July, 12, 2013
By Matt Meyers | ESPN.com
Coming into the season, the Atlanta Braves' outfield was supposed to be the team's strength. Not only did it appear Jason Heyward was coming into his own, but the club acquired both Justin Upton and B.J. Upton over the winter, giving them three high-upside outfielders with All-Star potential in their early-to-mid 20s.
As you're probably aware, things haven't worked out as planned. Although Justin Upton had a fantastic April, the entire trio has struggled for the past two-plus months, hitting a combined .211 with 14 home runs since May 1.
And insult turned to injury this week: Heyward had to leave Thursday’s game early with a hamstring strain (he’s day-to-day), and then in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, both Uptons had to leave due to injury -- B.J. with an adductor strain and Justin with a strained left calf.
It would be easy to panic and think, "Oh no, the Braves are in trouble." But here’s the thing: The outfield has been awful for most of the season, and yet the club still sits in first place in the National League East, 13 games above .500 (53-40) and six games ahead of the Washington Nationals.
Thanks to Justin Upton's hot start, Evan Gattis' heroics, the steady performance of Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson -- not to mention the resurgent Brian McCann -- the Braves' offense has been surprisingly potent (third in the NL in runs). Meanwhile, the deepest pitching staff in the league has posted a 3.25 ERA, good for second-best in the league, all of which has provided the club with that six-game cushion.
With that in mind, allow me to offer the Braves a piece of unsolicited advice: Take it slow with your outfielders. If all three need to go on the DL, so be it. This would be the time to do it. You have four days off next week, which would mean they would each only miss about 10 games, which is practically nothing. Besides, it’s not as if these guys have been helping the team much anyway.
If the Braves are going to win the World Series, they are going to need production from Heyward and the Uptons, and maybe a little bit of a physical (and mental) break will help get all three of them back on track for the stretch run. It certainly can’t hurt.
Atlanta should be thrilled it has the luxury of such a large cushion, and that affords the club a lot of leeway here. Besides, it’s not like the replacements can play much worse.