Entering play on Thursday, the Atlanta Braves trailed the Washington Nationals by 4.0 games in the National League East. As strange as this may sound, that isn’t going to be the biggest storyline in their drive to the playoffs.
Rather, the Andrelton Simmons saga is going to grab everyone’s attention.
First off, there is the injury to consider.
As he was covering third base on Tuesday evening against the Seattle Mariners, Simmons somehow rolled his ankle. And as of Thursday, the word was that the club hoped to avoid putting him on the disabled list and that "he is considered day to day," per MLB.com's Adam Lewis.
Unfortunately, the prognosis isn’t good.
As David O’Brien from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote, the chance that he would be ready for Friday's tilt against the Nationals “seemed to worsen after the game when Simmons’ ankle swelled again soon after he removed an ice bag from it.” More will be revealed in the coming days, of course, but this is an unfortunate development.
Regardless of his injury status, Simmons isn’t playing very well. Sure, he is still making highlight-reel plays in the field, but at the plate, his production has plummeted.
Going into action on Thursday, he was hitting .249 with a .297 on-base percentage. True, that is remarkably close to the .248 batting average and .296 OBP he put up all of last year, but his power numbers have all but disappeared.
Comparing an entire season’s worth of statistics versus 107 games isn’t fair, however, so let’s dig a bit deeper. In the first 107 games in 2013, he had 11 home runs and was slugging .370, per splits over at Baseball-Reference. This season, he has five long balls and a meager .340 slugging percentage.
The decline in power is at the heart of an offensive WAR that has fallen from 2.2 in 2013 to 0.5 this year. Make no mistake: It is hurting the offense as a whole.
The lack of production and potential DL stint bring us to the fun stuff. What are the Braves going to do if Simmons isn’t healthy? And if he is healthy, but remains unproductive, does general manager Frank Wren make a move?
One option is to call up No. 1 prospect Jose Peraza.
Currently at Double-A Mississippi, Peraza is a burner on the basepaths and has a .358 OBP in 172 at-bats after his promotion from Single-A Lynchburg. Bringing him up wouldn’t be ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but he could provide the same type of offensive lift that Tommy La Stella did when he was promoted to replace Dan Uggla.
Another option is to move the newly acquired Emilio Bonifacio to shortstop and make Simmons the reserve infielder. That limits Bonifacio’s value as a utility player, though. Part of the reason he was acquired was that he could play in the infield and the outfield.
Any way we look at the Braves, Simmons is the X-factor as the playoffs draw closer.