The Atlanta Braves have been hot as of late. They led the NL East by 15 games entering Wednesday and showed no signs of slowing down.
Then this happened:
It happened in the top of the sixth inning with two outs. New York Mets pitcher Jonathan Niese threw a fastball inside and it got away from him.
The result of the incident for Heyward is a stint on the disabled list:
The #Braves have announced Heyward will return to Atlanta to undergo surgery tomorrow.— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) August 21, 2013
Jason Heyward out 4-6 weeks with broken jaw. Heyward has 64 Defensive Runs Saved in RF since 2010. No one else even has 40 in that span— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 21, 2013
For the Braves, this hurts as Heyward had been on fire from the leadoff spot.
With Heyward expected to be out 4-6 weeks, will he have enough time to prepare for a playoff run?
What the Braves Are Losing
While Heyward is out, they're losing a dynamic leadoff hitter.
Since taking over the leadoff spot, Heyward has batted .349 with five home runs and 15 RBI. He has a .417 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage.
Simply put, Heyward was lighting it up from the leadoff spot.
It's a loss that, if in a tight divisional race, would hurt. Luckily for the Braves, they have a good enough cushion where they don't absolutely need him down the stretch.
There is no worry for the Braves when it comes to the rest of the regular season.
With such a large lead in the division, the Braves could pretty much coast the rest of the way and still make the playoffs.
If it's only four weeks, that would bring Heyward back Sept. 20 against the Chicago Cubs. If it's six weeks, that takes him to the end of the regular season.
Most Atlanta fans are hoping it's the former as it will give Heyward 10 games to get back into his groove. If it's the latter, then he'll be coming into the playoffs after having six weeks off. How would that affect the lineup?
If Heyward does return in that time frame, he will be cutting it close with the playoffs.
The biggest question is do you insert him into the leadoff spot if his first game is Game 1 of the divisional series.
That would be a tough call for manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Depending on what happens the rest of the regular season (and wild-card game), he could be stepping in to face one of the aces in the NL Central. It could be Adam Wainwright or Shelby Miller from the St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Latos of the Cincinnati Reds, or Francisco Liriano of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He would have no hope of playing in any rehab games with the minor league regular season being over. His best chance would be to play in a bunch of simulated games late in the year.
Can the Braves win a World Series if Jason Heyward can't return to dominance at the leadoff position?
Because of how strong the Braves have been this year, Heyward's injury will only serve as motivation for the team.
After Tim Hudson's injury, the Braves went on an immediate tear, winning 14 in a row. Some thought the injury would hurt the Braves' pitching staff, but only made it stronger.
I believe the same will go for the Braves with Heyward on the shelf.
With the Braves having one of their best shots at the World Series this year, Heyward will be itching to return. It may take him a game to get it going, but Heyward should be able to overcome that.
Having home-field advantage would also benefit the Braves, considering they have an MLB-best record of 44-18 at home.
Heyward definitely makes the Braves better, but the team has shown they can overcome injuries.
But most fans are hoping Heyward can return to full form, doing what he does best—getting on base.