Why the Omar Infante Injury Is a Major Blow to the Atlanta Braves

Kevin MarkumCorrespondent IMay 21, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 13:  Omar Infante #4 of the Atlanta Braves bats against the New York Mets on May 13, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Braves defeated the Mets 8-7 in twelve innings.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

If you are a Braves fan, you know how much Omar Infante means to the Braves' chances in the NL East race for 2009.

I'm not talking about the Braves fan that occasionaly wears a t-shirt and knows who Chipper Jones is.  I'm talking about the Braves fans that KNOW the team.  You know who Tommy Hanson and Kris Medlen are.  Likewise, you know what a hitting machine that Infante has been for the Braves all year long.

The irony is, the Braves have struggled to get consistent production at the leadoff spot from Kelly Johnson.  Jordan Schafer tried it, but, as high as his strikeout rate has been, he's better off hitting eighth until his swing comes around.

Hitting first, Infante is putting up numbers that resemble .381 with a .437 OBP.  His OPS is a whopping .929, which is solid for any big-leaguer, especially a leadoff man.

After Infante, the only candidates to bat leadoff are Yunel Escobar, Martin Prado, and Schafer.

Yunel Escobar is the most logical candidate because of his .308 BA and a .383 OBP.

My problem with this scenario is he is hitting .450 with RISP and only .278 with no runners on base.

One thought I consider, though, is the fact that Schafer will be on base a lot in later innings with Yunel Escobar coming to the plate.  It would be nice to exploit Schafer's good .342 OBP despite a dismal .217 BA.

Another benefit of Escobar leading off would be the drop in GIDP that he had when he hit second and the lead-off man got on.  It'd be nice to see him get on-base and have Kotchman, Prado, or whoever bats second be able to protect him for Chipper batting third.

All in all, with Infante out 6-8 weeks, the Braves have to make some decisions.  Not only did they lose a leadoff hitting machine, but they lost their backup everything.  Jeff Francoeur is the only other Brave after Schafer with the ability to play center field, and I'm not comfortable with that.

If the Braves can scrape through these injuries, utilize the young talent of the farm system (cough, cough...Tommy Hanson...cough, cough), and hang in there until July or so, the Braves could be a bigtime contender for the NL East title.

With the Phillies struggling somewhat, the Marlins losing game after game, the Mets enduring huge injuries, and the Nationals having pretty much fallen off the face of the earth, the Braves are set to see October if they can just play to their abilities.