Last season, Yunel Escobar was the only Braves player to garner National League MVP votes. Not surprising. He was the team’s best all-around player. That figured to continue this season, especially after the seemingly maturing shortstop showed up at spring training and said, “I feel like I’m home.”
So what happened?
This morning, I shared with you why the Braves could be World Series contenders. But Escobar’s season easily is the most disappointing part of the first half. He hit .299 with 14 homers and 76 RBIs last season. He hit .373 with runners in scoring position and .335 with runners on base. When the Braves failed to sign Johnny Damon before the season and I suggested Escobar as a leadoff hitter, many of you screamed, pointing out he was one of the team’s best run-producers.
So far this season, we’re both wrong.
He is hitting .241. He has yet to hit a home run. Manager Bobby Cox has tried him everywhere in the batting order except fourth and ninth.
Though some some have suggested Escobar’s defense also has dropped off, his fielding percentage of .975 ranks fifth among National League shortstops and is on par with his first two seasons as a starter (.974 and .979). He also gets some credit for turning 60 double plays, more than any other N.L. shortstop.
But can the Braves thrive in the second half if Escobar continues to struggle? How confident are you of a turnaround?
When I asked general manager Frank Wren about Escobar over the weekend, he said: “He’s a high-spirited guy. Just watching him, he’s one of the best shortstops in the game. We know what we have in him. Players go through struggles. In the second half last year, he almost carried us.”
Do you share Wren’s confidence?