Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. The Atlanta Braves entered Tuesday night’s late game in San Francisco in first place in the NL East with a 21-16 record.
That’s great. It’s mid-May, so we’re near the one-quarter mark of the season. It’s great for any team to be in first place after almost 40 games.
But, let’s be honest. This has been one strange season. Atlanta started the season 17-7. The Braves did it with pitching -- almost an historic pitching run. But in the past 13 games before Tuesday, the Braves are 4-9 and have created more questions than answers.
And let’s remember, three of those four wins came during this past weekend against the horrible Chicago Cubs.
The questions are about the offense, or the lack of it. With the quality pitching in the first five weeks, the Braves probably would be 27-10 if they had gotten even an average offense.
But the offense has been awful, and the numbers prove the point.
Entering Tuesday’s game with the Giants, the Braves had the fewest number of hits in baseball with 286. Granted, that has come in two fewer games than San Diego, another team with troubles at the plate. Atlanta is next to last in runs scored in baseball, behind San Diego by only one run. Even Houston, considered the worst team in baseball, has scored 15 more runs in two more games than the Braves.
Atlanta also has the third worst team batting average in baseball (.231) and the second worst team on-base percentage in the game (.291).
The difficult 13-game stretch produced even more embarrassing numbers. In that stretch, the Braves have hit .203 as a team. They’ve scored only 28 runs, and 13 have come off home runs.
Oh, and the Braves have not had a double-digit hit game -- 10 hits or more in a game -- since April 25. That’s two-and-a-half weeks.
That is awful.
So why has this happened? Well, first, the Braves do not have a leadoff man. Sure, Jason Heyward did well in that spot for a 30-game stretch last year, but he has been unproductive this season. Overall, Heyward has hit .206 and has a .307 OBP. He has hit only three home runs and driven in 10. Heyward has done exactly what he has done in his entire career -- be inconsistent.
For the first 16 games of this season, Heyward hit only .141 with a .267 OBP. Then in the next 11 games, Heyward got on track for a while and hit .333 and had a .360 OBP. But now, in his past nine games, Heyward has hit .138 with a .316 OBP.
This is not the type of player who needs to be your leadoff man. Yes, he walks from time to time, but he’s just not on base enough to deserve that position.
Who should hit first? Well, it’s not like there’s a bevy of candidates. Five of the eight Atlanta regulars have an OBP below .300. The Braves are not going to put Freddie Freeman or Justin Upton up there. They, like Heyward, belong in the middle of the order.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez should put B.J. Upton in the leadoff spot -- just to try something new. B.J. Upton has been better this season -- only slightly better but still better than last year. He has batted in the leadoff spot before with Tampa Bay. Is he a perfect candidate? Absolutely not, but something has to change.
Gonzalez tried to shake things up by hitting the pitcher eighth and another position player ninth. That’s just a silly gimmick that has not worked. Gonzalez’s lineup construction has not helped (Gerald Laird hitting fifth?), but to his defense, he’s probably running out of ideas. But putting B.J. Upton at the top is worth a try.
The Braves need to go get a real leadoff man. Will that cure all the offensive woes? Probably not, but this team cannot generate runs. The Braves have to shake up this group, and there are only so many they can trade since four regulars are now under long-term contracts. Perhaps a trade just for the sake of a trade is worth it to see if it will stir up the offense.
Gonzalez has at least gotten second baseman Dan Uggla out of the lineup. Hopefully, that’s for good and not just something to try and make him mad to where he’ll start to hit. He’s not going to hit. Uggla is done. He has been done for a long time; it’s just time to recognize that and move on.
The Braves are in first place. Again, that’s great. But if this lineup doesn’t get going, that’s not going to last long. And it certainly won’t work if the Braves luck up and win the division and face great pitching in the playoffs.
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.