Three Key Atlanta Braves Coming Down the Stretch

Dan Uggla Braves

An Uggla hot streak would seal the regular season deal

The Atlanta Braves have opened up an eight game lead in the National League East race, but the season is far from over.  So who are the three players that are key the rest of the season and into the playoffs?

Even before Tim Hudson‘s injury, I considered Brandon Beachy to be a key this season.  Beachy was one of the top pitchers in the National League last season and if he can regain that form, he would be huge for this Braves team, particularly in the playoffs.  If he doesn’t, I’m not sure the Braves have enough pitching to do significant damage in the playoffs.

Beachy has a cocky edge to him, an athletic arrogance that infuses his teammates with confidence.  He has the make-up to pitch his best in the biggest games and the Braves young pitching staff would be bolstered tremendously if he can regain his top form.

Dan Uggla has the capability to carry the Atlanta Braves for weeks at a time.  He also has the ability to keep Braves fans up at night, tossing and turning in their beds.  When Uggla is hot, he can hit shots that rip chairs out of the bleachers and break the hands of fans who foolishly try to snag one of his homers bare-handed.

If Uggla gets hot for a two-week stretch between now and the rest of the season, game over.  That eight game Atlanta Braves lead could balloon to a baker’s dozen, seemingly over night.  The Phillies could then start dismantling their team and the Nationals could start the finger-pointing and head scratching and Monday morning quarterbacking as they try to figure out what went wrong.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we saw what Justin Upton can do when he’s on a roll.  He almost single-handedly fueled that incredibly 12-1 start to the season, when he won the NL Player of the Month in April.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same player since for, reasons that no one can seem to figure out.

Upton  is fulfilling his dream of playing with his brother, his dad and friends make the short drive from South Carolina to attend many of the games, and he is healthy.  Everything seems to be copacetic in Justin Upton‘s baseball life, yet the April power surge has inexplicably fizzled.

If Upton can regain his top form hitting in front of Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, the Atlanta Braves become a legitimate World Series contender.  Hopefully, that isn’t a “Big If.”

  • BravesBeliever

    Absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, straight up baseball gospel from your mouth to the baseball gods’ ears, Jim!! You couldn’t be more accurate. At the risk of being a little lengthy in this comment, Jim, here is my analysis of the problem: THE BRAVES SO-CALLED “STRIKE OUT PROBLEM” IS A RISP PROBLEM. Consider the following, with which I think you will agree: our
    Braves who, by analysis of pure hitting talent, is one of the best hitting Braves ball clubs in modern history simply cannot and will not win at the highest level in the post season
    if they continue to leave runners in scoring position- especially in situations with multiple
    base runners with no outs or only one out. Bases loaded (sometimes twice in a game)
    with no men or only one man out…two on with no outs multiple times during some games…etc. with
    no scoring is a monumental problem with our Braves which, if not rectified is a
    post-season success showstopper. Now, I realize that for astute Braves fans, this is not a virgin revelation
    by any means; but, what has not been noted with any
    degree of frequency or regularity is THE major cause of that failure to score from scoring positions on base (RISP-Runners in Scoring Position).

    I’m not a stats guy. I’m perfectly fine with cyber metrics in moderation yet I believe in most old
    school baseball analytics as well. However, I AM an astute observer of the game
    and I have gone back and looked at every single RISP situations of the 2013 season thus far
    and, almost without fail, each instance of failing to score with RISP shares
    three common characteristics in common: (1) TAKING PITCHES and, more particularly, taking strikes that
    have a large portion of the plate; (2) not protecting the plate,
    especially with two strikes and (3) not making every effort possible to put the ball in play in some shape, form or fashion. Sure, timing and other mechanics issues have been a problem with some of the Braves but that will happen from time to time with all great hitters.
    And, pitch selection has been somewhat of a problem to a much lesser extent. BUT THE REAL PROBLEM is passivity at the plate.
    Contrary to popular opinion, the Braves strike out more because they do NOT
    swing than because they DO swing! They simply watch to many great pitches float over the plate because of inane, arcane philosophies regarding taking the first pitch or taking on 3-0, etc.

    The principal offenders in taking dream come true pitches, pitches which
    split the plate and other strikes ripe for hitting, if not come very near doing so, are Uggla, both Uptons,
    Simmons and, with lesser regularity, at times, even Heyward (until recently)
    and Johnson (though rarely). Now, look, I know, these guys (even BJ) are historically terrific
    hitters from a pure inherent talent and proven capability standpoint. Moreover,
    for this team, clearly all of these Braves should be starting (with
    the possible and maybe even likely exception of BJ, depending on his
    proficiency upon return to action) and, no doubt, should be playing as much as possible.
    However, if the Braves are to be successful in the post-season, they must
    resolve their RISP scoring deficit. And, more to the point, they must do so by
    implementing the following three point, interrelated strategy with a very high degree of emphasis, focus and attention to detail, post-haste.

    Braves hitters and, particularly their sluggers (3/4 of their line-up) must:
    (a) insist on making
    every effort to put the ball in play with MUCH greater regularity:

    (b) refrain from taking pitches that
    are in the strike zone in ANY count, throughout the count,
    regardless of the count (i.e., throw “the book” away!); and

    (c) aggressively protect the plate
    (especially in two strike situations).

    All three of these strategies are interrelated with one another and should be
    implemented as a complete, all-encompassing strategy immediately. These are GREAT hitters. They have immense talent. They should be freed up to use their own judgment and swing at ALL good pitches aggressively! If fans and, preferably, coaches will go
    back and review the RISP failures of every game this season, you will see that
    the direct correlation between leaving RISP and not adhering to the foregoing three
    principles is nothing short of absolutely astounding. And, if the Braves batters and, again, most especially the 3/4 of the lineup comprised of sluggers will focus
    intently on executing the preceding three strategies (a-c above), the RISP failures will drop precipitously as strike outs decrease and,
    thus, runs will drastically increase.

    It’s one thing to pronounce that the Braves’ RISP execution is bad. It’s quite another to
    propose a plan and execute on that plan. It’s easy to point out failures. It’s
    quite another to point out a solution for that failure. And, by the way, this
    massive problem is not a failure on the part of the players alone, by any
    means. Equal, if not the lion’s share of the fault here should be attributed to the calls from the Braves coaches in instructing them to
    take pitches in what is usually thought of as “by the book taking” situations.

    As stated above, what one must understand is that this line-up consists of a rare abundance of
    phenomenally talented hitters who need to be “let loose” and “freed up” as we say down south. They are experienced veterans and proven
    sluggers. “The book” which calls for taking the first pitch and taking on 3-0, giving up free strikes to the pitcher should be thrown away, never to be retrieved again when it
    comes to batsmen of the slamming caliber of this Braves lineup in terms of their
    uniquely rare slugging ability pretty much from 1 to 8 with few exceptions. Free strikes given up to the
    opposing slingers simply based on first pitch or 3-0 counts is a ludicrous philosophy and
    might as well be random…and, in some instances is totally apparently random. This
    highly proficient and free swinging lineup gives the Braves the incredible ability to score
    if any pitch in any count is a candidate for those swings using the inherent
    talent of these proven, capable sluggers. On the other hand, if the Braves almost routinely allow one of those pitches to be
    forfeited as a “taken strike,” no matter the count, the statistical likelihood
    of a score-inducing at bat is also forfeited in a statistically devastating one-third more opportunities, i.e., these are lost
    opportunities in at least 1/3rd of the at-bats! And, guess what? That 1/3rd is, oddly enough, statistically almost exactly the amount of missed opportunities to
    put runners on and, more importantly, to bring home RISPs during the first half of the 2013 season!

    Moreover, if strike-outs opportunities for opposing pitchers are reduced by one third by not giving away that “free
    strike” by incorporating the three strategies above, we would not be discussing
    the high ratio of Braves strikeouts in this lineup (which I’m sure the readers
    are as weary of hearing about as am I!

    Forgive me if I have more faith in the ability of the slugging Braves batsmen
    than does the Braves coaching staff but, quite candidly, I think they are due
    that confidence. These guys are monster hitters if only unleashed. Stop giving
    away strikes and deploy the three strategies above and we will see the
    Braves start accumulating many, many more runs via RISP ASAP!