Amid lineup tweaks, Markakis, Simmons, Freeman showing spots 1-3 shouldn’t change
ATLANTA — Fredi Gonzalez knows what you’re thinking: with 28 different lineups through 28 games, there has to be some cutting-edge computer program breaking down the statistics and finding the exact combination that the numbers say will thrive on that given day.
"Believe it or not, it’s pure coincidence," the Braves manager said.
The results of Atlanta’s offensive makeover and philosophical shift have been quantifiably positive as it is averaging more runs per game (4.4) than a year ago (3.5), and after ranking fourth in strikeouts, the Braves are now 28th. Oh, and they lead the majors with a .324 average with runners in scoring position, a major sore subject last season when they were 28th.
"I believe that the other thing, like getting runners in from third, is a byproduct of putting the ball in play," Gonzalez said.
While the variations in that batting order have helped with those raw numbers — platoon player Kelly Johnson leads the team in home runs (six) and RBI (17) and A.J. Pierzynski is hitting .344 — it’s the top portion of that lineup that’s proven the driving and solidifying force.
In Wednesday’s finale against the Phillies, Nos. 1-3 hitters Nick Markakis, Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman combined for eight hits and during the three-game series, they racked up 18. The rest of the team had 14.
That trio has been together for 10 games, hitting a collective .357 (44 of 123) with 29 runs scored. During that stretch, Atlanta has scored 5.7 runs per game, 1.3 above that season average.
The Braves have used five different players at the No. 2 spot, but none have been as effective as Simmons. While he’s hitting .261 on the season (12 of 46), he’s up to .285 over the last 10 and after a two-game exodus in which he hit seventh and sixth vs. the Reds, Simmons is back at second and is 7 for 15 (.467) the last four games with two doubles, a triple and a home run.
"I don’t want to say (things are clicking at the plate), because whenever you say that is when things go south," Simmons said. "But I’ve been feeling pretty good and I’m just trying to keep that same feeling every day."
Simmons’ surge has also had a major impact on Freeman. He’s 20 for 40 with the shortstop hitting in front if him and since April 15 (12 game), he’s had back-to-back outings without a hit. Both came when Simmons was moved down vs. Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, Markakis, who was moved to leadoff — a role he filled last season with Baltimore — has heated up after collecting just seven hits over his first 35 at-bats in that spot. Since then he’s at .357 since (5 of 14).
At some point in the very near future, maybe this weekend against the Nationals, Gonzalez is going to replicate a lineup.
"Sooner or later, it’s got to happen," he said.
Regardless of what he does at spots 4-9, he and the Braves may have found their answer at the 1-3.
"It’s been nice," Freeman said. "Nick’s starting to swing the bat again. He went through a couple of game spell there … Andrelton’s been swinging it well."
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney