As fall gave way to the holiday season last year, Braves fans had visions of Matt Holliday or Jason Bay dancing in their heads. It quickly became apparent, however, that those star outfielders couldn’t be squeezed into Atlanta’s budget any more than David Wells could fit into his high school uniform. Even Adam LaRoche, who provided such a lift after his return to Atlanta late last season, managed to price himself out of the Braves’ plans with his original asking price (reported to have been 10 million per year).
Other power bats, such as Washington’s Josh Willingham and Florida’s Dan Uggla, were rumored to have been on the Braves’ radar. In the end, however, the winter offensive additions were Troy Glaus, who missed most of last season due to injury, and part-time slugger, Eric Hinske.
Not quite what most Atlanta fans were hoping for, and it’s understandable if you’re a bit underwhelmed. That said, Braves faithful need not lose any winks. The ’10 Bravos will plate plenty of runs to support their outstanding pitching.
How can I be so sure? Because General Manager, Frank Wren, didn’t need to overhaul this lineup over the winter. Many fans have been waiting for the Braves to fix a problem that hasn’t existed since the middle of last season.
From June 28 until the last week of the season (a stretch of 82 games; more than half a season), Atlanta not only posted the best ERA and best record in the NL… they also led the league in runs scored.
It wasn’t a fluke that Atlanta began punishing opposing pitchers when they did. The offensive explosion began when the Braves dumped 3 tons of dead weight from the lineup in favor of highly productive hitters. Jordan Schafer – playing with a fractured wrist, as it turned out – was an automatic out through most of April and May. However, in June, he was replaced with ‘08 all-star Nate McLouth. A horribly slumping Kelly Johnson and Jeff Francoeur gave way to Martin Prado and Matt Diaz, who each hit better than .300 and slugged in the upper .400’s.
Then of course, after filling the gaping potholes in the lineup, notorious late-season masher, Adam LaRoche, returned to Atlanta at the trade deadline in a swap for the light-hitting Casey Kotchman.
When the mid-season renovations were complete, Frank Wren and Co. had overhauled no less than HALF of his lineup. The Braves’ offense was modified more in the middle two months of the season than it was over the entire previous offseason.
But the Braves’ newfound offensive muscle was quite possibly the best kept secret in baseball. Many fans and national sports media types continued to talk as though this were still an offensively challenged team. It is a misconception that apparently refuses to die. For reasons I cannot fully get my arms around, fans and baseball talking heads continue to yawn in the general direction of the Atlanta lineup.
My best guess is that the Braves’ offense is underrated because it just isn’t flashy. No blazing speed; no Jose Reyes or Ichiro. No MVP candidates, such as Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols. There is no one here, with the possible exception of Jason Heyward, who will be scoring a Gatorade commercial in the near future. Nothing especially flamboyant… just a lineup full of guys who can hit.
This is a batting order stocked with hitters who, with a couple of exceptions, will likely all hit around .300. Atlanta will get at least 15 – or so – homers from EVERY position on the field, and 4 or 5 starters could launch 25 HR’s. Additionally, several Atlanta hitters could lead the league in doubles.
BOTTOM LINE: This is largely the same lineup that led the NL in runs from June 28th until the games stopped counting in late September. There have been two modifications: LaRoche and Garret Anderson give way to Troy Glaus and (in all likelihood) Jason Heyward. And I think you would be hard pressed to call that a downgrade.
So rest easy Braves nation. Contrary to popular – and ill informed – belief, offense isn’t a problem here. It hasn’t been a problem since last June. And given the strength of this pitching staff… unless Lady Luck is in a particularly bitchy mood this year, there’s a lot of fun to be had at The Ted in ’10.
Tags: Braves 2010 Offense, Eric Hinske, Offense, Troy Glaus
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