COMMENTARY | How does that old cliche go? You are only as strong as the one guy who makes an otherwise unstoppable lineup look as though it is not as good as previously speculated. Or at least something along those lines.
The Atlanta Braves have a batting order that could be, man-for-man, better than just about any team in baseball. But even the Braves' revamped roster is not immune from a little Kryptonite. Looking through the lineup, it is easy to identify a couple of spots that opposing pitchers will likely see as safe havens amongst the treacherous wilderness that is the rest of Atlanta's power-packed roster.
On an infamous 1964 episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show," magician Fred Kaps had the unfortunate honor of having to follow the debut of a group of mop-top toting Brits known as "The Beatles." Why bring up this seemingly irrelevant piece of music trivia? It is worth noting because Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco now have the similarly unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Chipper Jones.
It seems only fitting that it would take two separate players to fill in for one of the greatest switch-hitters to ever step foot on the diamond. Johnson (bats right handed) and Francisco (bats left handed) will platoon over at Chipper's hot corner as the matchups, and manger Fredi Gonzalez, dictates.
The "John-cisco" combination hit .268 and struck out 202 times last season. However, Johnson has proved to be a serviceable utility player, and Francisco did show streaks of power for the Braves in 2012. If the two play at full capacity, they just might be lucky enough to each equal one half of a 40-year-old Chipper Jones.
Second Base: Dan Uggla
What do they call a player who has the potential to belt 40 homers and drive in 120 runs every season but who actually ends up hitting .220 and striking out 168 times? His name is Dan Uggla.
Uggla has infuriated Atlanta fans for two seasons with his bipolar-like bouts of extreme brilliance and extreme "suck-itude" (real word, I swear). The same player, who carried the Braves for a month in 2011, during his 33-game hitting streak, is also the same player who hit just .193 over the last four months of the 2012 season.
Incredibly, despite all the strikeouts and infrequent hitting, Uggla still somehow managed to tally a .348 on-base percentage last season. Perhaps, if Uggla thinks about hitting the baseball into earth's lower atmosphere a little less, and instead settles for driving sharp singles through the second-base hole, he could play his way off of the list of weakest links and on to a Braves playoff roster.
Interim Catcher: Gerald Laird
We'd all like to believe that Gerald Laird's inclusion on the Atlanta roster will be a short-lived one, but predicting exactly when Brian McCann will be healthy enough to come back from offseason shoulder surgery, as well as assuming there will be no other problems that flare-up to keep "Mac" out of the lineup later in the year, may be shortsighted at best.
Laird could be asked to contribute significantly more than most Braves fans are comfortable with. Laird's minuscule total of 37 home runs in 10 career seasons may seem out of place in the midst of all the big bats on Atlanta's roster. Laird is clearly not here for his offense. As long as he can competently block balls in the dirt, and refrain from spiking himself going to or from the Atlanta dugout, the Braves will gladly take whatever the 33-year-old catcher can give them out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
Still, Laird's offensive struggles might not be the only thing that opens the door for rookie Evan Gattis to eventually see the lion's share of the playing time in McCann's stead. Against 52 would-be base stealers last season, Laird managed to gun down just 10 of them. If the benefit of having Laird's veteran presence behind the dish gets outweighed by the prospect of putting Gattis' bat in the order, the catching position may not be a weak link for too long.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Chipper Jones
- Gerald Laird