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Braves continue to baffle us
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Forsyth County News
“I dunno, ya know? I dunno.”

That’s the answer. It fits any question you might pose about the Braves.

Will the recent roster adjustments help?

Who are the real Braves: the ones who stumbled through April and the end of July? Or the ones who cruised through May and June?

Who is the real Troy Glaus? The one who stumbled through April and July, or the one who cruised through May and the first half of June?

Will they ever get a hit with a runner in scoring position?

Will Jason Heyward ever hit another home run?

Will Martin Prado return to ignite the offense?

Will the Braves camaraderie and home field advantage be enough to overcome the Phillies superior talent and swagger to win the division race?

Whew! That sounded like the outro to an old soap opera. But that’s fitting. We’ve watched the Braves negotiate two-thirds of their schedule, and we still don’t have any idea what’s in store.

That’s baseball. And that’s the beauty of it. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, wham! A sudden reminder that you don’t know.

Take the recent roster acquisitions. Gone is the enigmatic Yunel Escobar, who never played at an even keel. His replacement, Alex Gonzalez, has been variously described as professional, steady, solid, comes to play every day, great teammate, always in the game.

So what did we get on Sunday? An Escobarian performance. Gonzalez hit his first homer as a Brave. He also made his first game-costing error on a simple play that Escobar himself could have ruined. As Eric Hinske told Mark Bowman of, “Ninety-nine percent of the time, Gonzo makes that play.” That sounds eerily familiar.

For a guy who professes that he’s happy to be back in Atlanta, Kyle Farnsworth sure beat a hasty exit the last time he was here. And if he’s such a valuable reliever, why was he being used as the first guy out of the Royals’ bullpen?

And the latest center fielder, Rick Ankiel, has been mostly idle for the past two years. GM Frank Wren told Bowman, “He’s only a year removed from hitting 25 homers for St. Louis as an everyday outfielder.”

Rejoinder: Nate McLouth had just hit 26 homers for Pittsburgh as an everyday outfielder the year before joining the Braves. Of course, jettisoning McLouth to Gwinnett was adding by subtracting. And presumably Ankiel, a former pitcher, can actually make the throw from center field to the infield, something McLouth found anathema.

But am I the only person who liked Gregor Blanco? The guy could field, run, bunt, steal a base; he did everything the Braves asked him to do while he was with the team. He can’t help, but another McLouth can?

The Braves went 9-14 in April. They’ve gone 7-8 since the All-Star break. In May and June, they went 37-19. Wherein lay the real Braves? Over 162 games, logically, somewhere in between. Which really doesn’t help much with our forecasting.

Perhaps this is the answer: as Glaus goes, so go the Braves. His hot and cold streaks have pretty much coincided with the Braves’ streaks.
Oversimplification? Maybe. Or maybe we make things too complicated sometimes.

When you’ve got the Big Stick going in the middle of the lineup, it makes everyone else a better hitter. Everyone is getting better pitches to hit.
Remember how Fred McGriff dramatically picked up the whole lineup in ‘93? Glaus has that Big Stick rep, too. When healthy, he’s a solid 30-homer, 100-RBI guy.

When Glaus was hot, the Braves got nice contributions from Hinske, Heyward, Omar Infante, and, once his eyes cleared, Brian McCann. Now, here we are in April again, with nobody able to knock in a runner or get the big hit to blow open an inning. Why? Is it because there’s no one in the lineup to fear?

Even Martin Prado benefited; you put the leadoff hitter on, and the clean-up hitter likely hits with a runner in scoring position. Prado’s recent slump, and injury, haven’t helped the offense. But you have to believe that Infante will continue to get on base often playing every day and hitting in the top third of the lineup.

Heyward’s thumb injury has apparently robbed him of his power. But if he keeps hitting and drawing walks, a power outage isn’t fatal in the second spot in the lineup.

Bottom line: can they beat the Phillies? Can they turn August and September into May and June? They have a marvelous chemistry, and plenty of home games left. But will that be enough to offset the Phillies rotation, lineup, and defending champions’ mentality?

Questions, questions, questions.

The final 58 games will provide the answers.