The Atlanta Braves have been scorching hot since the All-Star break, thanks in large part to the resurgence of Jason Heyward.
Heyward was batting .348 in the month of August before going down with a broken jaw against the New York Mets last Wednesday. Since then, the Braves have promptly dropped three out of four to the St. Louis Cardinals, with the offense lacking a certain level of spark.
Heyward is anything but a prototypical leadoff hitter. He’s big (6-foot-5, 240 pounds), he hits for great power, but he’s got speed and since being moved to the leadoff spot shortly after the break, his batting average and OBP have skyrocketed.
It’s no coincidence that the Braves’ 14-game winning streak coincided with Heyward’s white-hot play. Teams tend to live and die by the precedence the top of their lineup sets – and with Heyward consistently getting on base for the likes of Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Brian McCann, it was only a matter of time before the offense exploded.
And explode it did. Since July 22, the Braves have averaged exactly five runs a game over a 28 game stretch – all with Heyward manning the helm at the leadoff spot. It’s a small sample size since his injury, admittedly, but in the four games since he went down, the team has averaged just 1.75 runs a game.
The Braves need not panic; their lead in the east is safe, and the Washington Nationals show very little signs of life. Even if they did, it would take an unprecedented and historical collapse by the Braves to relinquish the division lead. What is disconcerting is how different the offense looks without Heyward. His injury has changed the entire dynamic of the lineup.
But there is a silver lining – it is likely Heyward will be back off the DL just in time for the playoffs. And that could spell one heck of a run into November for the Braves.