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Fan’s take: Freddie Freeman’s clutch hit shows why Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are so valuable to Braves
Freddie Freeman(notes) got the key hit in the Atlanta Braves' 5-4 come-from-behind win against the San Francisco Giants, but it was the potential menace of Brian McCann's(notes) bat that set it all up so perfectly. McCann and fellow veteran star Chipper Jones(notes) are the best players on the Braves team, but each is often undervalued by fans despite the powerful impact they have on the offense.
The Braves entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 4-2. Jose Constanza(notes), a speedster who has jumped out of nowhere from the minors into the Braves starting lineup to become an everyday spark-plug for the team, led off the inning with one of his now-routine infield hits.
Pinch-hitter Eric Hinskie had a good at-bat going late into the count and center fielder Michael Bourn(notes) sacrificed runners to first and third. A single by dependable Martin Prado(notes) cut the lead to 4-3 for San Francisco and that brought up McCann.
It was then that Brian McCann stepped up to the plate and showed why he is so important, without even getting the game-winning hit. McCann was in only his second game back form the DL, but he clearly showed why the Braves missed him so much.
Giants closer Brian Wilson(notes) clearly wanted no part of McCann, whose clutch hitting and walk-off homer heroics have become familiar sites to Atlanta fans and are well-known throughout baseball. Wilson, who had runners on first and third, obviously "unintentionally" intentionally walked the Braves catcher with four pitches way outside of the strike zone.
He wanted no part of McCann and was pitching around him.
That loaded the bases and put the winning run in scoring position at second, where just a single would win the game. That shows much impact McCann's mere presence had on the inning and the game.
The moves set up Braves slugger Dan Uggla(notes), who has been very hot lately but strikes out far more than McCann, and Wilson clearly preferred to pitch to Uggla. A few 97 mph fastballs later Uggla had struck out, and Wilson's plan had almost succeeded.
Of course, that's when Freeman entered the batter's box and got the game-winning hit, a clutch single driving in the runner from second base for the walk-off win. Freeman will get most of the credit for the victory, and that is just fine. It was a great hit, especially from a rookie first baseman that looks like he is going to be a star in Atlanta for a long time.
But think of what McCann caused the Giants to do, just by being in the lineup.
McCann is known as a clutch hitter, and so is Chipper Jones, the Braves' All-Star but oft-injured third baseman. Fans sometimes get down on McCann when he struggles or is injured, and they get downright angry at Chipper when he goes the same route. There are even calls for the veteran batters to play in pain, and some fans crowd the message boards urging Jones to retire.
But McCann and Jones have something that no other Braves hitters have. And that is the total respect and fear of the pitchers they are facing. I have seen it over and over again this year. When McCann or Jones is in the lineup, or best of all when they both are in it, pitchers radically alter the way they deal with the Braves bats.
By pitching around McCann and Jones, opposing pitchers often set up other hitters, such as Freeman, for RBI chances and for big hits.
Of course, when that happens you sometimes get the strange ironic twist of many fans discounting McCann and Chipper (especially) as old or worn out and urging them to get out of the way to make room for the younger players.
This is a fundamentally flawed strategy. The Braves need both Brian McCann and Chipper Jones, not only for their big hits, but also for the impact they bring to the offensive lineup.
McCann and Jones hit well enough alone to justify playing them every game they feel healthy enough to play. But their value to this club cannot be seen in mere numbers alone.
You have to watch the Braves night after night to begin to truly realize what a positive and important impact Brian McCann and Chipper Jones have on the Atlanta offense, and why they are so crucial headed into the postseason.
Jeffrey Weeks is a lifelong Atlanta fan who was born in Athens, Georgia and grew up watching the Braves.
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