Flaw of Averages

41COVv22_PromoThey strike out a lot and have been devastated by injuries, and their highest paid player (B.J. Upton) had a really bad debut season in Atlanta. But SI’s Ben Reiter says that might not matter in October, especially since for extended stretches this season Atlanta demonstrated that they can get as hot as any club in baseball. “No team has demonstrated the potential to get hotter than the as-whole-as-they’re-going-to-get Braves, their beleaguered centerfielder included,” says Reiter. “It will all come down to the timing.” (PAGE 46)

Although the Braves won 96 games and had the NL East locked up by mid-August, their regular season was very disjointed. The Braves’ No. 1 starter, Tim Hudson, was lost for the season in late July with a broken ankle, and outfielder Jason Heyward recently returned from a fractured jaw suffered in August. In all, 18 Braves spent at least 15 days on the disabled list. As Atlanta gears up to host the Dodgers, flaws include a pitching staff that, despite its MLB-best 3.19 ERA, does not feature an ace in the mold of Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright, and an offense that has a propensity to strike out. Nobody struggled more on the offense than B.J. Upton, who batted just .186 with nine home runs, 26 RBIs and the major’s second-worst OPS (.561) among players who made at least 400 plate appearances.

Upton has been largely silent about his struggles, perhaps because he knows few will feel sorry for the franchise’s highest-paid player in history.  “You know what, man—it can wear on you over time,” he says. “In the midst of searching for things to get right, I kind of didn’t help myself. If I’d just stuck with what my body knows to do at the plate, I think things might have turned out a little better. Tinkering with the wrong things, when I should have left those things alone.” (PAGE 40)

A rival scout tells Reiter that the presence of B.J.’s younger brother Justin, who had a solid season (27 home runs, a .354 OBP, a 122 OPS+), has not helped him. “B.J. is in pull mode, trying to hit home runs like his brother, when he’s really a gap-to-gap guy,” the scout says. “Having his brother there puts pressure on B.J. to perform, especially when he’s making all the money.” (PAGE 42)

In the past, however, October has proved to be a fresh start for B.J. In 2008, when he was a 24-year-old Tampa Bay Ray, he had a bad regular season but then produced one of history’s great playoff performances. He hit seven home runs and drove in 16 runs, leading the Rays to the World Series.

Reiter notes that for stretches this season, the Braves’ offense has actually produced at a very high level. In the month of July, the Braves were second in the majors in runs scored and ranked an acceptable 12th in strikeouts. They also had three winning streaks this season of at least eight games. “For two, three, four weeks at a time, it was like we were just playing slo-pitch softball,” says Braves hitting coach Greg Walker. “If that happens at the right time, watch out.” (PAGE 46)


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