Five Atlanta Braves Who Are Providing Surprising Contributions
The Atlanta Braves
Coming into this season, the Atlanta Braves were counting on major contributions from arguably the best outfield in Major League Baseball -- left fielder Justin Upton, center fielder B.J. Upton and right fielder Jason Heyward -- as well as first baseman Freddie Freeman and second baseman Dan Uggla. Meanwhile, starting pitchers Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen and Mike Minor were expected to provide solid work on the mound.
While the Braves couldn't have foreseen Freeman's early-season stint on the disabled list and massive struggles by B.J., Heyward and Uggla, all of whom are hitting well under the Mendoza line, what's likely even more shocking is the tremendously high level of play they have received from some of their unheralded players.
Just over two weeks into the campaign, Atlanta currently find itself with the best record in MLB at 12-2. Justin has clobbered a major league-leading eight home runs, the rotation has been extremely strong and the bullpen has proven to be nearly unhittable, led by closer Craig Kimbrel, who has converted all six of his save opportunities, but it takes more than that to post such a mark.
It's no secret that every team has under-the-radar players who rise to the occasion when called upon despite lower expectations than some of their teammates, but the fact of the matter is that the Braves possess as many or more of those types of players as any club in baseball.
Here is my list of five Braves who are providing surprising contributions.
After four years out of baseball between 2006-2009, rookie catcher Evan Gattis is becoming known for his towering home runs. He has crushed four so far this season while tallying 10 RBIs and putting up a respectable .262 batting average.
Ramiro Pena spent the last four seasons as a backup infielder for the New York Yankees. Sitting behind the likes of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the depth chart, he rarely received playing time. With the Braves, he has found himself delivering in crucial spots, none bigger than last Friday, when he reached via a bunt single that allowed the club to tie things in the ninth inning before blasting a two-run homer that lifted it to a 6-4 win over the Washington Nationals an inning later.
While starting pitcher Paul Maholm has been an extremely consistent hurler over the past few years, the consistency he has displayed this season far surpasses any of the work he has done in the past. Through his first three starts he has yet to allow a run while striking out 20 and walking five.
Juan Francisco has never been known to hit for a high average, but he is doing just that in the early going, posting a .333 average to go with three homers and seven RBIs. Even more impressive is the fact that he has played third base more regularly than anticipated due to Freeman's injury.
Speaking of playing more frequently, Chris Johnson has filled in more than admirably at first base. As a matter of fact, his .409 average currently ranks first in the majors. Not only that, but he has played errorless defense.