I asked someone who wears a Braves’ uniform, “How much longer can you go with Jason Heyward batting seventh?” And I figured this person, who has always been candid with me, would say, “Not much longer.” But he surprised me.
Stop and think for a minute, he said. Heyward has 15 RBIs batting in the seventh spot. That’s really good. (No other Brave has more than eight, and the one who does — sixth-place hitter Yunel Escobar — drove in five runs on Opening Day.) Say you move Heyward up to sixth or even fifth: He might have a few more ribbies, but at what overall cost?
Say you move Troy Glaus to the seventh spot. That would mean the bottom of your lineup is now Glaus, who’s hitting .195 with one extra-base hit; either Melky Cabrera (.119, one extra-base hit) or Nate McLouth (.148, no extra-base hits) in the eighth spot, and then the pitcher. And then the leadoff spot, which hadn’t been producing until Matt Diaz got three hits his first three times up Sunday.
Having Heyward batting No. 6 (or No. 5) might make for a more imposing upper chunk of the order — Martin Prado, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and either Heyward or Escobar — but it would also leave a chasm at the lineup’s bottom. “We’d be awfully top-heavy,” my informant said, and they would be.
Glaus hasn’t done much at No. 5, and Escobar hasn’t done much lately at No. 6, but so long as Heyward is behind them they’re going to get pitches to hit. If you put Heyward at No. 6 with Glaus behind him, Heyward’s going to get walked. (As we know, he’s not apt to swing at bad pitches.) And it also leaves the opposing pitchers with the prospect of ridiculously easy innings one time in three.
The ideal lineup has no holes, but there are no ideal lineups. (At least not in the National League.) On the days Diaz doesn’t play, the Braves’ lineup has three holes: McLouth, Glaus and Cabrera. It’s better not to bunch them. It’s better to give Heyward a chance to clean up after Glaus or Escobar makes an out than to give the other team an excuse not to pitch to the rookie.
I know, I know. This isn’t what you want to hear, and it wasn’t exactly what I expected to hear from my informant. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And I pass it along to you at no charge.