The lethargic offense seen from the Atlanta Braves may continue for a little more than a week, that is, unless someone aside from Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman can step up.
Brian McCann, without a doubt the most valuable player on the Braves so far this season, is about 9 days away from returning from a strained left oblique, and he has been the most consistent offensive catalyst this year.
Before taking himself out of the game during the Braves 19-inning contest with the Pirates, McCann was hitting .306 with 18 HR and 55 RBI’s through 91 games, good for best on the team, but with Uggla nipping at his tail. (Uggla has since passed him amid his 24-game hitting streak).
But McCann brings so much more to the table.
Offensively, he gives the lineup a legitimate left-handed bat, no offense to Freeman, but McCann has been nothing less than solid since breaking into the majors in 2005. He has earned the Silver Slugger award, given to the best hitter at each position, four times in his career (2006 and ‘08-’10).
Whether batting 3rd, 4th or 5th, he gives pitchers fits, working counts and finding holes in the outfield to place his hits.
When he first broke through, McCann was not the best catcher defensively, but he played his position well.
This season, it seems as though McCann has fixed the things that slowed him down in years past. He looked trimmer coming into Spring Training, did not try and do too much behind the plate, kept his shoulder closed on throws to second (as opposed to letting his front shoulder pull away from his target) and put the glove down instead of attempting to backhand a ball in the dirt.
In 2009, McCann committed 12 errors behind the plate before committing 14 last season. So far in 2001, the 6th year catcher has committed just four errors while compiling a .995 fielding percentage.
Like I mentioned before, McCann is an offensive threat anywhere in the lineup.
Even though he got off to a slow start in April with his power numbers (2HR, 1 double), he hit .292 (26-for-89) with 13 RBI’s. Those numbers picked up in May, where he hit .304 for the month (28-for-92 w/ 4HR 11 doubles & 15RBI).
As the weather began to get hotter, so did McCann. In June, he went 27-for-79 (.342 avg), hitting 8HR and driving in 18 runs while only hitting two doubles. He cooled off a little in July, hitting just .275 (19-for-64) with 4HR and 8RBI before not playing in the final 5 games of the month.
Before his injury (including the marathon game against Pittsburgh), the Braves were 59-44 and still in contention for the NL East crown.
While the NL East is now fully controlled by the Phillies after the Braves have split their last 8 games (8-game deficit before play on Aug. 3), the Braves still have a chance to snag the Wild Card.
Even with the addition of Michael Bourn (3-for-9, Double, 0 SB) added to a lineup consisting of Martin Prado, Jason Heyward, Uggla and Freeman, the Braves can only weather the storm for so long in hopes their MVP returns in time to help lead them to another Wild Card berth. Uggla and Freeman currently hold the longest hitting streaks in the majors, with Uggla at 24 and the rookie Freeman at 17.
David Ross provides a backup with experience as a starter, and while Ross still mans the plate offensively and defensively very well, his numbers offensively are not those McCann brings with him. (Through Tuesday Aug. 2, Ross was hitting .267 with 5HR and 19RBI in 35 games).
Until the return of McCann, Braves Country will wonder what happened to the team they saw power through the first half of the season.