Alex Anthopoulos Q&A: Braves executive on team's extended slump, what can be done to fix it

BALTIMORE — The Atlanta Braves have arguably been the National League’s most disappointing team through the season’s first 2 1/2 months, and Alex Anthopoulos, the team’s general manager and president of baseball operations, discussed the situation and their dismal offensive performance over the previous 40 games Wednesday afternoon in the visitor’s dugout at Camden Yards.

A few hours before the second game of a series against the Baltimore Orioles — a series that began with Atlanta being shut out for the second time in a week — Anthopoulos spoke of how much confidence he retained in the team, manager Brian Snitker and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, and said what Snitker and players have said for weeks: That the slump won’t last forever. Of that, they are certain.

The Braves, ranked first or second in virtually all published MLB power rankings two months ago, dropped out of the top five in all of those while losing 23 of the past 40 games before Wednesday and falling 10 games behind the surging Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East. Atlanta has won six consecutive division titles, but lost in consecutive NLDS appearances against the Phillies.

The hitting has been alarmingly and inexplicably bad from a Braves lineup that is virtually the same as it was in 2023, when they tied a major league record with 307 homers, had an .845 OPS that was 50 points better than baseball’s next-best, and set a record with a .501 slugging percentage.

Sure, the Braves lost NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending knee injury May 12, but he and they were struggling long before he tore his left ACL. They also played two months without 2023 All-Star catcher Sean Murphy, who strained an oblique Opening Day and didn’t return until May 27, and they were without third baseman Austin Riley for two weeks after he strained a side muscle just as he was beginning to come out of a long funk; since he returned he’s slumped worse than ever.

But none of that would explain the precipitous decline of an offense that entered Sunday ranked 13th in the majors in OPS (.708), 12th in slugging (.397) and 17th in homers with 65 in 64 games. An offense that, over its past 40 games, had been still worse than that, ranking dead last among 30 teams with a .634 OPS in that span, 27th in slugging (.354) and 25th in homers (36).

Here’s some of what Anthopoulos, Baseball America’s 2022 MLB Executive of the Year, had to say about the Braves’ current situation and the rest of the season including the July 30 trade deadline. Some answers have been edited for brevity or clarity.

In 14 games since missing two weeks with a side injury, Braves third baseman Austin Riley has batted just .170. (Geoff Burke / USA Today)

On his evaluation of the team’s performance so far and particularly the past 40 games:

“Look, we haven’t played well. I’m stating the obvious there. The one thing is, you look at the (NL East) standings obviously, but the fact that the majority of the National League hasn’t played well has been good for us…So as much as you can look at the standings and you’re still looking at playoff spots and so on — we have to play better obviously, but the fact that you can keep your head above water when you’re not playing well … we are fortunate that the NL hasn’t played up to its capabilities across the board.”

On the offense struggling so severely, and how much he considers things such as the Murphy and Riley injuries and other factors when evaluating it:

“The tough part is you want to be objective about it, but you don’t want to make excuses at the same time. And I don’t think it’s singling out any one player, because it’s a collective. The thought initially, you come into the year and it’s basically the same team as a year ago offensively. You have a deep lineup, and normally what happens is when two or three guys are cold, the other five or six step up and so on. Rarely do you have it that you have a (large) collection of guys that are cold. Obviously (Marcell) Ozuna has been incredible. And (other) guys have had moments and so on. But you look at — you know how Snit talks about the back of the baseball card and so on, that guys have been capable of more and have done more in the past as well. So, obviously we’d love to have it turn around immediately. Everyone’s obviously trying. Players, coaches, and from my standpoint doing what I can. But we haven’t gotten it done yet. I mean, that’s just the reality of it.

“It’s gone on for a while, that goes without saying. But the saving grace, if you want to put it that way, is that the National League overall hasn’t run away from us. The Phillies are obviously playing exceptionally well, the best team arguably in the game right now. But it’s about making sure you get to the playoffs one way or the other. And right now, in the NL, I bet if you took a lot of these teams and these front offices, they’d tell you the same thing — no one’s playing the way they thought they would (except) Brewers, Dodgers, Phillies.”

On what he can do in a situation like this to try to improve it:

 “I guess I’d say this: Obviously the players are going to work in the cages and so on, and the coaches are going to prepare, and front-office wise, (research and development), the advance team will do everything they can. I’m active in terms of calls with trades and things like that. There isn’t anything imminent. I’m doing my job; I don’t want to create something (rumor) that isn’t there, but I’d say I’ve been more active than I’ve been in the past. Not that you’re not doing it at all times, but look, when you’re not playing well, you have to look at yourself and say, what can I do?

“The same way for guys taking more swings, or the coaches putting in more hours — everyone’s doing what they can. We haven’t gotten any traction and so on, but I can tell you, it seems like (from) talking across the league to other GMs, the offensive issues seem like they’re spread across the league. A lot of GMs are saying the same thing. People feel like they’re not hitting the way they can. That doesn’t make us feel any better, because it’s about us and getting our own team playing well. But I would say that would be the main thing is more continuing to look if there’s anything else that we can come up with.”

On evaluating the manager and hitting coach at times like this, and how what they’ve done for multiple years outweighs a long hitting slump:

“I got asked that on radio; it was a lot more direct — they were like, are you considering anything (staff moves)? What I would say is, look, I believe coaches are important. Obviously the manager is incredibly important. But I’d say this from a hitting standpoint, this was my answer then and I’m consistent now — hitting coaches, infield coaches, pitching coaches, they’re all important. They make players better, no doubt about it. But I don’t necessarily believe, unless there’s guys who can’t connect with people or there’s issues internally or personality conflicts, things like that. … At the end of the day, when we make trades, I’ve never asked the team to put the hitting coach in the trade. When we’ve signed players, I’ve never asked to go acquire their hitting coach that they had. And that’s not to say hitting coaches aren’t important, but I just don’t think you can overweigh those things.

“We’ve had exceptional success here for the six years I’ve been here. Obviously this is year seven, the year is not done. We’ve been streaky at times, but we’re coming off such a historic season offensively. I understand it. Look, when you’re not playing well, you’re gonna get asked those questions. But I would say that there’s no — I mean in terms of confidence, work ethic, all those things — there’s been no change there. We feel really good about the group. We’re going to take six years of a sample, more so than a two-month-plus period.”

On the players and Snitker being frustrated but not panicking, and whether Anthopoulos has a similar attitude and if so, how he maintains that during such a difficult period:

“I think because we’ve been through it before — not that you want to go through it, but (in seven years) here, we’ve had our moments when the team’s not playing well. But I think because of the group we have and how accomplished they are — when you have a high-character group like this, when things don’t go well, the analogy I use is, the floor does not cave in. They stay steady. That doesn’t mean they’re happy, satisfied. I mean, there’s things that obviously the media isn’t privy to, in terms of what they’re doing behind the scenes — getting together, meetings, things like that. Guys care. Guys are trying. My observation is more (about), is the vibe still good? Is the mood still good? Granted, there’s going to be frustration. And it’s tough, no one has fun when you’re losing. But overall, are we still in a good place? Are the coaching staff in a good place? Are the players still in a good place? So, that is still as good as it can be, all things considered. But look, there’s no doubt, it’s gone on a while. It’s why I don’t normally do (media) scrums during the season. If I’m doing them, that means when we’re not playing well.”

On whether he considers factors like the Braves’ continued hard-hit rates and exit velocities, or just the results on the field:

 “I’m careful when I answer this, just because I don’t want it to come across as excuses. Because nobody wants to hear, ‘Well, our hard-hit rate is better than our results have been.’ People might roll their eyes. I know this is a results business at the end of the day. But those are things we’re going to look at. And that goes without saying. We are barreling some balls. Look, it seems like when you’re grinding, like the ball Murph hit last night (which would’ve been a three-run homer in all 29 parks except Baltimore). What a difference, you wonder 3-nothing (the score at the time), what it could change. Look, you shouldn’t be leaning on those things that much over the course of 162. But when you’re grinding and you’re trying to get it going, those weigh on you a little bit more.

“What I would say, I think if you look, before Adam (Duvall) was playing every day for us, in terms of our everyday position-player group our best performing hitter was our oldest one in Marcell Ozuna at 33 years old. And the reason I’m highlighting that and pointing it out is, this is a young group of really accomplished players. So it’d be one thing if you’re thinking that this is an aging core, a team with diminishing talent. It’s not that at all. Look, it’s a team that’s not performing to expectations. Certainly. But there’s still tremendous upside. And again, the biggest part for us is that the NL field from a playoff standpoint is kind of, we’re all in the same boat. And that’s similar to ’21, when it allowed us to hang around until we could get things going. So we’d love for that to happen tonight. But we are fortunate in the fact that the rest of the NL hasn’t really pulled away.”

(Top photo of Anthopoulos in February: Kim Klement Neitzel / USA Today)

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