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