitting. The starting pitching has been a bit disappointing. And the defense has been atrocious at times.
If a team has all that happen at once, it's going to be in last place and have an eight-game losing streak.
You're going to be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought the Braves would struggle this much, even this early in the season. Sometimes teams don't come out of the gate very well, but the Braves had a great opening day, and again, they had those two great victories just last week.
It isn't out of the question that someone could have doubted how good the Braves would be, but this bad? No one could have predicted this.
That's why it's such a shock. If you had expected the Braves to possibly be a .500 team, then a losing streak like this wouldn't be such a surprise. But most believed the Braves were going to challenge the Phillies in the National League East.
Atlanta had a .289 team batting average in spring training, sixth best in the game. They also had the second best on base percentage in baseball, with a .377 clip.
The players on the roster, particularly Chipper Jones, talked about how balanced the lineup was and how much he expected from an improved lineup.
"The one thing that I like is the fact that one through eight we are tough outs," Jones said in late March. "The one thing that has been glaring for me is the fact that we've been a very aggressive, swing early in the count, lot of strikeout-type lineups. This is not one of those."
"This is a lineup that has more walks than strikeouts and who make pitchers work," Jones believed. "We've gotten a lot of pitchers out of games early in spring down here because we've made them throw a lot of pitches. Our on base percentage has been good. And one through eight you just don't have those outs that we had in the lineup early last year."
Jones was referring, of course, to Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, and Casey Kotchman. All three did struggle early last year for the Braves, but now Francoeur has a .344 on base percentage for the Mets, Johnson has eight home runs for the Diamondbacks, and Kotchman has three home runs for the Mariners.
Here's Chipper again talking in March about the positive feelings he had about this 2010 Braves team.
"The one word that I've used to describe this entire team is solid," Jones said. "We know we can compete with anybody on a daily basis. It's just a matter of going out and putting a solid 162 together. This team is built, more so than the last four or five teams that have been here, to be able to do that."
I am not, by any means, sharing these comments with you to embarrass Jones. Instead, I think it shows how people thought this team would do this season, and therefore what a surprise this late-April slump is for everyone.
The Braves have hit only .220 during the eight-game losing streak. They have only 12 extra base hits (all doubles). The last Atlanta player to hit a home run was Nate McLouth, to win the game over Philadelphia last Tuesday, and the day before the losing streak started.
Atlanta has been shut out three times in the losing streak, and they have scored only 13 runs. The Braves scored 14 runs in the first seven innings of the season on opening day.
The team batting average is now .227, worst in the National League. The Mets have the second worst average at .240. Atlanta has scored 77 runs in 21 games, second-worst in the league behind the Astros, who come in Friday night for a weekend series.
Unfortunately, it's not just been the hitting, or lack of hitting. The starting pitchers have struggled a bit too, with a 4.84 earned run average in the eight games. Of course, it's difficult to pitch when you are skeptical the offense is going to give you any run support.
For the season, the rotation has a 4.50 ERA. That's 9th best in the National League and 18th best in baseball. We all thought they would be much better than that.
And Atlanta has committed 10 errors in the last eight games and 20 for the season, which is the fourth most in the major leagues.
The Braves will try to snap out of the losing streak this afternoon in the finale in St. Louis. A tough opponent will be on the mound, as former Braves top prospect Adam Wainwright (3-1, 1.69) will pitch for the Cardinals. Jair Jurrjens (0-2, 5.48) goes for the Braves, and if any pitcher needs run support it's him.
SportSouth has all the coverage in HD beginning at 1:30 pm ET.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Atlanta Baseball Show. Shanks writes a weekly column for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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