The Atlanta Braves offense this season is one giant paradox the size of B.J. Upton’s overpriced contract.
The Braves entered Tuesday tied for the third most homeruns in Major League Baseball with 96. Their average of 4.1 runs per game is tied for the 14th most in the MLB. Yet the Braves also have been shutout an MLB-leading 11 times, including twice over the weekend to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Miami Marlins (25-50) have been shutout nine times and the Houston Astros (29-48) have been shutout seven times for comparison. The Braves also lead the National League in strikeouts with 686, only Houston at 723 has more.
Yet the Braves are 44-33, and their six-game lead over the Washington Nationals is the largest gap in any division between the first and second place teams.
The fact that the Braves can mash monster homeruns one night and then look so anemic the next night is a perplexing problem that likely can be tracked back to the Braves’ two-out approach.
In general Atlanta is hitting just .187 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Only the Brewers and the Seattle Mariners are worse.
As expected the worst offenders are the strikeout happy trio of Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.
Uggla leads the NL in strikeouts overall and is hitting just .160 with two outs and RISP. He’s 4-for-25 in those situations with eight RBI, two homeruns and 12 strikeouts. With two outs and runners on base he’s worse, going just 6-for-41 (.146) with 16 strikeouts.
B.J. Upton is just 1-for-30 (.033) with two outs and RISP, with two RBI and 12 strikeouts. With two outs and runners on base he’s just 4-for-43 (.093) with one homer, four RBI and 16 strikeouts.
Justin Upton is a measly 2-for-19 (.105) with two outs and RISP, with two RBI and six strikeouts. With men on and two outs, he’s just 4-for-35 (.114) with 11 strikeouts and two RBI.
The most alarming of those numbers is the strikeouts. They’re not even giving themselves a chance. Until the rest of the Braves lineup learns to shorten it’s swings and just put the ball in play with two outs, Atlanta will continue to have offensive lulls this season.
The good news is Atlanta has enough power to overcome its two-out deficiencies on most nights. Hitting coach Greg Walker thinks that things will only get better moving forward.
“We’ve got enough talent and power and speed—a lot of different things that we’ll start using and become more efficient and create more runs,” Walker told to Grant McAuley of Bleacher Report.
“I know at times it’s been real ugly this year, but I’m still encouraged. I think everybody is moving forward. Their arrow is pointing up instead of down, so we feel good about that and we’re healthy. We’re encouraged and we’re in first place and we’re really young and we should get better.”
With a solid rotation and a bullpen that looks to only get stronger with perhaps some help at the trade deadline and the return of Christian Martinez, an improved Atlanta offense is something the rest of the National League would rather not think about.