Fortunately, for Braves fans, he is struggling at a time when the team is comfortably headed toward the playoffs. The Braves' huge division lead gives Uggla a luxury that most aging, declining, and expensive middle infielders don't have. He is going to keep getting playing time and at-bats, and he needs to take advantage of it.
Here are five reasons why Uggla needs to have a huge September:
He needs to earn his playoff roster spot
Most of the Braves' starting playoff lineup, barring injury, is set in stone. But second base is an exception. Uggla has missed time due to injury, which has likely compounded his offensive struggles. More than any other of the Braves' regulars, Uggla still needs to prove that he is the best option at his position. His role is easy enough to define if he can get back to hitting homers as a regular rate, otherwise he is a light-hitting second basemen that doesn't have the defensive skills of his two primary backups. And if Uggla's not producing runs with his bat, somebody else will be able to save runs in the field.
He needs to prove he has recovered from eye surgeryUggla missed 15 days in August as he recovered from corrective eye surgery. The vision problem had been going on for a large part of the season. However, there is some suspicion that Uggla was placed on the disabled list for a procedure that commonly only takes a few days to recover from so that he could have more of an opportunity to clear his head. So far, the results haven't been there. If he continues to perform poorly for the last few weeks of the season, it could mean that either the procedure wasn't successful or that he's in more of a funk than the Braves thought. If that's the case, Uggla will probably not be given a spot on the playoff roster.
He needs to regain his power stroke
Uggla's primary skill at this point is his potential for power, but he has not had a home run since July 25. If he can recover his power stroke, he suddenly would be a much more attractive option for the postseason. The ability to put up great offensive numbers from the second-base position while being just barely good enough defensively is plenty to justify a starting role. Uggla had managed an impressive 21 home runs this season before this current power outage. So even in the midst of a very disappointing season, he has that puncher's chance to put one in the seats, so long as he can find that stroke again.
He needs to get on track for the remainder of his contract
Uggla has two years remaining on the long-term contract he signed with the Braves going into the 2011 season. The club is currently locked into an unfavorable television deal and doesn't have the type of financial flexibility that allows for one of the most expensive players to put up such awful results. A September turnaround for Uggla would go a long way toward the club not trying to move him in the offseason.
The timing for this issue is particularly interesting since the top free agent this offseason figures to be Robinson Cano, a fellow second baseman. If Uggla struggles through September and October and the bidding over Cano involves multiple teams, the Braves would be given a strong starting spot to try and move Uggla.
He needs to get the fans behind him
There are so few games played in October, and each of them is precious to a fan. For me, a huge amount of the playoff narrative involves rooting for individual players in the enormous, individual moments of a playoff game.
There is no more 162-game slough where luck evens out and three-game losing streaks fail to show up on any radars. And if Uggla limps through September continuing to hit the way he has been, the few at-bats he's going to get in October are all going to have less of a momentous feel. Uggla needs to have a huge September for the benefit of all of us that want to be cheering.
Patrick Richardson is a long time follower of the Atlanta Braves who started playing t-ball right as Atlanta's record-setting run of division titles began. He is an amateur but enthusiastic sabermetrician.
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