31 May

encore issues

The breakthrough performance in 2021 was so good, the encore for Austin Riley this season was certain to be a challenge. The former DeSoto Central High star, not even assured of a starting job entering last season, became an All-MLB performer at third base for Atlanta, batting .303 with 33 home runs and 107 RBIs while helping the Braves win the World Series. Riley’s 2022 season has been a bit clunky. He’s got 12 homers, ranking among the National League leaders. But he’s hitting only .250, and it has taken a hot streak (.357 in his last seven games) to reach that mark. With 24 RBIs, he is not on a 100-RBI pace. He is striking out in 31 percent of his at-bats, up from 2021 (28 percent). Riley’s season is a microcosm of the Braves’. The defending champs are floundering under .500 (23-26), far off the New York Mets’ pace in the NL East. The Braves lead MLB in strikeouts with 479; that’s more than nine per game. They are fifth in homers but just 17th in runs. There are other issues — defense has been spotty and the pitchers walk too many batters — but the inconsistency with the bats is most telling. In a 6-2 loss Monday at Arizona — in a hitter’s venue — the Braves struck out eight times and left eight runners on base, going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. In a nutshell, strikeouts are killing them. Four regulars, Riley among them, rank in the top 10 in the NL in punchouts. The good news is, there is plenty of time left in the season. A late run, a la 2021, is possible. But something in the Braves’ approach needs to change. P.S. No. 1 Pearl River Community College is 2-0 in the NJCAA Division II World Series, having outscored its opponents in Enid, Okla., by a 27-10 count.

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