Braves return to Atlanta feeling fortunate
Still two games shy of completing the first third of this year’s schedule, it might be a little too early to make much of the frequency in which some of the Braves are hitting a home runs. But it does not hurt to at least point out the pace that Evan Gattis and Justin Upton have set through the season’s first two months.
Entering the United States portion of this week’s four-game stretch against the Blue Jays, Gattis has homered once every 11.08 at-bats and Upton has gone deep once every 12.57 at-bats. Even though his sample size is much smaller, we’ll still mention that with Tuesday’s two-homer game, Brian McCann has homered once every 9.50 at-bats.
Among qualified players, Chris Davis (10.59) and Bryce Harper (12.50) are the only Major Leaguers who have homered more frequently per at-bat than Upton. Gattis falls approximately 10 plate appearances shy of being listed among the qualified players. His figure would place him right behind Davis’ league-leading percentage.
A list of the top five HR/AB ratios produced by Braves players in a season:
Hank Aaron (10.53) 1971
Andruw Jones (11.49) 2005
Eddie Mathews (11.90) 1954
Joe Adcock (11.95) 1956
Mathews (12.17) 1955
There have already been a number of noteworthy 10-game stretches this season. There was the perfect 10-game stretch that helped the Braves begin this season with a 12-1 record. Then there were the two disappointing 10-game road trips that followed. But on the heels of that last 10-game journey out west has been a remarkable 10-game stretch in which the Braves miraculously were not doomed by their injury-depleted, short-handed bullpen.
The Braves have won eight of their last 10 games and the only game their bullpen blew during this stretch came during Sunday night’s loss to the Mets. Sure the offense has led the way with a number of late-inning home runs that have erased deficits. But the bullpen has done its part. Or maybe more appropriately, it has done much more than could have been envisioned while going through a 10-game stretch without Eric O’Flaherty and Jordan Walden.
When the Braves announced they were going to a six-man pen on May 17, they did so by revealing Walden was going on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. One day later, they learned O’Flaherty would likely need to undergo the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgical procedure that was indeed performed a few days later.
With potential disaster staring them in the face, the Braves opted to stick with the six-man bullpen as opposed to make a much tougher roster decisions. Many of the options were the same as they had been a few weeks earlier when it was time to begin evaluating how to make room for Jason Heyward to return from the disabled list.
But the Braves definitely aren’t sending Gattis to the Minors now and it still does not seem like they have any desire to trade Reed Johnson. If they can get a valuable reliever in return, there is still a chance they could deal Gerald Laird. But the club understands the tremendous value Laird has brought as a mentor to Julio Teheran and Gattis. There has been plenty of indication they would like him back to serve as Gattis’ backup next year.
If Laird and Johnson do indeed stick around once the Braves return to a seven-man pen, there is always a chance a roster space could be opened for Walden by placing a position player on the disabled list. Then of course, the Braves will have to make another tough roster decision when Brandon Beachy is ready to return from Tommy John surgery in a couple of weeks.
The decision regarding Beachy will obviously be influenced by how they make room for him in the starting rotation. Right now we can ask all of the questions: Could Tim Hudson benefit from a rest while on the DL? Would it make sense to move Kris Medlen to the pen? Will they try to regulate Julio Teheran’s workload? Could they look to trade Paul Maholm?
While there is a chance Beachy could return to the rotation in a little more than two weeks, it is still too early to know exactly what the Braves will do to make room for him.
But like these recent roster decisions regarding going from and back to a seven-man bullpen, this is another good problem to have.