The eight-game skid made the Braves plummet down the NL East standings, and, even worse, it revealed some pretty big holes in our lineup and rotation. Hinske, for example, is a guy I love to have on the team. He can be an excellent offensive spark off the bench, clutch in pinch-hitting situations, and he plays his position well, but he’s just not an everyday first basemen, especially if our opponents have an army of left-handed pitching. It’s no secret that we’re thin at the catcher position, but dang, we are thin. All it takes is a stomach bug and a tweaked groin to land Boscan behind the dish. Nothing personal against Boscan, but he’s not MLB caliber. The outfield is not bulletproof like I was beginning to think. Even though Heyward might not be the all-star super-human we all imagined him to be, he’s at least always shown solid work ethic and hustle. Until now, that is. Hopefully his recent guffaws will act as a wakeup call for J-Hey. And then there’s our pitching. Every starter has hit a rough patch at the same time, and our bullpen is no better. It doesn’t help that Fredi seems to think that Livan is the best option in every situation.
But the hole in our team that worries me the most is definitely third base. You’ve probably all seen the with Chipper/without Chipper split, and if you haven’t, just know that it’s ugly and getting worse every day. What’s uglier? According to Chip (or Joe, I forget which one), the bruise on Chipper’s leg is the ugliest thing ever. He’s on the 15-day DL, and could return within a couple weeks, but who knows what kind of lingering effects this injury is going to have (damn you, Tampa Bay artificial turf!). The original game plan for the hot corner was to play Juan Francisco when Chipper needed a day off, but as the season progresses and Francisco doesn’t seem to improve (or mature), it’s becoming clear that something else needs to be done.
One option is to make Prado the permanent third baseman in Chipper’s absence. Prado is our hottest hitter and a good defensive player no matter where we stick him. I like him at third base, with the only problem being that it leaves a hole in left field. Diaz can play left, but can’t hit righties. Constanza is playing his second consecutive game in left today, but I think we can all agree that this is not a long-term solution. If Prado is going to see a lot of time at third this season (and perhaps take over the position full-time next year), then we really need to acquire another outfielder, preferably someone who can hit for average.
Another option is to keep Prado in left and make a deal for a new third baseman before the deadline. Maybe it’s time that we dealt one of our young arms, traded some potential for some right-now production. The main problem with this option is that I can’t think of a single solid third-baseman who is looking for a change of scenery, or that we could afford. I’d be more than happy to give up Minor or Delgado and a prospect or two in exchange for a consistent third-baseman who can hit.
Ultimately, I’d be even happier if Chipper would just have a healthy, timely return and continue hitting .300 with a homerun every other game. At this point, of course, that’s practically a pipe dream. Barring some Six Million Dollar Man miracle (“We can rebuild him… We have the technology”), we’re going to have to face the facts and find a reliable replacement. It’s not going to be simple, and whoever takes his place is going to have to deal with some difficult comparisons.
There’s another option: don’t make any big move. Just keep shuffling Diaz and Prado and (yes) Constanza around the field and lineup. Close your eyes and hope for the best. Unfortunately, our club will probably go with this option. While plugging the other holes with Freeman and McCann returning to the lineup, and perhaps a return to form from Hudson and Hanson, we’ll just have to hope we can keep the ship afloat.