The Atlanta Braves ended their 2011 season with an ugly collapse. This historic collapse was caused by many issues—but their offense may have been the most glaring.
Things got real slow at the end of the season, but the entire Braves team was inconsistent at the plate all year long.
Despite a bad ending to this season, we all know guys like Brian McCann will stay strong and impact the offense in a big way next year.
Still, if the Braves want to have a good 2012 season, everyone needs to step up their game.
With that said, I think the performance of these five batters will prove to be the most crucial next season.
Second baseman Dan Uggla got off to a slow start in the 2011 season. Until Uggla finally began cranking home runs and bringing up his numbers, fans had serious concerns about him.
However, he did heat up and proved to be a big part of the Braves' offense. True, he did slow down at the end of the year, but so did the entire Braves offense.
If Atlanta wants to have a good 2012 season, Uggla needs to have a solid and more consistent year.
Uggla hit a career-high 36 home runs in 2011. Imagine what he could have done if he had been hitting well the entire season.
Please don't go into a sophomore slump, Freddie.
Freeman finished his rookie season with a solid .282 batting average to go alone with 21 home runs and 76 runs batted in.
Not too bad for a rookie, huh?
In 2011, Freeman quickly established himself as a scary batter at the plate.
When considering Freeman finished second on the Braves in the RBI category this season, it's clear his batting performance will be an important part of the Braves' offense in 2012.
Let's hope it won't be a case of pitchers figuring Freeman out next season. The Braves would get a huge boost from him producing those good numbers again.
Outfielder Michael Bourn came over from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline this season. Bringing Bourn to Atlanta is one of the best moves Braves general manager Frank Wren has made.
The Braves have lacked a solid leadoff hitter for years, but Bourn changed that. Bourn brought much needed—and recently unfamiliar—speed to the Braves.
Along with his tremendous speed, Bourn is a great hitter that gets on base often. He had an on-base percentage of .349 with 62 stolen bases in 2011. Only 22 of those stolen bases came with the Braves, but that's the kind of damage he can make.
The Braves also did a much better job of producing runs once Bourn was on the team. I can't wait to see how well the Braves can utilize Bourn next season when they have him for an entire year.
Frank Wren needs to sign Bourn to a long-term deal ASAP.
Larry "Chipper" Jones is a name that every Braves fan—really all baseball fans, for that matter—have heard for a long time.
Despite turning 40 years old next April, Jones plans on returning for the 2012 season.
Chipper went through some injuries in the 2011 season that had some fans question his age. However, he was still able to perform at a high level for the most part.
The Braves' 2012 season will either be greatly improved or hurt by Chipper's returning for another year. I don't think there will be much in between.
Maybe nostalgia is making me say this, but I think Chipper can put up good numbers again in 2012 if he keeps himself in good shape and stays healthy.
Outfielder Jason Heyward made a big splash in the majors his rookie season, when he batted .277 with 18 home runs and 72 runs batted in.
Everything looked promising for Heyward.
Then, in his second season, a sophomore slump grabbed Heyward by the bat.
Heyward's average at the end of the 2011 season was a weak .227. His home run and RBI counts were also both down— to 18 and 42, respectively.
Needless to say, he didn't live up to his expectations this season.
Heyward has been a fan favorite since his arrival, but he has a lot of work ahead of himself to earn back the trust of Atlanta fans.
Heyward knows he had a bad year and he will do everything he can to fix his batting performance.
Chipper Jones is just one person that has been working with Heyward on his swinging mechanics. Hopefully Heyward can figure himself out and get back to hitting well in 2012.
One positive outlook for Heyward is that the Braves did end up firing former hitting coach Larry Parrish, despite manager Fredi Gonzalez's initial statements of keeping the entire 2011 staff.
Maybe a new hitting coach can help Heyward become solid at the plate again.
Whatever method he uses to get better, the Braves definitely need Heyward to step up his game next season.