The Braves were leading the National League with 87 runs scored at the start of the day Sunday. After scoring only 10 runs in their first four games — all losses — the Braves have scored 81 runs through Sunday’s 6-4 loss to the Diamondbacks.
How’d this happen?
Some of it is third baseman Chipper Jones being back; his switch-hitting ability gives manager Fredi Gonzalez more flexibility, and the threat of his smart at-bats protects whoever hits in front of him.
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Some of it is infielder-outfielder Martin Prado being healthy and having a better handle on hitting in the second spot.
A chunk of it is right fielder Jason Heyward and first baseman Freddie Freeman having good, long at-bats and chopping the ball to both left and right fields.
And because hitting is contagious — a cliche because it’s true — center fielder Michael Bourn and catcher Brian McCann finally got it going. It’s particularly helpful to have Bourn get on base, because he leads off. And McCann is in the clean-up spot for a reason.
(Because Jones got the day off Sunday, Gonzalez started McCann on a day game after a night game, a situation in which he normally gets the day off. But Gonzalez doesn’t want both of them out of the lineup at the same time.)
Opposing teams have game-planned for the Braves by stacking their rotations to throw left-handed starters at their largely left-handed-hitting lineup; the Braves have faced left-handed starters in eight of their first 15 games. Funny thing, though, the Braves got better at hitting them because they had to.
That’s where the team’s new secret weapon comes in: assistant batting coach Scott Fletcher. Whereas the Braves used to have the typical scouting reports on opponents, Fletcher has developed a more specific, more intense video presentation. And it isn’t only for the beginning of a series; it can provide in-game adjustments.
The players have taken to Fletcher and to hitting coach Greg Walker because they listen first, and have encouraged a group approach to hitting instruction. So the guys are talking about hitting all the time among themselves.
No one expects the Braves to stay this hot through the entire season, but the fact that everything’s clicking now should keep them from being consumed by self-doubt if they hit the kind of slump that ended their 2011 season.
-SS Jack Wilson got his second consecutive start. His numbers were good against Diamondbacks LHP Joe Saunders, Saturday’s starter, and while he doesn’t have a lot of hits, he nevertheless manages to drive in runs one way or the other. Wilson was 1-for-4.
-SS Tyler Pastornicky got a second consecutive start off. Not simply because backup SS Jack Wilson is delivering RBI even without getting big hits, but because manager Fredi Gonzalez wants Pastornicky to watch how Wilson positions himself to deliver throws to first base.
-RF Jason Heyward got the start off Sunday; INF/OF Eric Hinske started in right field. Heyward had a 10-game hitting streak snapped Saturday, otherwise manager Fredi Gonzalez would have had him in there. But once he went 0-for-4, Gonzalez wanted to give him a breather. Heyward pinch hit in the ninth and flied out to left.
-3B Chipper Jones got Sunday’s start off. That was manager Fredi Gonzalez’s plan to keep Jones on the field and off the disabled list. He would rather sit Jones two or three days in a row now than have him play constantly and then be out for three weeks later. Jones is also scheduled to have off Monday in Los Angeles, returning to celebrate his 40th birthday on Tuesday. Jones pinch-hit in the seventh and grounded into a double play. He received a standing ovation when he was saluted by the Diamondbacks between the third and fourth innings.
-LHP Mike Minor has allowed only one earned run in 15.1 innings, and RHP Brandon Beachy hasn’t allowed any runs at all in 14.1 innings. The key to the improvement of both second-year pitchers is cutting down on the walks. After three starts for each of them, Minor has issued five walks and Beachy, six.
QUOTE TO NOTE
“At the end of the year, I think we’re going to be known for our pitching. That’s what has been the constant here in the Atlanta Braves organization. I think at the end of the year that’s what we’re going to be known for.” — Manager Fredi Gonzalez, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.