Frustration builds with Braves’ batters

sports@macon.comMay 7, 2013 

We’re getting used to watching hitters who are a bit frustrating around these parts. The Atlanta Braves have had them for years, but this is getting a little old.

You can even go back 30 years with how frustrating Dale Murphy could be at times as your first example. Sure, he won back-to-back MVP awards for the NL, but he could look great some weeks and then look like he needed to be sent to the minors the next.

Joe Torre, the Braves’ manager back then, worked hard with Murphy to try and find consistency. Torre even made Murphy go to the Florida Instructional League after the first MVP year. That’s where teams send minor leaguers who need help after the season. But Torre knew Murphy could be even better than he had been the season when he was better than anybody else.

Murphy was one of the best to ever wear an Atlanta uniform, and he had some great seasons, but he’d also make you shake your head at some of his slumps and bad at-bats.

Ron Gant was perhaps next in line. He hit .177 in 1989, mainly because he was trying to learn a new defensive position, and that impacted his offense. Gant was demoted to Low Single-A Sumter, and when he came back in 1990 he became a .300 hitter with 32 home runs and 33 stolen bases. But watching him get to that point was not easy.

Then about eight years ago Jeff Francoeur came onto the scene. He was much like Murphy. The talent was there, but the consistency was hard to find. Murphy found it enough to be in Hall of Fame debates. Francoeur will never be that lucky. He’s still struggling to become the hitter many expected him to be.

And now, the Braves seem to have a lineup featuring streaky hitters who make you grit your teeth at times. They can put on a home run derby one night, and then make an ordinary pitcher look like a Hall of Famer the next.

Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton are at the top of the list, and if he wasn’t on the disabled list, Jason Heyward would be in the conversation, too. Uggla is just an enigma. His batting average in two-plus seasons with the Braves is 39 points lower than it was in his five years with the Marlins. His power, the signature of his game, seems to be all he has left, and that’s not much compared to his 30-homer seasons in Florida.

Uggla is on pace for 210 strikeouts. He entered Tuesday’s game at Cincinnati with more triples (two) than doubles (one), and his five home runs have accounted for all but three of his nine RBI.

Upton, the one who has not had a good start with his new team, is on pace for 200 strikeouts himself. The Braves knew when they signed him that Upton struck out a lot, but this pace is more than 40 strikeouts more than his average for the past six seasons.

You want to tell these two to simply walk up to the plate and not swing at any pitch, no matter how good it might look, just to stop swinging at bad pitches. But it doesn’t seem like they are capable of such restraint.

So far, Uggla and Upton have combined for only 15 extra base hits.

It’s easy to believe we can all accept what Upton is doing considering the great start his brother Justin is off to. But B.J. Upton was the one the Braves believed would be good enough to let Michael Bourn walk away last winter. How would Bourn look right about now?

These are two huge pieces of the Atlanta lineup, and on top of that, they are making a combined $25.45 million. It’s still early, and that’ll be the thing people say about these kinds of slow starts, but we’re almost at the one-fifth mark of the season. It’s time for Uggla and Upton to snap out of this.

The Atlanta lineup has shown flashes of brilliance, but it can’t just be a home run derby every night. Yes, the Braves are in first place and have a good record, but how great might they be when this lineup clicks? Uggla and Upton are the keys to answering that question.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at Follow Bill at and e-mail him at

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