It may be time to tack up some “MISSING” fliers on neighborhood trees and on milk cartons around Turner Field like when pets run away. Or do they still mail out those sad “Have you seen me?” cards when people disappear? Because the Atlanta Braves offense is definitely missing in action. After dropping 2 of 3 to the lowly Mets last weekend (a team battling serious injuries of their own while playing without David Wright, Ike Davis, and Johan Santana), there are essentially only three reasons the Braves just swept the Florida Marlins: Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens. Two holds and a save by All-World set-up man Jonny Venters, now sporting a ridiculous 0.47 ERA and 0.72 WHIP, also proved crucial. An Alex Gonzalez solo homer and a Martin Prado single are all the backing Hanson had to work with. D-Lowe didn’t lose his no-hit bid until the 7th inning but still had to sweat out the rest of the game in the dugout with only 2 runs on the scoreboard in support of him. Unfortunately for D-Lowe, closer Craig Kimbrel coughed up the 2-run lead in the bottom of the ninth 1 strike away from finishing the game, but Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman (the only two Braves starters hitting consistently as of late) picked him up in the 10th. And J.J. had to help himself with the winning RBI single to prevent another extra innings game. The Braves scored 7 runs TOTAL in the 3 game sweep. Luckily for the Braves, Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez were inactive, or things would’ve been much more difficult to navigate in Miami.
Look, there have been a lot of low scoring games around the major leagues this season. The last year and a half have produced a renaissance of pitching, with a couple of no-hitters being flirted with seemingly every night. For the Braves though, the biggest concern is the guy who is supposed to provide a huge boost to this offense, 2nd year phenom Jason Heyward, is still at least a week away from returning. And it’s not like he was exactly ripping the cover off the ball when he went down with a shoulder injury, he was only hitting .214. Some of that can be attributed to the bum shoulder I’m sure. Chipper Jones was in the national headlines this week with a controversial statement that got blown waaaay out of proportion about Heyward needing to play through some pain because just his presence alone, even at say 80%, is a force in the lineup. Young players tend to be more sensitive, so I hope J-Hey doesn’t take offense to Chipper’s comments. This was a seasoned veteran who had to learn himself how to play with pain (remember, Chipper used to play around 155 games a year for about 10 seasons until the last 4 or 5 years when he started battling numerous nagging injuries) telling his young star that making a statement like “I’m not playing again until I’m 100%” isn’t necessarily what you want floating around out there. Heyward is already getting a reputation for being injury prone. I’m with Chipper on this one. Nobody in baseball is 100% during the dog days of summer. A lot of the guys on the Braves are playing through pain right now. McCann’s logged more innings behind the plate than any other catcher in the National League. Jordan Schafer took a ball off the face in New York and only missed one game. Now, you can’t speak for anyone else’s threshold for pain, or condemn someone for being hurt, but if you try to wait until you’re totally pain-free before returning to the lineup, the season may totally slip away.
As for making a move before the July trade deadline to get some more pop and/or speed in the lineup, the Braves don’t really have any openings in the field once Heyward returns, except maybe in center. But there’s not really a big market for slugging center fielders who can run, and it’s not like the Dodgers are gonna give up Matt Kemp. Braves fans may fantasize about moving Prado back to second base and going to get a power hitting left fielder, but the Atlanta brass is probably going to be more patient with Dan Uggla than the fans, and nobody is taking his 5 year, $62 million contract extension off your hands anyway. He’s hitting a major league worst .170 amongst regulars. So this is probably going to have to be fixed from the inside. Get Heyward back out there, get McLouth healthy, and send Uggla to a hypnotist or something to get him to lay off the outside slider tailing off the plate. He’s striking out on the off-speed stuff more than Pedro Cerrano lately. Unless…I see one potential swap that the Braves should be considering…
Derek Lowe to the Yankees for Curtis Granderson
The Yankees just got beat down by the rival Red Sox, in New York. Phil Hughes has a dead arm, they’re relying on blasts from the past like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Their starting rotation consists of C.C. Sabathia and a pu pu platter of waiver wire arms. They need proven starting pitching, the Braves need a center fielder who can run and hit for power. The Braves have proved in the past they are willing to make bold deadline moves to improve the offense if they are confident it will get the club over the top in the second half (i.e. Fred McGriff and Mark Teixeira). Think about it Frank Wren.
The Braves (35-28, 2 GB) open up a weekend set with the sorry Houston Astros on Friday night. The Cubbies helped out the Braves by taking down the Phillies a couple times this week. This excellent pitching staff desperately needs some run support. The studs in the bullpen need some rest from all these tight games. O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel are having to log too many innings for this point in the season. We need them healthy and sharp in the Fall. To make things even tougher, offensive catalyst Martin Prado just went on the 15-day DL after being hit squarely on the knee by a throw to second base in the series with the Marlins. That’s the last thing this club needed. Let’s hope the other bats wake up! Fredi Gonzalez is reportedly moving Dan Uggla up to second in the batting order for a few games to try to get him some better pitches to hit in front of Chipper and McCann. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to reach out to Jobu.
About the Author
Written by Marcus Young
"A lotta room in right-center, if he hits one there we can dance in the streets. The 2-1. Swung, line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He is...SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!...Braves win!" The late great Skip Caray with my favorite sports call of all time as a lumbering Sid Bream was able to beat Barry Bonds' three-hopper to the plate by an eyelash in the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium to secure the Atlanta Braves' miraculous back-to-back World Series trips in 1991 and 1992. I grew up in Atlanta, I am still a die hard Braves, Falcons, and Hawks fan and am hungry for another championship to put alongside that lonely 1995 World Series trophy! I graduated from Wake Forest University in 2002 and am back living in Hot-lanta now. Go Deacs and Go Dawgs! My favorite athletes are John Smoltz, Magic Johnson, and Brett Favre. Braves are on a mission in 2011 in the 20th anniversary of that magical 1991 season!