I mentioned in Tuesday’s series preview that the Kansas City Royals were a team that put the ball in play, and the Atlanta Braves needed to play solid defense to extend their win streak. Well they didn’t, but it didn’t matter.
The Braves used the long ball to overcome three errors in their 6-3 win on Tuesday night. Dan Uggla and Juan Francisco each made throwing errors while catcher Evan Gattis was called for catcher interference, leading to starter Kris Medlen surrendering an unearned run. The shaky fielding would suggest that’s a game the Braves shouldn’t win.
But they did for the 10th straight time. It’s not going to look pretty or fundamentally sound in 2013, but rather unconventional.
The Braves leadoff hitter on Tuesday, B.J. Upton, failed to have a .300 on-base in 2012 and is hitting .152 with 14 strikeouts, good for second-most on the team this season. Since when is it good for a baseball team for their leadoff hitter to strike out often and seldom reach base?
The .152 average for Upton isn’t even the worst on the team. Of course, that belongs to the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, Jason Heyward. Traditionally, the No. 2 hitter is one of the most consistent hitters on the team who could handle the bat.
Heyward is hitting .116 and is capable of team-high strikeout streaks. So, the Braves’ top two hitters combined aren’t hitting .300 in front of superstar Justin Upton, yet they have the best record in baseball at 12-1 and run differential (plus-42).
Even where the Braves are getting production doesn’t make sense — see Gattis. The cleanup hitter on a 12-1 team is a 26-year-old rookie who spent the last few years as a janitor, suffering through depression, searching for spiritual enlightenment and sleeping in his car. He didn’t know if he would make the team entering spring training, but here he is producing (.289, four home runs, 10 RBI) for the best team in the MLB.
How is this team winning? The short answer is a MLB-leading 25 home runs. Timely hitting cures all, and was on full display Tuesday night as the Braves broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning with three solo home runs by Heyward, Justin Upton and Uggla. In mere moments, the game went from up in the air to a convincing Braves’ win.
It won’t be a team you put on a highlight reel to teach young players the fundamentals of the game. Traditionalists may ache watching this team strike out and fail at “doing the little things.” Maybe those traditionalists can watch the MLB-leading pitching staff in ERA and turn the channel when the Braves come to hit. That is more conventional than the Braves’ offense.