Chip Caray made a comment during the telecast of the Atlanta Braves‘ 18-9 beat down of the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday about the lineup having an American League feel. There is power from top to bottom of the order. As the Braves compiled those 18 runs off 21 hits, it made me wonder the last time the Braves had a lineup with this much potency.
While the season hasn’t started yet, I think this is the best Braves’ offense since 2003.
The 2003 lineup was also stacked from top to bottom and was also very well balanced. The top of the order featured a solid one-two punch in Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles. Veteran sluggers Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield, Andruw Jones and Javy Lopez made up an imposing middle of the order, while Robert Fick and Vinny Castilla were more than capable hitters to round out the order.
Just how good was that lineup? They led the National League in runs scored and home runs but also led the league in batting average, finished second in on-base percentage, while striking out the least amount of times. That’s an explosive and balanced offense.
I see the power potential being similar between the two lineups. The 2013 squad will likely come up short of the 235 they 2003 team hit. Brian McCann won’t hit 42 home runs like Lopez did at the age of 32. The outfield combination of the Uptons and Jason Heyward will probably come short of the 102 the trio of the Jones’ and Sheffield hit in 2003.
Other than that, the numbers by position look achievable, and it’s also worth noting that 2003 was at the tail end of the steroid era. Baseballs were flying out of the park left and right 10 years ago, and there has been a major drop off in home runs in those 10 years.
The 2003 lineup will easily strike out less and get on base at a higher percentage. Only one player (Andruw Jones) had more than 100 strikeouts in the 2003 lineup. The 2013 Braves have five 100-strikeout batters from 2012 in their lineup, which doesn’t include the platoon of Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco.
From 2012, Justin Upton has the highest OBP for the Braves at .355. That would have been good for fifth among the starters on the 2003 team, which is a credit to how consistent that offense was.
The 2013 team will not be as consistent, but has the potential to be more exciting. Only Furcal stole more than 20 bases on the 2003 team, and this Braves’ team has three guys capable of stealing 30 bases. Going first to third or scoring from first on balls hit to the gap will be the norm for this team. They will not finish 13th in the National League in stolen bases as the 2003 team did.
Overall, it’s tough to see the 2013 lineup matching the output of the 2003 lineup. This team should keep fans more on their toes with their speed and propensity to hit the long ball and also strike out. The 2003 team was more steady, but in the end it’s all about getting runs across the board. It doesn’t matter how a team gets that done.
We’ll see if the 2013 team lives up to its potential and is worth the comparison to the 2003 lineup in the upcoming months.