September 12, 2012

The Offensive Disappearing Act

Exiting Tuesday night’s game in the seventh inning, Tim Hudson showed a rare bit of frustration, tossing his hat and throwing his glove into the dugout. While he was of course upset with himself for leaving the ball over the plate too many times and paying for it to the tune of five runs, and maybe ticked off about not getting a few close strike-zone calls, at least a small part of his irritation must have been due to his team’s lack of offensive production. In his three September starts, the Braves have given Hudson a total of two runs of support. Hudson actually notched a win in one of those games, but only because the Rockies didn’t score, and the one run the Braves scored was unearned, a gift from Jhoulys Chacin.

Look at Atlanta’s last eight games (9/4—9/11). The offense scored a total of twenty runs. Remove the Saturday Mets game from the equation and it’s only nine runs in the remaining seven games, 1.29 runs per game. Yes, I realize that this is a small sample size, and that I might be overanalyzing some recent shortcomings, but for a while now, at least the last few weeks, minimal offense has felt like the rule more than the exception.

It’s easy to blame the problem on McCann and his ailing shoulder, as well as Uggla and his ailing season, but while they contribute to the problem they are not the entire source. In fact, in the last seven days, Uggla has the highest batting average (.346) of any everyday player on the team. In the same stretch, Bourn has only five hits, Chipper only three. Freddie Freeman was rested on Tuesday night, but in the six previous games he managed just two hits and one RBI. The Braves have been able to survive the struggles of McCann and Uggla throughout the season, but how long can we stay afloat if the core of our lineup—Bourn, Freeman, Chipper—continue to underperform at the plate?

Maybe part of the problem is simply luck. The Braves batting average on balls in play (BABIP) over the last seven days is just .285, significantly lower than the season average of .297. Lyle Overbay’s near homerun turned out by a terrific catch on Tuesday night comes to mind. Another part of the problem is surely fatigue. It’s a long season, and being tired and sore can’t make hitting any easier. A little rest for the starters should help, along with the return of Simmons, who looked good in his first game back on Tuesday.

Defense wins championships. In baseball, that saying is sometimes translated to pitching wins championships. But even the best pitchers can’t win on a consistent basis with less than two runs of support per game. Stellar pitching from the likes of Hudson, Medlen, and Maholm may be enough to carry the Braves into the post-season, but to make a deep playoff run the bats must come alive. Let’s hope the offense can reappear as suddenly as it disappeared.



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