With the Astros coming to town to start a three-game series tonight, I can’t help but think about Kyle Farnsworth, Brad Ausmus, Lance Berkman, Joey Devine and Chris Burke. I guess you could say spending 18 innings developing a story around those guys makes them unforgettable.
It’s been just four years since they served as the key figures in the 18-inning National League Division Series-clinching victory the Astros claimed at Minute Maid Park. But Berkman is the only member of that quintet who will be present this weekend at Turner Field.
Or at least somebody looking like the Big Puma will be in town. The veteran first baseman is hitting .162 with five homers and a .718 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). During his past 42 at-bats, he’s recorded five hits, including three homers.
Who does he think he is, Kelly Johnson?
Speaking of Johnson, who has four hits in his past 39 at-bats, he is out of tonight’s lineup again. Friday night’s game marks the third straight that Omar Infante has started at second base and served as the leaoff hitter.
As of Wednesday, Johnson wasn’t suffering from any physical ailments. Cox is either sending him a message or growing comfortable with seeing Infante on an everyday basis.
Cox’s alternative options in the leadoff spot are limited. He could go with Yunel Escobar, who has hit .317 with a .370 on-base percentage in 346 career plate appearances in the first spot of the order.
Whenever asked about the leadoff hitter, Cox has said it doesn’t matter who you put there unless you have a Rickey Henderson or a Pete Rose. In addition, he also mentions that you really only hit leadoff once per game.
Really a leadoff hitter can do so much more for you than simply attempt to jump start the lineup during the first inning. A good one could consistently turn two quick outs at the bottom of the order into a potential rally for the heart of the lineup to produce.
But even if you simply base your decision using Cox’s simplified version of the leadoff hitter, Escobar has some pretty impressive credentials. In 72 career plate appearances while serving as his team’s first batter of the game, he’s hit .429 with a .444 on-base percentage.
In the 251 plate appearances he’s gathered while leading off an inning, he’s hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage.
Johnson has hit .263 with a .354 on-base percentage in 571 career plate appearances in the first spot of the lineup. In the 123 plate appearances he’s garnered as the Braves first batter of the game, he’s hit .212 with a .276 on-base percentage.
In 418 plate appearance while serving as the first batter of an inning, Johnson has hit .271 with a .349 on-base percentage.
I had no idea what some of those numbers would be until I started researching them on baseball-reference.com. But I think it’s safe to say that I said “Wow” when I saw the difference in the numbers Johnson and Escobar have produced while serving as their team’s first hitter of the game.
Because of his speed, there’s still certainly a chance that Jordan Schafer eventually finds himself in the leadoff spot. With 12 walks in his past nine games, the rookie center fielder has certainly shown some patience than he did during his first two weeks in the Majors. But some scouts believe he’s still learning the strike zone and is best suited to stay near the bottom of the lineup.
Sammons gets his first start: With an afternoon game tomorrow and left-hander Mike Hampton pitching tonight, the left-handed hitting David Ross will rest while Clint Sammons gets his first start of the year behind the plate in the opener of this three-game series against the Astros.
That’s it for today. I’ll update you if Brian McCann has anything good to say about his progress. Garret Anderson was running in the outfield this afternoon and should be ready to play early next week.