That wasn’t yesterday. That was more than a decade ago.
And it’s easy to forget as we watch the Atlanta Braves struggle to score runs and fail to hit with men in scoring position that scoring runs is an issue for the large majority of teams in today’s game.
Major league batters are hitting a collective .253 overall heading into this weekend. That is two points lower than in 2012 and the lowest average since the year before the American League introduced the designated hitter in 1972. Runs scored per game also are down from last year to 4.21 a game, their lowest mark since 1992. (Of note: In 2000, the runs a game were 5.14 — the highest since 1936.)
Whether it’s due to the decline of performance enhancing drug use or the rebirth of the pitcher, the game has changed. It’s hard to score runs, which is why Atlanta’s struggles with runners in scoring position are so magnified and, yes, a big concern. It’s a concern because of who — and how many — are scuffling.
The numbers are ugly — .115, .130, .167, .179, .211, .222. Those are the batting averages with runners in scoring position for B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, Justin Upton, Brian McCann, Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward, all everyday players. Atlanta’s .226 team average with runners in scoring position is the fourth worst in all of baseball. With those averages, it’s hard to believe the Braves are averaging 4.21 runs per game — right at the MLB average.
But believe it or not, the 312 runs Atlanta had scored entering the weekend ranked as fourth most in the National League, trailing St. Louis, Colorado and Cincinnati. That further illustrates the point that scoring runs isn’t just a problem for the Braves.
So what can Atlanta do about it? Not much, other than hope these guys start hitting when it really counts. And, of course, cutting down on strikeouts would be nice. Atlanta is second in all of baseball in punchouts with 664, trailing only Houston (701) and ahead of Boston (624). The Upton brothers and Uggla have struck out 57 times in 146 at bats with runners in scoring position. If two or three of the above-mentioned players don’t start hitting, it’s really going to become a major issue after the all-star break.
Freddie Freeman has been Atlanta’s best hitter this year regardless of the situation, and he’s been especially potent with runners in scoring position, hitting .441 in 59 at bats.
But as the season shortens, fewer and fewer opposing managers will be willing to give Freeman a chance to hit if McCann, Uggla or the Upton brothers don’t become more of a consistent threat. New York Mets manager Terry Collins walked Freeman four times with runners in scoring position in this past week’s doubleheader. Before that, Freeman had walked three times in his previous 99 at bats.
In reality, this is what we figured the Braves would be before the season’s first pitch was thrown in April. We knew they were going to have high-strikeout, low-average guys. But they also have power and the ability to take walks. That combination — along with a stubborn pitching staff — has helped them outscore their opponents by 56 runs this year, the third best mark in the National League. By comparison, the Nationals have been outscored by 24 runs this year, and it’s a big reason they are six games behind the Braves.
All the Braves can do is run out who they have and hope that someone — preferably somebodies — can find a consistent hitting stroke. If that doesn’t happen, well, prepare to see many more frustrating offensive performances this year and a pitching staff with little room for error come crunch time.