Braves showing minor improvements with RISP

BY foxsports • September 19, 2012

We're beginning to see the signs, ever so slight.

A single here.

A double there.

There were two ninth-inning hits to tie Tuesday night's game before the Braves lost 4-3 in the 10th.

Braves hitters seem to be waking from the comatose state they've stumbled around in with runners in scoring position, but they continue to have the worst average in the majors with their teammates standing on either second or third. Even with eight clutch hits in their past three games, the Braves are hitting .231 with runners in scoring position, dead last of all 30 teams in the majors.

It's worse than even the Astros, who lost their 100th game on Tuesday.

When it comes to the Braves, RISP might as well RIP.

"Big hits are what's going to make it the easiest way to get it done this time of year," manager Fredi Gonzalez said recently. "It's not always going to happen, but most definitely when you're able to tie the game with a two-run homer, it puts a lot of pressure on the other team to try to answer back."

These kinds of struggles are nothing new for the Braves.

They've seen plenty of these stretches before, when the ability to drive runners home from second or third or come through in the clutch has vanished with poor at-bats and failure to produce. They hit .249 with RISP last year and .195 with the bases loaded in 2011, but they're trying to break free from a particularly arid spell as this summer winds down.

Before sweeping Washington this past weekend, they had hit .157 (31-for-198) with RISP in the 25 games coming into that series. Their futility continued through those three games at Turner Field – going 3-for-24 -- despite taking all three from the Nationals, but they've begun picking up some timely hits.

They had four hits in eight at-bats with RISP on Monday, a 7-5 victory over the Marlins.

And then on Tuesday, the Braves had nothing to show for their swings until Dan Uggla and Brian McCann came through with ninth-inning hits off Marlins closer Steve Cishek to tie the game at 3-3 and send it to extra innings.

Those two hits made them 10-for-49 (.204) with RISP in their past eight games. The number rises when considering the past three games, during which the Braves have gone 8-for-25 (.320).

Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren had hoped new hitting coaches would change the approach at the plate with RISP this season.

And for a while, it did.

Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher, who replaced Larry Parrish after one year, provided a boost to the Braves most of the season. The Braves were improved in those situations until the past six weeks or so, when their averages with RISP and with the bases loaded plummeted.

"The big thing about situational hitting is that we want you to be a smart hitter and we want you to compete," Walker said earlier this year. "But the big thing is we want you to want the at-bat. ‘I want the at-bat. I want to have it.' If you fail, the next guy is going to pick you up."

Braves hitters haven't been doing that lately, stranding their teammates on the bases in bunches. Despite that, they're still fourth in the NL in runs with 657, even though they're tied for ninth in the league with a .250 team average.

Maybe what we've seen the past three games are signs the Braves are coming around.

If so, it couldn't come at a better time.