The Atlanta Braves won their eighth straight game Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, an impressive streak that has the NL East leaders currently labeled as the hottest team in baseball. Much of the team’s success during the streak is surprisingly due to B.J. Upton who, for the first time in his Braves career, is showing signs of life at the plate.
Atlanta fans have been massively disappointed in Upton’s play for the majority of his short time in a Braves uniform, as his production simply isn’t worthy of the five year, $75.25 million contract he is currently under. Lately, however, the Braves are stringing wins together as the 29-year-old Upton, who is currently on a 10-game hit streak, is beginning to play up to his potential.
His average still sits at an unimpressive .211, 34 percentage points lower than his career .245 average, but his recent play is a welcome sign.
Since June 21, the Atlanta center fielder is batting .268 and has scored a run in eight of the 12 contests played during that time. Upton has always been a threat to steal bases, but his inability to actually reach base while in Atlanta has given him minimal chances to swipe bags. However, in 2014, Upton has stolen 14 bases and has only been caught three times, an impressive 82 percent success rate. During his current 10-game hitting streak, the speedster has stolen three bases.
Upton has sparked an Atlanta offense that is all too dependent on the home run, allowing the Braves to play small ball and push runs across the plate more efficiently. On Friday night, Upton ripped a leadoff single into left field off of Arizona starter Josh Collmenter, stole second base, was bunted over to third and eventually scored on a Freddie Freeman RBI single.
When the Atlanta offense is moving runners over and recording productive outs, the Braves are one of the best teams in baseball. The only way the team can continue their current torrid pace, however, is to not rely solely on the long ball; to do this, B.J. Upton will need to continue to get hits and steal bases.
Should Upton become productive enough to be the permanent leadoff hitter for Fredi Gonzalez‘s Braves, there is a strong chance that July will be the month that Atlanta begins to distance themselves from the Washington Nationals and the rest of the NL East.