With each new season comes a renewed sense of excitement, hope, and optimism, but for Braves fans, the hope that B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla could each put last year’s struggles behind them have been tempered by their slow starts over the first six games.
The duo’s struggles were well documented in 2013. After signing a then franchise high $75 million 5-year contract, the eldest Upton brother bottomed out in 2013 hitting .184 with 9 homers and 26 RBIs in 126 games after being relegated to an outfield platoon role with both Jordan Schafer and Evan Gattis.
Uggla on the other hand, battled vision issues in 2013 on his way to a .179 average with 171 strikeouts and 22 homeruns before being left off the divisional series playoff roster in favor of Elliot Johnson.
Upton likewise struck out more than 150 times, a trend that has reared its ugly head again in the first six games of the season against the Brewers and Nationals.
Upton has struck out 11 times in his first 25 plate appearances with no walks, and only three hits resulting in a .120 average while hitting in a spot in the order that requires at least a little contact. Upton’s damage, or lack there of, has all taken place while hitting in the two-hole between “the twin towers,” Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. While Heyward has hit a dry spell of his own over the past couple of games, Freeman has been one of the hottest hitters in the league to open the year.
The standard rules of protection seem to be applying to Upton thus far…he’s seeing a lot of fastballs hitting in front of Freeman, he’s just not making enough contact when those pitches are served up. With only three hits and zero walks so far this season, it might be time for manager Fredi Gonzalez to consider dropping Upton down in the lineup or perhaps swapping spots with current eight-hole hitter Andrelton Simmons, who is hitting .300, and is yet to strikeout this season, and who rarely does for that matter.
Uggla on the other hand has shown a few signs of improvement early in the season, but is still a far cry from the consistent slugger the team traded for prior to the 2011 season. Uggla is currently hitting .217 over his first 24 plate appearances, but has stroked a couple of doubles, knocked in three runs, and has only struck out five times. Some of his outs have also been of the right field variety, which shows at least an attempt on his part to go the other way with pitches instead of trying to pull everything.
The Braves’ offense hasn’t been anything to write home about so far this season, which probably adds to the scrutiny of how much Upton and Uggla produce. However, the team’s pitching staff has provided solid outings and the hitters have launched enough homerun balls for the team to open up with a 4-2 record as they head into the home opener tonight at The Ted against the New York Mets.
Part of the problem with the lack of production from both players is the fact that not only does their lackluster numbers hurt the overall production of the lineup, but also irks fans into exhaustion given that the two make up more than 20-percent of the team’s payroll at a combined $26.4 million this season. It’s hard to play Jordan Schafer, Tyler Pastornicky, or Ramiro Pena more when the finances are factored in. Frankly, Upton and Uggla make too much money to sit on the bench. Financially, it makes more sense for the team to let the duo try to work out their hitting issues each day on the field.
Hopefully, both players can find their strides as the season progresses. If not, it could be a long summer in “Hotlanta” for a club expected to make another run at a postseason birth.