It’s time for the Braves to start hitting the mark. And the ball

This ground-rule double by Freddie Freeman drove in Jordan Schafer. (AP photo)

This ground-rule double by Freddie Freeman drove in Jordan Schafer in the seventh. (AP photo)

Enough with this we’re-better-than-we’ve-played stuff. It’s time for the Braves to play better. They’re getting healthy. (Well, except for Tommy Hanson.) The schedule between here and the All-Star break isn’t oppressive. If there’s an upward move in this club — and surely there is — this would seem the moment.

The Braves have positioned themselves to make the playoffs — they’re tied for the wild-card lead — despite playing nearly half a season with one hand tied behind their backs. This was built to be a good-hit, good-pitch team. It has become a great-pitch, seldom-hit assemblage. It shouldn’t have happened, but it has.

It’s time for it to stop happening. It’s time for the guys who are paid to hit to … you know, hit. It’s time to see if this club can indeed give the regal Phillies a run for the National League East.

Said Chipper Jones, who missed the weekend series against Texas with a strained adductor muscle: “The offense is going to have to get better, one way or another, if we’re going to hold off the teams who will get hot the second half.”

Does “one way or another” mean that, if the sluggish status quo holds, the Braves will require a big bat by way of trade? Said Jones: “I think the pieces are here already. We just need more cohesive production.”

The Braves beat Texas 4-2 Sunday, but it was the accustomed struggle. They mustered seven hits, six of them singles. They were essentially gifted two runs by Rangers catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who tipped Jordan Schafer’s bat and thereby allowed the Brave to reach on interference and who ran into first baseman Michael Young to allow Alex Gonzalez’s pop to fall 10 feet in front of the plate.

It was a good victory in the sense that it was, coming as it did after a week in which the Braves had lost five of six, needed. Less good was how hard the Braves’ pitchers — they used six — had to work for it. But that has been the story of these first 73 games: Great pitching has propped up a team that has a batting average of .238.

Toward that end: Fredi Gonzalez and his staff must realize this team might never be the homer-bashing crew they thought they’d have. Chipper isn’t going to hit 30 homers. Dan Uggla would have to get as hot as he has been cold to reach that number. It’s time for the Braves to stop waiting for the home runs that haven’t yet come and starting to work harder with the singles that do.

And here we come to a reason for guarded optimism: Jordan Schafer is only hitting .226 in 23 games since being summoned from Gwinnett, but it has been an effective .226. He has eight of the team’s 21 stolen bases, and he showed Sunday that he grasps the concept of batting leadoff in a way no other Brave does.

First at-bat: Schafer induced Alexi Ogando to throw 10 pitches on a hot day. “He’s given us a big lift,” Jones said. “I’m thinking he himself saw 30 pitches today — that’s big.”

Said Schafer: “I’m just trying to do my job. I’m taking pitches so the guys behind me can see everything he throws. If I swing at the first pitch, I’m not doing my job.”

Said Fredi Gonzalez: “He makes stuff happen. He creates great hitting situations for the guys around him.”

Those hitters have yet to take full advantage, but the Braves are better suited to play small-ball with Schafer playing center field and leading off than by stacking a bunch of free swingers end to end. Nate McLouth, who returned from the disabled list Sunday and played left (and made a nice sliding catch), is probably best suited to being a fourth outfielder. Stick with Schafer in center until/unless he proves he can’t do it.

Jones is correct in saying there are enough hitters on this roster to score enough runs, but some of those hitters — Uggla, to name the most obvious — might have to change their approach. Freddie Freeman, who had three hits Sunday, might need to remain higher in the lineup even after Jones and Martin Prado return. (Freeman is third among Braves in RBIs.)

Said Jones: “I just don’t feel we’ve played consistently enough to get to the top of the East.” And they haven’t. But they could — provided the hitters hit.

By Mark Bradley

107 comments Add your comment

[...] It's time for the Braves to start hitting the mark. And the ballAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The schedule between here and the All-Star break isn't oppressive. If there's an upward move in this club — and surely there is — this would seem the moment. The Braves have positioned themselves to make the playoffs — they're tied for the wild-card … [...]

Tom

June 19th, 2011
6:43 pm

Tom

June 19th, 2011
6:45 pm

uggla needs to get help

John Galt

June 19th, 2011
6:46 pm

You are right about Schafer- if you aren’t watching the games, you don’t realize how valuable he is-

John Galt

June 19th, 2011
6:47 pm

I’d like to see Larry Jones Sr. spend some time with Uggla-

Tailback U

June 19th, 2011
6:49 pm

While I realize this lineup has the potential to be much better I think
Wren needs to do a great job identifying the best possible option
and targeted in trade talks. Even if this remedy is a just someone
who can platoon with one of our atarting 8 to give Gonzalez more options.

... to the ballgame

June 19th, 2011
6:53 pm

Just a bunch of spoiled, overpaid prima donnas. That’s what’s wrong with baseball and the other major league sports today.

Sonny Clusters

June 19th, 2011
6:57 pm

Fredi said it was the baseball gods. It could be. When a manager says, “that’s baseball” he should also say, “that’s bad baseball.” No need to tip your cap to the other team when you play so badly. Cap tipping should be reserved for superior play. When we was playing ball some folks tipped their caps to us but we’d just wave back and say, “hi’.

Sioux Brave

June 19th, 2011
6:58 pm

I thought Jason Heyward was going to be a .240 lifetime hitter, now I’m looking at .220 at best for his career

Sioux Brave

June 19th, 2011
7:02 pm

Speaking of which, I wonder what Y, Escobar batting average is with the Blue Jays.

atl_cracker_1955

June 19th, 2011
7:14 pm

if 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, what is 1 out 3?

Josh

June 19th, 2011
7:21 pm

Need a right handed dynamic player. Either a power hitter or another speed threat to give this team an identity. Left field seems to be the obvious place to look but I can’t get excited about guys like Willingham (Pence, definitely). Prado could be used ala Michael Young with Texas and still get 500 ab’s, a little first, a little second, third, lf, and rf.

bigstack

June 19th, 2011
7:36 pm

We are three months into the season and nobody is making any adjustments and if that is obvious to a yeoman like me then why isn’t it obvious to the professionals who are paid to figure this stuff out? Alex Gonzalez still swings at anything low and away. Freddie Freeman still is having trouble with breaking balls and still swings at pitches that aren’t close. Chipper has lost all ability to hit from the left side. Schafer should smack the ball down on the ground and use his speed instead of being a line drive pull hitter. Heyward looks out of sorts and has also been swinging at some bad pitches and taking good ones. Uggla looks lost. Even Hinske is struggling now. Prado is on the D.L. There are no adjustments being made by anyone. My fear is that if they trade for Pence they will suck the life out of him and he will hit .220 here.

1991Braves

June 19th, 2011
7:39 pm

Where are all these hitters on this team everyone keeps speaking of? The only proven hitter that really isn’t hitting is Uggla. Chipper is past his prime, and he plays a couple of games a week, so he is no help. All you have left is Freeman, Heyward, Gonzo, Schafer, and Nate, and none of them has a history of being good hitters. This team is one of the worst hitting teams in baseball, and their is no-one on this team other than Uggla that has the potential to help turn this offense around. Unless Wren has a major acquisition in the works, this team is what it is. Decent starting pitching, great bullpen, terrible hitting team, decent defensive team, and one of the worst managed teams in baseball. Be thankful they won one game out of the six on homestand. Any time they face decent pitching that is what is going to happen to this team. No imagination on how to produce runs, just sit back and hope someone hits a h.r. Which isn’t happening against quality competition.

Not Don Waddell

June 19th, 2011
7:44 pm

Seems pretty obvious, we have too many starting pitchers and not enough bats. Go get Bourne and/or Pence and see if they can help get the offense going. Schaeffer is playing well, but Bourne would still be an upgrade. Houston is about the only guaranteed seller out there, so pickings are slim.

Macon Braves Fan

June 19th, 2011
8:00 pm

What bothers me about this team is its lackadaisical effort. The other night they had the runner doubled off 2nd and Gonzales makes little effort to catch the ball to get the runner, Hayward doesn’t run out a grounder and kills a rally. At least Uggla looks like he is trying. Too much of the time there just seems to be little spark.

Navigator

June 19th, 2011
8:03 pm

I got it, just tell all the players that aren’t playing well for all the teams to play better. What a post Mark, everyone knows these guys need to hit better, but lack of talent and age sometimes keeps that from happening.

reckingball

June 19th, 2011
8:09 pm

Driver 8

June 19th, 2011
8:09 pm

The Braves couldn’t afford a bunch of injuries with their mid-market resources. They really don’t have plan B. The Phillies are out of their league in terms of offense and resources. Better play for the WC

TruthSeeker

June 19th, 2011
8:13 pm

We don’t necessarily need to go out and get a big basher at the deadline, but we do need to find two or three professional hitters who can spot-start. Other than Uggla’s struggles, what has killed our offense more than anything, in my opinion, is that our fill-ins are absolutely horrid. Guys like Hicks, Mather, Young, and Hernandez bring nothing to the table offensively. We need more Eric Hinskes; versatile guys with solid sticks who you can feel good about putting in the lineup when the inevitable injuries occur. It’s especially important for us when you consider that Chipper and McCann have so many scheduled days off.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 19th, 2011
8:19 pm

Sorry folks, I don’t see any SS, LF /CF’s that fix this team this year in a trade. What we need is health.

"Chef" Tim Dix

June 19th, 2011
8:20 pm

…and HEALTH, might be enough.

Najeh Davenpoop

June 19th, 2011
8:28 pm

While the Blue Jays are in town, can we give them Alex Gonzalez back?

Cliff Lee

June 19th, 2011
8:33 pm

Your team needs more than health to catch us.

Gman

June 19th, 2011
8:33 pm

Watch Escobar lead the Jays to 2-3 wins in the latest installment of trades that bite back

VinceVanGo

June 19th, 2011
8:38 pm

I don’t know how long he is under contract and I don’t want another one year rental player(Texeria), but maybe Wren could get together a package(such as Kawakami, McClouth, Delgado & another youngster) and call the Dodgers and see if they will trade Kemp, or inquire what it would take if they”ll entertains offers. He’s flirting with the triple crown and they probably can’t afford him for long. He would bring so much to the Braves and an outfield of Kemp/Heyward/Schafer seems very imposing. Prado can play all over the place until Chipper realizes that if he plays one more year he may be jeopardizing a career .300 average and finally pack up his spikes at the end of the year and head to Texas.

Larry

June 19th, 2011
8:55 pm

“Fredi Gonzalez and his staff must realize this team might never be the homer-bashing crew they thought they’d have. Chipper isn’t going to hit 30 homers. Dan Uggla would have to get as hot as he has been cold to reach that number. It’s time for the Braves to stop waiting for the home runs that haven’t yet come and starting to work harder with the singles that do.”

You nailed it Mark, and there is a whole lot more in your message about the Braves flawed offensive style and philosophy!

The new era is speed, contact, situational hitters paired with great pitching…the Braves have pitching in abundance but they are severely lacking in the right kind of hitters.

Phil

June 19th, 2011
9:03 pm

Go team…hall of famer Heyward leading the charge to the title.

Bruce

June 19th, 2011
9:28 pm

MatT Kemp for garbage? Not happening

NorCalBrave

June 19th, 2011
9:36 pm

It’s crazy. We lose Prado on a successful steal. Our second best right handed bat sits most nights because he’s the backup catcher. There are no miracles waiting to happen. Heyward, Uggla, and Freeman either start producing the way we envisioned, or we can forget the playoffs, let alone a division title.

JJ

June 19th, 2011
9:53 pm

Well mark you said their pitching was the best. What a moronic statement.

Chas

June 19th, 2011
9:56 pm

Braves teams do well when Chipper is hitting and slump when he isn’t. We need to get Prado back soon and keep Heyward healthy. I think the bats will come alive soon, but remember that the pitchers rule in 2011. We will get going soon.

Oregon Brave

June 19th, 2011
10:12 pm

Did Larry Parish help Freddy today or was it the Fathers Day phone call to Freddy’s dad? Is A-Gon having a major league tantrum? He looks to me like he is striking out and popping out with pride ever since the team came off the road. Perhaps with his old home boys in town, he’ll snap out of it.

bostonbravo

June 19th, 2011
10:15 pm

hey Fredi!!! job opening in FLA…please apply NOW!

bravesfan4ever

June 19th, 2011
10:33 pm

cant we just package a few decent prospects like minor and co. to trade for hunter pence? the astros are in rebuilding phase now and that begins with pitching……we could use pence’s bat in the middle of our lineup.

rally

June 19th, 2011
10:38 pm

LOL at Braves Fan Forever. So your saying that the whole offense is doomed because we have gay queer pioneers on the team. ROFL. I don’t think so…Roger McDowell probably made sure of that when
we got Uggla….he probably showed a bat to him too. LOL!!!

Bill

June 19th, 2011
10:56 pm

Great post mark..agree. Whats the Braves next move..any guess?

Dan Thuggla

June 19th, 2011
11:01 pm

I groan whenever we have a rally started and I suddenly realize our 2nd Baseman is the on-deck hitter.

Send Uggla to Mississippi.

Send Larry Parrish to the Mets.

Send the AJC your cancellation notice.

Get Bobby Cox OR Joe Torre to come out of retirement.

Rick

June 19th, 2011
11:19 pm

“Fredi Gonzalez and his staff must realize this team might never be the homer-bashing crew they thought they’d have.”

FYI the Braves have the 3rd most homers in the league with 75. Brewers and D-Backs are tied with 82.

P. Bull Terrier

June 19th, 2011
11:28 pm

I really like the idea of trading a bunch of players we don’t want for Matt Kemp. If Frank Wren can’t make that happen, I say we fire him and hire VinceVanGo as the new GM. (I’m pretty sure Vince plays in my fantasy league. I can’t count the number of times I have been offered similar packages of players for Kemp.)

If Uggla doesn’t turn things around in the next week to ten days, it may be time to put him on the DL with some kind of mystery injury to take some of the pressure off and hope he can come back after the all-star game with a fresh approach.

PMC

June 19th, 2011
11:29 pm

yeah the pieces in the outfield could still be upgraded massively, the question is just… is the right player out there for the price?

NO JOSH WILLINGHAM

June 19th, 2011
11:38 pm

Everybody stop with the Josh Willingham trade rumors. If we pick up another guy who is having a horrible year I will no longer be a Braves fan. I could get excited over Hunter Pence but we really need a Michael Bourn or Coco Crisp.

Who Me?

June 19th, 2011
11:42 pm

Enter your comments here

Grantdawg

June 19th, 2011
11:42 pm

Braves need to hit more. Also in the news, water is wet. The sky is blue.

rob

June 20th, 2011
12:03 am

if you look at shafer’s box every game, you would think wow this kid sucks. but he has scored SO MANY runs. he makes the other team so nervous. they committ erros or walk him. i actually think dan uggla can pull out of his slump hitting behind shafer. more fastballs and better pitches.

benchwarmer

June 20th, 2011
12:05 am

Jason Heyward is a bust it seems. Since the latter part of last season into all of this he has failed to live up to even an adequate right fielder. The kid tries to hard to be a mighty pull hitter and the league has his number now. For that matter it seems that to many Braves are giving away part of the plate or reaching for too much of the plate. Worst bunch of hackers I’ve seen for awhile. No body other than Shaefer remembers how to work a count and that includes management. Yes this team should be better and I go on record now to say it won’t happen until thay have a better manager. Freddi has led them into a hole.

Joe

June 20th, 2011
12:11 am

Duh!!!!!!! An earth shattering observation….and they pay you for these articles. Wow!!!! Hitting at all costs must happen to win.

extremus

June 20th, 2011
12:25 am

While I don’t think Fredi Gonzalez’s job is in any immediate danger (the Braves are probably headed for an unspectacular winning record and likely a first-round exit should they make the playoffs and have to face a good pitching staff), there is simply too much that’s consistently wrong/missing for there not to be some serious questions fielded at coaching and management here. We all realize that most of the lineup isn’t hitting, but what gets me is how consistently they’re getting the same type of outs (Ks to the low outside corner, roll-overs to 2nd Base, can’t get the stupid bunt down for anything, etc…). Nobody is seeing much if any improvement for going on three months now at the plate, and however much we might lampoon Uggla, Heyward, Alex Gonzalez, or whomever as players for failing to do their jobs, we shouldn’t forget that even (especially) at the MLB level it takes great coaching and direction from management to rise to and maintain championship expectations and performance.

The Braves, in this “smooth transition” from Bobby Cox, have seen little of that. Sometimes I almost wonder if Fredi is just a little too hesitant to take some players to task about improving their approach, whether he learned too much “player loyalty” from Cox when he was with the Braves, or whether he is just simply not up to snuff for taking this team back to the World Series. I see those hitters go up to the plate and I could swear sometimes they look mentally defeated even before the third strike is called; no passion or fire is exuding from these players.

The team needs a shake-up in a positive sense, even if initially some unpleasantness has to erupt in the clubhouse for it to happen. Everyone is just going through the motions, and that’s why the Braves aren’t winning as consistently as we want to believe they can. And that’s squarely on the management and coaching staff. Hey, managers have been fired while in FIRST PLACE before; if something fundamental and basic is holding your team back, do a Barney Fife and nip it in the bud!

MM

June 20th, 2011
12:27 am

Terry Pendleton will have Uggla hitting the ball.

Mike

June 20th, 2011
1:07 am

extremus…

I couldnt agree more. I would give Larry Parrish the axe and let it be known that Fredi doesnt have the leeway that Cox did. He needs to get some fire and passion back into this team or he will have a short Braves career.