Atlanta Braves’ Bench Keys Series Sweep

Jordan Schafer Atlanta Braves

Kim Klement-USA Today Sports

The Atlanta Braves welcomed back their full lineup for the first time all season in the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend, but it was the bench that stole the show.

Role players keyed the rally in the eighth inning on Sunday. Veteran backup catcher Gerald Laird tied the game with a pinch-hit single. Utility infielder Ramiro Pena drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly. Third baseman Chris Johnson entered late in the game and drove in an insurance run, and Jordan Schafer capped the rally with an RBI on a bunt.

On Saturday, Evan Gattis came off the bench to provide a dramatic pinch-hit, go-ahead two-run home run with the Braves trailing 1-0 in the eighth inning.

Atlanta fans’ excitement for the 2013 season was based on the potential of the starting lineup, and rightly so. However, general manager Frank Wren should be credited with assembling a deep roster.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez can turn to his bench with confidence, knowing that there won’t be a decrease in production in order to give one of his starters a day off. Consider Schafer, who reached base three times in four plate appearances and drove in two key runs on Sunday. He is hitting .333 with a .455 on-base percentage in 15 starts this season.

Pena demonstrates the versatility of this bench as he can play three positions on the infield, and Laird provides a solid veteran presence behind the plate. The two are hitting .286 and .289 respectively on the season, for an added bonus for the Braves.

Then there is fan-favorite Gattis, who has seen his playing time reduced with the return of Jason Heyward and Brian McCann. What team has a slugger like Gattis that they can turn to late in games or spot starts? He has already hit two pinch-hit home runs in five at-bats and is hitting .313 in late and close games, according to Baseball Reference.

The starters will receive most of the attention all season, and it makes sense since they receive most of the playing time. However, in a 162-game season, it takes the entire 25-man roster to have a successful campaign. The Braves’ bench will fly under the radar, but won’t go unnoticed throughout the 2013 MLB season.

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