The phrase, “pitching wins championships” is well known all over baseball. General managers are fully aware of the fact that it’s very difficult to win without a solid rotation and reliable bullpen. However the question that I will pose to you is this, can pitching alone win you a championship? The 2011 Arizona Diamond Backs might argue that it can. They had 2 pitchers carry them all the way to a game 7 win against the heavily favored Yankees. Or the 2003 Florida Marlins made a great run with Josh Becket leading the way, they too beat the heavily favored Yankees.
Great pitching is a wonderful thing to have but how much pressure can a staff and bullpen take before they stop bending and start breaking? The Braves are already starting to experience an over worked bullpen and a starting rotation that is starting to struggling just a bit as we get into the middle part of August. The offense on the other hand is showing some signs of life, lead by Dan Uggla’s 31 game hitting streak. Freeman has also been swinging the bat very well and has gotten his average up to .294 when he also experienced a hitting streak of over 20 games.
Prado had a big 4 hit game the other night against Florida including a go head RBI single that would eventually lead to a Braves victory. The addition of Michael Bourn has added a true spark plug to the top of our order and with his recent display of power Alex Gonzalez has now cracked double digit home runs.
While all of these things point to the Braves heading in the right direction offensively, we still must examine the facts. And for the Braves the offense still has major question marks surrounding it. One thing I like about stats is that they are factual, they may not always tell the whole story but no one can deny their accuracy.
Braves Offensive Rankings:
Runs Scored: 16th (486)
Batting Average: 24th (.246)
On Base Percentage: 24th (.312)
Slugging Percentage: 18th (.392)
As you can see these are not flattering stats for this offense that was supposed to be much improved from last season. The stat that jumps out most at me is team batting average. When your hitting .246 as a team it’s going to be difficult to win a World Series. In fact the worst team batting average to ever win a World Series was the 1969 New York Mets. That club hit .242 as a collective unit and earned the nickname “the hit less wonders”. As I’m sure all of you have noticed that .246 average posted by the 1969 Mets is not much worse then the .246 average that the 2011 Braves are sitting on.
Those Amazing Mets were also carried by their pitching staff to an extreme level. Despite being one of the worst hitting teams in all of baseball in 1969 the Mets still managed to win 100 ball games. Lead by Tom Seaver who went 25-7 with a 2.21era and Jerry Koosman who went 17-9 with a 2.28era. In fact the worst pitcher on that years staff was Jim McAndrew who posted a mediocre 6-7 record despite having a solid 3.47era. As a pitcher you really had to be on your game if you were going to put up wins with that anemic offense hitting behind you. Doesn’t this all sound familiar?
The leading run producer for the Mets that year was center fielder Tom Aggie who topped out at 76rbi. That team lacked a true run producer, sort of like this year’s Atlanta Braves. Currently Dan Uggla is the team leader in rbi’s and he only has 58. I don’t see him surpassing the 100rbi mark as were already getting into the middle of August. I’d say he has a chance to get close 80 or so, not much more then that. And in my opinion a solid run producer is a 100rbi guy. Chipper Jones in his prime was a 35 homer and 100rbi type guy. He was the face of the offense.
Now I’m not going to sit here and leave you guys with a gloom and doom ending to this article because I am an incurable optimist. The 1969 Mets won the World Series with timely hitting and solid execution. What’s the quickest way to make an impact in a baseball game? The quickest way to take the lead or to decrease a deficit? That’s right. The home run. And that’s something that the Braves have been fairly decent with this year. Getting timely home runs to win games late or to keep games close that appeared out of reach.
The Braves have 7 guys with 10+ home runs and Chipper Jones isn’t one of them.
Brian McCann (18), Freddie Freeman (15), Alex Gonzalez (10), Eric Hinske (10), Dan Uggla (24), Jason Heyward (12) and Martin Prado (11). Chipper just misses that cut with 9 homers.
The point I’m trying to make is that the Braves can still make a run at this thing with timely hitting. When you have 7 guys who have double digit home runs and Chipper Jones who at any age is always a threat to go yard, you have a potentially dangerous offense. A walk, a bloop single of 2nd base and a home run by Dan Uggla can put 3 runs on the board in the blink of an eye. This offense may not strike as often as we like but when they do they strike fast.
By: Bob McVinua