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Playing Patience or Panic on Atlanta Braves' 5 Worst Early Slumps

Daniel KockContributor IIIApril 8, 2014

Playing Patience or Panic on Atlanta Braves' 5 Worst Early Slumps

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    Alex Brandon

    The first week of the 2014 MLB season is in the books, with the Atlanta Braves (4-2) taking two of three in both series against the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals.

    We can often take too much away from the first week of the season and fail to let the entire 162-game schedule play out before jumping to conclusions.

    For the Braves, it was a successful week, but it was by no means perfect.

    The pitching staff carried the team the first week, as starters led the MLB with a 1.63 ERA and relievers ranked third with a 1.35 ERA.

    From the offensive standpoint, the Braves got off to a slow start, as they rank in the last 10 of team batting average (.221), on-base percentage (.271) and runs scored (15).

    It was a tough week for many individuals in the Braves' starting lineup.

    Let's play patience or panic with the five Braves who slumped in week one.

1. Dan Uggla

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    Alex Brandon

    Despite coming in at five on this list with a .217 average, I think Braves fans were generally pleased with what Dan Uggla showed the first week.

    The most pleasant surprise is his low strikeout total—just five in 23 at-bats.

    That's a strikeout once every 4.6 at-bats, which is a far cry from the strikeout every 2.6 at-bats he averaged in 2013.

    He's made solid contact to this point and could easily have seen his average a lot higher if not for hitting it right at defenders.

    Uggla also got the key hit on Saturday night as he laced the go-ahead two-run single in the sixth inning, and he followed that up with a sacrifice fly on Sunday for the Braves' only run.

    Through one week, Uggla looks like he's taking a much better approach at the plate in 2014.

    Verdict: Patience

2. Justin Upton

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    Alex Brandon

    Justin Upton has not enjoyed a start similar to the start he had in his first season with the Braves last year, when he smacked home run after home run in April.

    The younger Upton has posted just .182 average through the first six games of the season.

    Upton has recorded more than double the strikeouts (10) than hits (four singles) and RBI (0) combined the first week.

    Despite the slow start, fans should be patient with Upton.

    Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Upton has failed to hit over .270 in just one season (.263 in 2013).

    Meanwhile, his splits for his career show that he's a second-half hitter, as he's a .270 hitter in the first half and .280 in the second half of the season.

    Upton will be a productive hitter again in 2014.

    Verdict: Patience

3. Evan Gattis

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    Alex Brandon

    Evan Gattis is tougher to project since we don't have as many games to judge him by.

    However, it is clear that his rough spring training (.204 average) has translated into this season to this point (.167).

    Gattis did miss a couple games as he battled the flu, so he has not received as many at-bats (12).

    The cause for concern is that he's struck out in half of those at-bats while recording just two hits.

    Still, one of those hits was a big one in the form of a solo home run off Jordan Zimmermann on Friday to help the Braves edge out a 2-1 win.

    In his short time in the MLB, we know that Gattis can turn around a fastball as good as anyone.

    He needs to make adjustments to the soft stuff, but his ability to hit the fastball and natural power will help him be effective in 2014.

    Verdict: Patience

2. Jason Heyward

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    Alex Brandon

    The Braves can be an elite baseball team when Jason Heyward is right.

    In my opinion, the Braves are at their best when Heyward is getting on base, taking walks, stealing bases and hitting for extra bases.

    Heyward did some of those things, but not enough, in the first week of the season, as he currently holds a .130 average.

    But these slow starts seem to occur every season for Heyward.

    In his career, he's just a .226 hitter in March/April and a .225 hitter in May. Meanwhile, his average is 33 points higher in the second half of the season (.276) than the first half (.243).

    Heyward has proven to be a streaky hitter in his career and will get on a hot streak at some point this year.

    Verdict: Patience

     

1. B.J. Upton

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    Alex Brandon

    Unfortunately, I don't think Braves fans are surprised to see B.J. Upton with the lowest average on the team (.120) through six games.

    It has been ugly for Upton, who has just three hits (two singles), no walks and 11 strikeouts in 25 at-bats.

    I do actually like the move by manager Fredi Gonzalez to hit him in the No. 2 hole to begin the season.

    Putting him in between Heyward and Freddie Freeman was a smart strategy to try to get him some early confidence and momentum in a new 2014 season.

    However, this experiment will be over quickly if Upton continues to look lost at the plate.

    A hot start could have done wonders for Upton after his abysmal 2013 season, but he looks to have no confidence with the bat once again in 2014.

    Verdict: Panic

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