Could the upcoming Atlanta Braves season depend solely on two players? Perhaps, but how often do fans go into a season wondering if two regulars in a starting lineup can do better than hitting worse than .200?
That’s the goal for second baseman Dan Uggla and center fielder B.J. Upton. Uggla hit .179 last season, while Upton batted .184. It was two of the worst offensive seasons in the history of the sport.
Yes, that bad ... the history of the sport.
It’s amazing the Braves won 96 games in spite of one-quarter of the starting lineup hitting below the Mendoza line. That’s .200 for those who don’t know, but former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Mario Mendoza might want to sue Uggla and Upton to have that baseball mantra changed to their names.
We kind of knew both players were never going to win a batting title, but who could have ever imagined they’d be that unproductive? It was so bad that both were replaced in the playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Uggla was a .263 hitter in five seasons with the Florida (now Miami) Marlins, but since he joined Atlanta, he has hit only .213. Take away his 33-game hitting streak in his first season with the Braves, and Uggla is hitting only .198 with a tomahawk across his chest.
The Braves tried to give Uggla away this offseason but found no takers. They were willing to eat most of the $26 million left on the contract for the next two years. It didn’t matter. No one wants a hitter who can’t hit.
If Uggla could still hit home runs, it might be easier to live with a low batting average. Dave Kingman got by with that for years. But Uggla’s power has also left him. He hit 36 home runs, a career-high, in his first season with the Braves. But in the past two seasons, Uggla has hit only 41 homers.
Atlanta has no choice but to let Uggla play and hope he can bounce back. Then, if he can, they can either keep him in the lineup and hope he contributes or hope some other team might want him. Then the Braves could insert the cheaper Tommy La Stella, a young player who is known as a hitter, as the new second baseman.
Wouldn’t that be something -- to have someone play second base again who can hit.
And if Uggla struggles so much that he again is a problem for the lineup, don’t be shocked if the Braves just cut bait and let him go. It will be tough to eat that money, but they might have no choice if Uggla can’t bounce back.
That won’t be an option with Upton, who has four years and $59.8 million left on his contract. The Braves desperately need Upton to get back on track, and he has changed his stance this spring in hopes of finding that swing again.
The reason given for Upton’s struggles last year was he felt the pressure of signing a big free agent contract. That’s a bit thin, really. Maybe if he does bounce back, that will hold more water, but it seems like an excuse.
Upton’s power left him, too. He had only nine home runs last season, his lowest total since his second full season with Tampa Bay. And after averaging 36 stolen bases a season the previous six years with the Rays, Upton had only 12 last year for Atlanta.
Of course, if a player can’t get hits and get on base, he’s not going to get many stolen bases.
If Upton struggles, let’s hope the Braves will have a short leash for him and insert Jordan Schafer in center. Certainly Upton’s contract will be a consideration, but if this team is to win, it must play the players who are producing.
We’re going to talk a lot about the Braves the next few weeks and analyze many parts of the team. But bounceback seasons from Uggla and Upton might trump everything in deciding how good the Braves will be this season.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.