Braves’ biggest keys in second half: Health, Dan Uggla

You wouldn't know it from this picture but Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward haven't done a lot of celebrating.

The Braves would be in better shape if Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward had more to celebrate.

Last season they tried to keep advancing, despite enduring exploding parts. There goes an arm. No problem. There goes a leg. Just a limp. There go a couple of organs. Just a flesh wound.

Somebody tore his oblique. Can’t be that serious. Wasn’t it just like a week ago when nobody had ever heard of the oblique?

But eventually, they fizzled. Seven games ahead of Philadelphia a week after the All-Star break, 23 games over .500 and still clinging to a three-game lead on Aug. 1, the Braves’ body finally gave out. Their final spasm got them into the postseason as a wild card. But teams running on fumes don’t win the World Series. The starting lineup in their final loss to San Francisco looked like an old car undergoing some work – some original dinged parts, along with an orange door and two mismatched fenders picked up in a junkyard to make the exterior seem whole.

The Braves open baseball’s second half Friday against Washington (even if technically they’ve played 57 percent of the schedule). With Martin Prado set to return from a staph infection and Chipper Jones likely back in a few weeks from knee surgery, they actually will be able to field their intended lineup. We think. After what happened last summer, general manager Frank Wren may consider lighting incense or sacrificing a chicken in a pregame cleansing ceremony Friday.

“One thing I learned a long time ago is you can’t take any satisfaction when an opponent’s player gets hurt because you know that your turn is coming,” Wren said. “We have a good team. But we had a good team last year, too. It only takes one lunge to first base, one crash into the wall, one fastball up and in, to change everything.”

From June 10 on last season, the Braves lost (in order) Nate McLouth (head contusion; 33 games), Jason Heyward (thumb injury; 13), Prado (fractured finger; 16), the remains of Troy Glaus (knee; 14), Kris Medlen (elbow; 54, plus playoffs), Jones (knee; 48, plus playoffs) and Prado again (hip, oblique; five, plus playoffs). They went from 23 games over .500 (78-55) to a 14-20 finishing limp (playoffs included).

The Braves’ first division title since 2005 is a realistic goal. They’re 54-38 and 3½ games behind the Phillies, despite the fact manager Fredi Gonzalez has had to use 51 defensive lineups and 64 batting orders. They’ve lost Prado, Jones and Heyward for stretches. Heyward and Dan Uggla – two players expected to provide a bulk of the run production — have mostly floundered. But pitching has kept them in it.

The key to the second half? Other than obviously health, here are the five players who can trigger a division title (in order of importance):

♦ 1. Uggla: Entering the season, he represented something the Phillies didn’t have: a right-handed bat with power. His 15 homers at the break represent only a slight drop-off. But the batting average (.185) and the fact he’s hitting .179 with runners in scoring position is relative disaster. The Braves invested $62 million in Uggla because they thought he would make a difference. He needs to be that player now.

♦ 2. Heyward: You hate to put pressure on a second-year player. But when a guy drives in 72 runs and has a .849 OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) in his rookie year, a lot more is expected in Year 2 than this: .226 average, 22 RBIs, .238 RISP, .720 OPS.

♦ 3. Jordan Schafer: He hits leadoff and brings something the Braves have desperately needed – speed. Therefore, he can generate offense even if some combination of Uggla, Heyward, Jones and Prado are injured or slumping.

♦ 4. Jones: His importance on and off the field can’t be overstated. When he’s hot, there’s a ripple effect in the lineup. But if the knee injury lingers, Prado can stay at third, and Brian McCann and others will need to pick up offensive slack.

♦ 5. Prado: He conceivably could go ahead of Jones because he plays almost any position. But health has been an issue (53 games missed since last August).

Their chances for a division title are good, a return to the postseason even better. But we’ve learned not to pencil in tomorrow’s lineup.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

200 comments Add your comment

TD Mike

July 12th, 2011
5:04 pm

J.J.M.

July 12th, 2011
5:06 pm

sorry to say but heyward will never live up to the hype…

TD Mike

July 12th, 2011
5:07 pm

Victory! Do you see the Braves making any trades before the deadline?

anderson jones

July 12th, 2011
5:14 pm

The bats will awaken. Necky Hoover!!

TS

July 12th, 2011
5:21 pm

Another key: keep Kimbrel and Venters from blowing out their arms with overuse.

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 12th, 2011
5:33 pm

Thinking a move at SS…Houston the Eagl, er…Trade possibility?

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 12th, 2011
5:35 pm

Different subject, but Jeff, I ran the bulls in 83. Really nothing to it if you’ve been raised around livestock.

Frank Wren

July 12th, 2011
5:38 pm

Don’t trade away young pitching (Beachy, Tehran, Minor) for a right handed bat. That’s why we got Uggla. Beachy, Tehran and Minor are going to be a part of our staff of the future – Lowe’s only got one year left and Hanson’s agent is Boras so we won’t be able to afford him when it is his time for a new contract.

Chop Chop

July 12th, 2011
5:38 pm

The stamina and health of old starters like Huddy and Lowe will go a long way toward determining how much abuse the bullpen sees. I figure Jurrjens will cool off a bit, so that could also be an issue. Ultimately, the team has to hit. If it will hit, then it should be able to overcome some deterioration on the pitching side.

"Chef" Tim Dix

July 12th, 2011
5:38 pm

JMM: tend to agree but moving him would take nerves of steel. His former roommate at first is the can’t miss real deal.

See Frenchy / McCann.

Muphrid

July 12th, 2011
5:39 pm

Schafer’s speed is fun to watch, but all the stolen bases in the world don’t matter if he doesn’t get on base.

jerry

July 12th, 2011
5:40 pm

The worst outfield in baseball until Prado returns and then….still the worst.

falconfan58

July 12th, 2011
5:44 pm

Hayward will never really produce until he makes an adjustment or two in his hitting. He is always a little late with his swing and that is why he continues to ground out so much. You can not have cosistency if you can’t or are unwilling to make adjustments. Is Parrish the hitting coach or just another face in the dugout. Results is the only thing that counts Larry–don’t worry about hurting someones feelings.DO THE JOB.

JoshTown

July 12th, 2011
5:45 pm

Thanks Jeff! While it’s nothing to write home about, Uggla’s hitting .243 over his last ten games, …perhaps a sign of a turn around? It can’t get worse than it has been, right?

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
5:45 pm

The Marlins will finish ahead of the Braves probably if we don’t trade for Albert Puhols.

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
5:51 pm

Bourn is not the answer.
Jayson Worth is the answer we need.

jerry

July 12th, 2011
5:52 pm

Schafer,cj .231
McClouth,lf .225
Heyward,rf .226

How ’bout them apples!

Reid Adair

July 12th, 2011
5:53 pm

STRUGGLA has to step up. I’ve heard of slumps, but this has been ridiculous.

Paddy

July 12th, 2011
5:57 pm

I would take Worth or Bourn. I think Wren will make a move by the deadline.

william

July 12th, 2011
6:00 pm

braves will make the playoffs,go after furcal and we are set

william

July 12th, 2011
6:01 pm

yeah go get werth learn to spell he is the answer,ba .226 7hrs,30 rbis

The Nature Boy

July 12th, 2011
6:02 pm

I agree with TS we need to not overuse Venters and Kimbrell…I’m in the “stay with Schafer camp”…something about that guy..he’s a hot dog..he has swagger..and plays GREAT defense….

JS..Sherwood Schultz died…you kin to him..?? I loved Mary Ann…

william

July 12th, 2011
6:03 pm

dennis reynolds

u the one who is crazy with your moronic commens all the time if that is really your fake name

ted williams head

July 12th, 2011
6:05 pm

Jeff I dont remember all these constant injuries happening in the 90’s. Have I forgotten or is this something recent. If so what do you think is the cause

sam

July 12th, 2011
6:05 pm

FIRE DOB,FG,AND LARRY PARRISH,THEY ALL BELONG TOGETHER

bvillebaron

July 12th, 2011
6:05 pm

William: Go after Furcal? Are you serious? What has he done the past couple of years even when he hasn’t been hurt which has been quite frequently.

sam

July 12th, 2011
6:07 pm

THIS TEAM WON THE WORLD SERIES WITH A BA AS A TEAM OF .241,WHATS THE PROBLEM?WE WON 1-0 IN GAME 6 TO WIN,WHAT IS EVERYONES PROBLEM HERE?

william

July 12th, 2011
6:08 pm

thats right.furcal,dont laugh sorces say braves are interested in him as well

william

July 12th, 2011
6:09 pm

dennis reynolds

its obv.you are blind or stupid,i go with the latter

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
6:11 pm

Fookie is not the answer. Trade Raw Dawg and Sea Bass for a Josie Reyes.

william

July 12th, 2011
6:12 pm

you can forget about reyes he is hurt and braves will never pay what he wants

Danny O

July 12th, 2011
6:14 pm

Jeff, not to split hairs, but Uggla has 15 homers, not 14. Everything else you said about him is 100% accurate.

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
6:14 pm

That’s what I”m saying. Trade for Reyes while his stocks are low.

ob

July 12th, 2011
6:15 pm

hard to believe this team has only 1 african american on this.braves all white team.how does this happen where a city like atlanta is 95%african american??

sazzy

July 12th, 2011
6:16 pm

uggla is tied for the team in hrs

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
6:17 pm

ob, Baseball has had this trend for a couple of decades. You been living under a rock?

saz

July 12th, 2011
6:18 pm

i see on this blog mommy has left the house again and the kiddies are back on the computer…wish i knew so i can call dss to report this.are you people for real?not 1 comment on here makes sense,you people are retarded

ob

July 12th, 2011
6:20 pm

NOT ONE AFRICAN AMERICAN WAS INTERVIEWED FOR THE MANAGER OR HITTING COACH JOB.IF YOU WERE HEYWARD WOULD YOU WANT TO PLAY ON THIS CRACKER TEAM?I KNOW I WOULDNT

ob

July 12th, 2011
6:21 pm

YOU CAN TELL THE AJC IS LIKE THAT,BECAUSE NOT ONE WRITER HAS ASKED THAT

william

July 12th, 2011
6:23 pm

wow i think ob has a point there,i am certainly not a racist but i wonder if heyward feels the same way about this,maybe that is why he was struggling.

truth

July 12th, 2011
6:24 pm

breaking news…braves have made a trade………..

Cheesehead

July 12th, 2011
6:24 pm

ob…Really???? Get a life!!!

Cheesehead

July 12th, 2011
6:25 pm

I agree with TS we need to not overuse Venters and Kimbrell…I’m in the “stay with Schafer camp”…something about that guy..he’s a hot dog..he has swagger..and plays GREAT defense….

JS..Sherwood Schultz died…you kin to him..?? I loved Mary Ann

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
6:26 pm

ob, your real complaint should lie in Hockey. How many africanamericans play/coach/watch/work Hockey?

Cheesehead

July 12th, 2011
6:27 pm

who said i was black?all i do is get fat by eating chheese.ever seen a black cheesehead?

bravesfanforever

July 12th, 2011
6:28 pm

Oh fish bisch trade for a guy who is on the DL. Layoff the pot.There are some holes,middle relief,right handed bat off the bench and really wouldn’t mind sending Lowe and Heyward to the ASTROS for Pence and Wandy Rodriguez.We need a left handed starter in the rotation and a right handed bat with speed,arm,average and power and no we don’t need Furcal.

1968 Braves

July 12th, 2011
6:28 pm

ted williams head: very sick people in the world

ob

July 12th, 2011
6:29 pm

this is why braves will never catch philly,whitey cant f hit blacks can,rollins,howard,mayberry,brown.

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
6:29 pm

The only former Braves we should get back off the scrap heap is Andruw Jones. He is the right handed power bot we need.

Fish Bisch

July 12th, 2011
6:30 pm

1968 Braves: No really, his head is frozen somewhere out west in hope to revive/clone him when the technology becomes available.