This is meant as no disrespect to Martin Prado, who is the team’s best player, or Omar Infante, who seems to have no problem filling in for the team’s best player, or Eric Hinske, or Brooks Conrad, or David Ross — none of whom seems to be particularly well-known outside of homes with mailboxes that carry the names Prado, Infante, Hinske, Conrad and Ross.
But does it seem as if the Braves have taken this whole interchangeable parts thing to a new level? Baseball was built on themes like the Mudville Nine, not the Left Field Five or the Center Field Four or the — wait, has anybody not batted third yet?
The Braves made another lineup change Tuesday night. Eric Hinske replaced the slumping Troy Glaus at first base. Presumably, Glaus will return to the lineup if he starts channeling his former May self again because his April-June-July-August self is bench-worthy.
Does it matter? Well, yes. Glaus turned 34 on Tuesday, and the Braves would prefer if his bones and his batting average weren’t creaking as if he were 54. But the lineup change further amplified what this season has been all about.
Some sports teams are like Italian sports cars. Blew out a shortstop? Sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, that part isn’t in stock. It will be arriving from Bologna in four to six months.
When a Braves player breaks down, a clubhouse attendant runs to Pep Boys for a new air filter.
“This is different from any team I’ve seen,” said Matt Diaz, who has started only in left field this season, but has batted in six different spots in the order. “You compare us to the Phillies. They lose an All-Star second baseman [Chase Utley] and, no offense to [backup] Wilson Valdez, but we lose our All-Star second baseman [Prado] and we replace him with an All-Star [Infante]. That’s the difference in our team.”
Something went wrong with the formula Tuesday night. The Braves lost to the New York Mets 3-2 on a ninth-inning home run by Jeff Francoeur off closer Billy Wagner. (Afterward, Francoeur resisted exclaiming, “This is my house!”)
Hinske went 0-for-3, including a strikeout with the bases loaded. Glaus, somewhat surprisingly sent up as a pinch-hitter for Hinske in a lefty-righty switch in the seventh inning with two runners on, grounded into an inning-ending double play. (Cox was a bit touchy when asked about using the slumping Glaus in that situation, responding: “Don’t forget he’s leading the team in RBIs — by far.”)
A minor hiccup, presumably. The Braves have somehow made this work. They’ve started five different players in left field, four in center, four at third. They have had 10 different players bat third and seventh, nine bat sixth and seven each at leadoff, second and fifth.
Things have settled somewhat, both on offense and in the field. But when Prado went down and Glaus dropped into oblivion, the roster depth minimized the impact. It’s different in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have had three MVP-caliber players on the disabled list this season — Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard — and the drop-off to the backup is like the first step off the balcony.
General manager Frank Wren really hasn’t had a choice in the matter. The team is carrying four players — Derek Lowe, Chipper Jones, Kenshin Kawakami and Nate McLouth — who comprise 48.2 percent of the total payroll ($41 million of $85 million). Two of those players are non-factors: McLouth is in the minors. Kawakami is in the bullpen, if you believe the reports in the National Enquirer. That leaves Wren to fill out the remainder of the roster with markdowns.
“If you had a choice, you’d always rather have a lineup that’s more star-studded,” Wren said. “There’s a reason those guys are stars. But at the same time I’ve always believed the best teams win, not the best players. Championship teams like St. Louis and Minnesota didn’t have the best players.”
Somehow, they’ve maintained continuity in results despite the lack of continuity on the field, this loss not withstanding. There are advantages to not being star-laden.
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