I've heard it all: The Atlanta Braves have a great rotation for the 2010 Major League Baseball season, and that alone will keep them in contention for at least a wild-card berth, if not the National League East Division title.
In fact, the Braves have never really struggled with pitching, seeing as they have had some of the best pitchers (and rotations) of all time: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Phil Niekro, and even a new generation guys such as Javier Vazquez and Derek Lowe.
But what separated those 14-pennants-in-a-row 1990s Braves teams from the recent Braves? The answer is simple: batting.
In comparison to the 1995 World Series championship team, Braves' batters just aren't getting the job done nowadays. It doesn't matter that the 2009 Atlanta Braves finished the season with improved results in every category (except for a total drop of 19 home runs from 168 in 1995 to just 149 in 2009).
Frankly, every other team is doing it better. Look at the 2009 world champion New York Yankees: 1,604 hits, 244 home runs, 881 RBI, 915 runs, and a batting average of .283.
The Braves' stats for that same year? 1,459 hits, 149 home runs, 700 RBI, 735 runs, and a batting average of .263. If they want to even come close, then they're going to put up numbers a lot better than that.
Even compared to the 2009 Cleveland Indians, who finished in fourth place in the American League Central Division (consistently one of the weakest divisions in baseball), the Braves had nine fewer hits, 12 fewer home runs, 30 fewer RBI, 38 fewer runs, and a .001 lower batting average.
Such stats cannot be expected to hold in the National League, especially in the NL East, dominated by the Philadelphia Phillies (224 home runs, 820 runs, 788 RBI).
Compared to the NL East averages, the Braves have lower stats in every category except hits (they have four more hits than the average of 1,455). The Braves finished third in a division that features the Phillies, a team that won the World Series in 2008 and lost to the Yankees last season.
Placing third in the NL East isn't saying much, seeing as the two teams ranked lower (Washington Nationals, New York Mets) finished with 59 wins and 70 wins, respectively. Those totals were the lowest and the fifth lowest win totals out of all the MLB teams.
The Braves need more power hitters.
So far this season, second baseman Martin Prado is leading the team (and second place in the National League) with a batting average of .367. He also leads the team with 29 hits and 11 runs. In contrast, normal power hitter and catcher Brian McCann has only 14 hits and eight runs.
Prado, through five seasons of his career, has 268 hits, 15 home runs, 97 RBI, and 119 runs. McCann, through five seasons, has 587 hits, 88 home runs, 324 RBI, and has scored 251 runs.
There is no comparison.
But McCann, being the Braves' power hitter, is simply not performing well this season. In fact, he is being outperformed by a rookie— Jason Heyward.
In his very first year as a Major League player, Heyward has accumulated 15 hits, four home runs (team-leading), 16 RBI (team-leading), and eight runs, virtually on par with the rest of the team veterans except in the categories he is leading them in.
Is this truly the day and age when rookies will come in and take over the game?
No, because power hitters on the other teams are not struggling. Look at Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley to name a few. They aren't struggling.
Could it be the coaching? Just look at Kelly Johnson. Last season, he played second base for the Braves and hit eight home runs 29 RBI. After being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, he has already accumulated seven home runs and 13 RBI.
Is Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton to blame for the lack of hitting for Johnson, or do the Diamondbacks just have a really good hitting coach?
Compared to other teams, the Braves had traded for some pretty sloppy hitters. A big offseason move was acquiring first baseman Troy Glaus to be our power hitter.
Glaus has two home runs on the year with 13 hits and is batting .200. And compared to the other big names that have been signed by teams that compete year in and year out? Yeah, no chance.
In fact, it seems as if every time a big name is on the table (such as Johnny Damon last offseason), the Braves are not willing to go the extra mile or spend the extra dollar. Instead, they continue to settle for lesser players that do not bring anything extra to the table.
The Braves need a better plan of what to do and who to do it with.
The pitching can't hold this team together; in fact, the Braves have already lost seven games in a row this season, their worst skid in four years.
Heyward has hit a slump recently (which we Braves fans hope he will rise out of), and none of his teammates are meeting expectations.
Plain and simple— in order for the Braves to salvage this season, they need to hit the ball better.
Until then, however, we might as well start taking advantage of seventh inning stretches, because it's going to be a long season.