The Atlanta Braves have had a flair for the dramatic while leading the league in come-from-behind wins, but the long-term weakness of getting hits with runners in scoring position is still a problem.
As of September 7th, the Braves were leading the major leagues in final at-bat wins with 23, and come-from-behind victories with 41.
Prior to Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh, the Braves have hit only .147 (5-for-34) with runners in scoring position and left 36 runners in base over the past four games, an average of nine per game.
Derrek Lee did hit into a double play that ended a Braves’ scoring threat against the Pirates, but the Braves as a team, has had this problem all year long.
Skepticism of the Braves’ trade for Lee has started to slowly circulate among the sports-talk media and on message boards.
General Manager Frank Wren was hoping that Lee would be able to help bail out the Braves in the final 45 days by providing a power bat in the lineup. So far, it hasn’t materialized.
After a 5-0 loss to the Pirates, Lee tried to remain positive.
“We’re OK. We’re a good team. We’re obviously in a rough spell right here. But there is still a long ways to go and we play them (six times). So we still control our own destiny. This team knows we’re good….Win games and everything takes of itself. We try to win every night and see where the chips fall at the end of the season.”
This preceding quote won’t sit well with some Braves fans and now some are clamoring for Troy Glaus.
The 34-year old Lee had been bothered by a small bulging disc prior to the Chicago Cubs trading him to the Braves, but Lee did not blame his offensive shortcomings on this condition. The Braves’ medical staff concurred that this condition did not have to severely curtail Lee’s effectiveness for the remainder of the season.
Lee is the final year of his contract and even if he performed well, it is still questionable whether the Braves would sign the first baseman to a contract in 2011.
It appears Jason Heyward is one of the few Braves that can deliver with two outs and runners in scoring position.
However, Heyward cannot bat nine times in the lineup. Others guys have to step up in those situations.
The Braves’ batting lineup had been buoyed by Heyward’s clutch hitting and career years from Omar Infante and Martin Prado.
Additionally, bench guys such as Brooks Conrad, Matt Diaz , Eric Hinske and Troy Glaus had their streaky moments, but their batting averages caught with them on most nights.
Nate McClouth has disappointed, and has faded into background since the All-Star break.
Many have forgotten that Rick Ankiel is on the team after being acquired from the Cardinals. Besides a game-winning hit against the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol in Chicago, Ankiel has had little impact since his arrival.
Simply put, the Braves started the season without a lead-off hitter and still don’t have one, even though Prado had performed well.
This team still miss what Rafael Furcal brought to the Braves lineup-speed. A team like Tampa who will make the playoffs this year can hit the long ball, but have multiple players who still 30 or more bases in a year.
Speed never goes into a slump.
Derek Lee has been a solid hitter throughout his career, and won a championship with the Florida Marlins. However, his lack of success thus far, isn’t the sole reason why the Braves are struggling.
This Braves team needs to get back to the basics of A-B-C baseball. This team has no business leaving that many runners on base and the lack of team speed and the mindset of waiting for the three-run HR is flawed. It may look good for awhile, but at some point, one has to get back to the basics.
The Braves’ bats were silenced by the Pirates’ James McDonald who outpitched Atlanta’s best pitcher Tim Hudson as the Pirates shut out the Braves, 5-0.
This loss was difficult for the Braves because it cost the team first place in the National League East. It had been more than three months since the Atlanta team has been in second place. The Phillies were able to come from behind and defeat the Marlins, 8-7.
The Pirates were able to breakthrough in a scoreless game in the bottom of the seventh inning. Garrett Jones hit a one-out double and scored on an RBI double by third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
Ryan Doumit was walked intentionally and Ronny Cedeno hit a two-run triple that scored Alvarez and Doumit and caused Hudson’s exit from the game.
Hudson has had the Pirates’ proverbial number for a long while, but on this night when everything went wrong, the Pirates were able to do everything right.