Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker felt uneasy. The defending champions kept him awake at night.
With his team losing the first two games of the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks to end May, the Braves were down four games under .500 and Snitker decided something had to be done.
“I rode, didn’t sleep,” he recalled. “Then I started taking some notes in my hotel room and I had to face them. We were out of our minds.
“I got messages saying, ‘Are you going to blow these guys up? No. The players don’t react to it.”
So Snitker consulted with his substitute coach Walt Weiss and decided they needed to act now, calling a private meeting at the visitors’ club as his players entered Phoenix’s Chase Field, facing a potential sweep.
“Sneath is not going to be in front of the club, ranting and going on a rampage,” Weiss said. “It was a very simple message.”
Message: relax. Result: 14 wins in a row.
By the time the Braves finally lost for the first time this month on Friday, they had cut the Mets NL East lead from 10½ games to 5½. They went from 4.5 games due to wildcard place to the fourth-best record in the National League.
“One event doesn’t make 14 wins,” new Braves baseman Matt Olson said. “But it was nice to hear Snit stand up and tell everyone to relax a bit. We didn’t play great baseball in terms of the full package, so it was just a “take a deep breath” type of meeting.
Some of it sounded pretty familiar: The Braves had a similarly slow start to the season back and ended up winning the championship, becoming the first team to even reach the World Series after not having a winning record until August 6. at the Elias Sports Bureau.
In fact, Snitker admits that winning this 2021 title could have been due to a sluggish start. A season that lasted into November, followed by a winter of performances and promotions, and additional temporary commitments to become champions, not to mention a shutdown that lasted until March, could put pressure on the players. Baseball hasn’t won a championship in more than two decades, and the Braves’ slow start only added to the talk of a World Series hangover.
“It takes about a month to feel normal. It requires a lot of strength from you,” Snitker said. “I don’t know if hangover is the right word. There was an effort, but there is the effect of a deep and long playoff race.”
Third baseman Austin Riley added, “I don’t know about hangovers. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do too much. Things that were kind of outside of us.”
The Braves’ resurgence has occurred on both sides of the ball. Atlanta’s .870 OPS is third in the majors since June 1, and only the Yankees have more home runs than the Braves 39. Meanwhile, the pitcher’s 3.61 ERA ranks seventh in baseball this stretch. Getting that input will be even more important as there are series against the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the schedule this week.
During the off-season, Snitker studied the physical and mental strain on a team that replay attempts can put on them. He drew attention to one of them, which went one after another: the Toronto Blue Jays of 1992-93.
“I think they had 14 new guys in their second year,” Snitker said. “I look back on the 14 year run we had [in the ’90s]. I think every year there are 10 new guys.
“You’re not going to copy that thing.”
It was clear from the start of the winter for the Braves that they wouldn’t try – a combination of off-season activities eventually saw the team say goodbye to Freddie Freeman and welcome Olson.
Snitker called the locker room on June 1, after the Braves had lost their second game of the Diamondbacks series in extra innings the night before. From there it was a complete turnaround. The team first won the series final against the Diamondbacks. This was followed by sweeps of the Rocky Mountains, the Athletics, pirates and citizens. Sixteen days later, Atlanta finally lost, losing two of three over the weekend to the Cubs.
“We hit the groove,” said outfielder Adam Duvall. “Everyone is doing their job. Everyone contributes… Sometimes it’s good to get together and make sure everyone is working in the same direction.”
“There are so many things you can control,” newcomer Spencer Strider said. “When you pay attention to things, you make them a priority. There was no panic or extreme urgency to change the way we worked.”
Impossible to say how much of this lane Indeed had something to do with the message Snitker gave his team three weeks ago, but at least he was getting better sleep at night.
“It’s probably more about me than them,” Snitker said with a smile. “I felt like I needed to get it off my chest.”