Bill Shanks

Survival the key for Braves in Freeman’s absence

Atlanta Braves' Kurt Suzuki, center, high-fives teammate Nick Markakis after they scored off Suzuki's two-run home run as Washington Nationals catcher Matt Wieters stands at right in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Atlanta, Friday, May 19, 2017. Atlanta won 7-4.
Atlanta Braves' Kurt Suzuki, center, high-fives teammate Nick Markakis after they scored off Suzuki's two-run home run as Washington Nationals catcher Matt Wieters stands at right in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Atlanta, Friday, May 19, 2017. Atlanta won 7-4. AP

Imagine Matt Ryan getting injured in the fourth game of an NFL season for the Atlanta Falcons. Or maybe think back when Chipper Jones was with the Braves, and if he had been hurt in mid-May.

Any time a team loses its best player for an extended amount of time, it’s a challenge. But when Freddie Freeman was hit in the hand Wednesday night, it was the biggest kick in the gut you could have ever imagined for this year’s Braves.

They had won five of six games. The offense was clicking on all cylinders. The trio of Freeman, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis was becoming one of the best middle-of-the-order groups in the sport.

Just Wednesday afternoon, hours before Freeman was hit, there was a conversation around baseball about how Freeman might be playing better than anyone in baseball. And then Thursday, the report came back. Freeman’s hand was fractured. He would miss around 10 weeks.

The wind came right out of the Braves’ season.

Is the season over? No. It’s still May. But let’s just be honest. A team that already was unlikely to be in serious contention just lost its best player for a good chunk of the season. This is not going to be easy to survive for ten weeks.

But that’s what the Braves must do. They must somehow survive.

No one player is going to replace Freeman’s production. He had become one of the most feared offensive players in baseball. Jace Peterson, Nick Markakis and even Tyler Flowers can play first base. But Peterson had never played first until the night Freeman was hurt, Markakis is a right fielder, and Flowers is a catcher.

Newly signed James Loney likely will get a chance soon. He has had a nice career. Think of a Chris Chambliss-type player, one who will have marginal power, decent hitting ability and a good glove at first base.

He’s just not Freeman.

Kemp and Markakis must keep hitting without Freeman protecting them in the lineup. It didn’t help matters that Freeman’s injury came just days after third baseman Adonis Garcia was placed on the disabled list with an Achilles injury.

Garcia must be productive once he returns. The catching tandem of Flowers and Kurt Suzuki will need to keep up its impressive numbers. Also, the Braves need consistency from all the others. Brandon Phillips was great in April, but he has fallen off a bit in May. Ender Inciarte has been up and down.

Then there’s Dansby Swanson, who, as predicted, is getting on track. He’ll likely be moved up in the order soon, and the Braves need him to continue his good work at the plate for the next 10 weeks. Swanson getting (and staying) hot offensively will help offset Freeman’s absence.

The Freeman injury could impact what happens in the rebuilding process. If the Braves struggle, it could accelerate the time line of the potential trades and promotions of prospects. If things fall apart, more veterans than we might have expected could be shipped out.

Maybe this team rallies and plays well. The Braves know now the expectations are at an all-time low, so what if this team simply treads water until Freeman returns? I’m not suggesting a playoff run, but we’ll see a lot about this team now with its star gone for 10 weeks.

It is undoubtedly a crushing blow, but survival will be the key. Freeman was playing so well, and it’s sad his potential-MVP season has been interrupted. The season goes on, however, and the Braves still have four-plus months to make this season a good one.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

  Comments