So far in 2014 the Atlanta Braves have struck me more as a .500 ball club that is somehow managing to stagger around in first place of the National League East. They are near the bottom of all of baseball in scoring runs. Their anemic offense has been a source of consternation for me since the opening of the season. They leave far too many runners on base. Out of 30 teams, they rank 28th in runs scored as of this post. Just pathetic.
So how are they in first place? Pitching and their competition within the NL East. The Braves pitching staff has the second-best ERA in baseball, an outstanding 2.47 as of today. You can go a long way with great pitching. But, if you suck at scoring runs it probably means you can't go all the way. It is the seemingly age-old story. The Braves might (still a big "if" at this point) be good enough to win their division in 2014, but as of right now they look as if their batters against play-off caliber pitching will not hit well enough to win the big games.
Part of the problem offensively this season, as last season, is the completely wimpish hitting of expensive free agents B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Upton is a decent center fielder and is too expensive of a player not to give every opportunity to improve his hitting. He has taken to wearing eye-glasses for his at-bats. So far, it has not led to dramatic results. He is batting just .216 thus far this season.
We simply could no longer afford to allow Uggla (batting a dismal .175) the luxury of playing through his perpetual hitting slump. His average defense at second base was also nothing to hold in high esteem. The Braves organization certainly gave Uggla his chances. But, something had to be done there. You can't flounder offensively as a team and let one of your worst hitters continue to play the game - no matter how many millions of dollars you are paying him to strikeout.
Last week, the Braves finally made the move that I had been discussing with fellow fans since the end of April. They called up their AAA second base prospect, Tommy La Stella. La Stella had been batting over .300 for the Braves' Gwinnett team. His defense is not outstanding but he is decent and he has always been able to put the ball in play, which is more than you can say for the would-be power hitting Uggla.
La Stella's first game was at Boston's Fenway Park where he collected his first two major league hits and made some good defensive plays even though the Braves lost to the Red Sox. His defense was shaky in subsequent games but Braves Manager Fredi Gonzalez wants to give him room to learn and to adjust to the majors.
The Braves rookie second baseman drove in his first RBI on Saturday night in an important series against the Miami Marlins. He ended up with four hits in the series as the Braves swept the Marlins to open up a 3-game lead in the NL East.
I have previously mentioned that I really enjoy watching young players enter the major leagues. It is even more exciting when the player has an opportunity to help change the dynamic of the team, to put the ball in play (he has yet to strike out), and to help address our pitiful offense. Tommy La Stella has not exactly accomplished that yet, but the initial results are encouraging. And, for whatever else he might be or might become, so far he is no Dan Uggla. That is good news for Braves fans.
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