The good news was that the Atlanta Braves scored six runs against the Cardinals on Sunday and fashioned a winning rally off one of the best young closers in the business. Never mind that the rally constituted a single, a double, two walks (one intentional) and a wild pitch. This punchless team will gladly take runs wherever and whenever it can find them, and it hasn’t found many.
We’re within sight of Memorial Day, the first checkpoint of the six-month season, and these are the unhappy totals: The Braves are last in baseball in runs, next-to-last in on-base percentage and next-to-next-to-last in batting average. We’ve all seen them go through stretches where they haven’t hit, but it has been a long time since they’ve not hit like this.
They’re in first place because their pitching has been the best in baseball, but their recent struggles against the Giants and the Cardinals — they went 3-9 against playoff-caliber pitching — serve to underscore what we already know: This isn’t going to work over 162 games. They have to hit better because their pitching cannot possibly be this good for much longer. (Well, can it?)
So now we ask: What to do? They’ve already tried having the pitcher bat eighth, to no effect. And I’m not sure benching Dan Uggla is a real answer, seeing as how that has already happened. His start Sunday marked the first in 11 days. He went 0-for-3 and saw his batting average dip to .178, which is a percentage point worse than last year’s, which is both hard and easy to believe.
B.J. Upton didn’t start Sunday, thereby denying him the chance to pad his major-league-leading strikeout total, which is holding at 56. He’s on pace to whiff 216 times, which would mark the third-highest total in baseball annals. He’s hitting .203 with an on-base percentage of .272; those totals aren’t quite as awful as last season’s .184 and .268, but they’re getting there.
It would be a surprise to me — not a total shock but a surprise — if Uggla is on this roster come Memorial Day. The elder Upton will be here only because the Braves can’t buy out every underperforming hitter. (They’d go bankrupt if they did.) But will releasing/trading Uggla have any tangible effect? He hasn’t had much of a part in the non-hitting of the past two weeks. Beyond that, what? Bench B.J. Upton and go with Jordan Schafer, who drew a tying walk Sunday but who’s hitting .115? Make Ryan Doumit, who’s hitting .217, the everyday left fielder and move Jason Heyward, who’s hitting .215, to center and Justin Upton to right? (If memory serves, that was how last season ended — with a nominal catcher playing the outfield. Didn’t work then, either.)
And what of the time-honored tactic of firing the hitting coach? (The Braves would have to fire two — Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher are a tandem.) There’s no real evidence that such a move actually works beyond changing the batting-cage dynamic, and I’m not convinced that Walker/Fletcher are entirely culpable. They’ve been handed a batting order based around the home run, and the Braves aren’t hitting as many of them. They hit 181 in 162 games last season; they’ve hit 40 in 42 games this time.
So I ask again: What to do? I’ll hang up and listen to your answers. And there’s also a handy (if unscientific) poll for your clicking pleasure.
From myajc.com: How did the Braves’ offense get this bad? Glad you asked.