The Atlanta Braves have a new place in the National League East, the Disabled List. No other Brave team has felt the hurt like the 2008 squad. Unfortunately the Braves have many of the preseason key components limping around the clubhouse.
Mike Hampton came over from the Colorado Rockies in 2003, signing a huge deal, 8 years, $121 million. Hampton put up lofty numbers while with the Houston Astros and New York Mets before struggling in Colorado. Since being traded to the Braves in '03, Hampton has only appeared in 72 games in a Braves uniform. Another pair of aces the Braves have struggled to keep healthy are future hall of famers; John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Smoltz has been hampered by elbow and shoulder injures that have lingered and taken away from the production Braves fans have come to know. The toughness Smoltz has shown by coming back from multiple elbow surgeries, and the decision take the role of closer in the Braves bullpen is something to commend. While Glavine, who won his 300th game on August 5, 2007 against the Cubs, was put on the disabled list for the first in his 22 year career earlier this season. In the bullpen much is the same. Rafael Soriano who had a stellar 2007 season for the Braves has been plagued by elbow tendinitis. Peter Moylan who showed promise, has since had his season ending with elbow surgery.
As for the everyday lineup, much is the same.
The biggest dagger in the back of the Braves has been the fluctuating healthof star Chipper Jones. The ailing quad of Jones has kept him day-to-day for a quarter of the season. Hindering the production (.394 16 46 .485 .630) of the heart of the Braves organization. Couple the injury of Jones with that of newly aquired Mark Kotsay and starting shortstop Yunel Escobar and you have the Braves at 39-41, 4 and a half games out of first place in the NL East. Kotsay who has been hampered by back injuries throughout his career couldn't avoid them in Atlanta either. Kotsay who has been productive while in the lineup has filled the void left in center field left by Andruw Jones. The latter, Escobar, has been strong this season at shortstop and equally as strong at the plate. Flirting much of the season around the .300 mark, Escobar already equaled or surpassed his production from last season.
Not all is bad in Atlanta.
There are several Braves filling the void left by the injured stars. Brian McCann, 2007 NL All-Star, is putting up equally impressive numbers. McCann is ranking among the the elite catchers in almost every offensive category. Second baseman Kelly Johnson has been a rock throughout the order. Johnson has been able to get on base in key situations through much of the season which is essential in the Braves success. Tim Hudson has been the ace of a staff full of injuries and inconsistencies. With a record of 8-5 in just 17 games posting a complete game and a shutout. Despite all the bright stars in the black hole that has become the Braves bench the biggest of them all has to be rookie Jair Jurrjens. The Curacao native has been lights out posting a 7-3 record with a 3.20 ERA. Posting big wins against the Dodgers, NL East rival Marlins, and beating the New York Mets twice.
With three weeks until the All-Star break, the Braves hope to keep producing with or without these key components on their way back to the post-season for the first time since 2005.