The Braves are the hottest team in baseball, and they’re doing it with about fifteen players. The Braves win with stellar pitching, starters and relievers, baseball’s best outfield (at least as long as Manny Ramirez is hurt), and pretty much nothing else. The gap between the Braves’ third best position player — Sheffield, this year — and their fourth best — probably Furcal — is immense. Sheffield has an .809 OPS (well below his standard, but rising). Furcal’s is .686. The team’s gotten good bench work from Darren Bragg and (recently) Matt Franco, and from Mark DeRosa when healthy… but the Braves have been getting basically nothing from the bottom three spots in the order, and not a whole lot from the first two. The only infielder playing above replacement level has been Furcal, and that barely. And yet, the Braves have risen to the middle of the pack in the NL in runs scored; they’re seventh, though the Dodgers have played one fewer game and are only four runs behind.
One of the reasons the Braves played so well in Interleague play was that they could use the DH to get Bragg or M. Franco in the lineup, and they produced. On the other hand, the pitchers have been hitting. Jason Marquis’ .786 OPS is better than any regular Braves infielder. Kevin Millwood has outslugged Julio Franco, Javy Lopez, and Keith Lockhart.
The Braves will need to make a decision soon. Marcus Giles, Mark DeRosa, and George Lombard all are due to come off the DL in the next few weeks. Giles would normally be expected to return soon, but his family situation (if you haven’t heard, his wife gave birth to a daughter four months prematurely; the child is still in serious jeopardy) has set back his rehab. Lombard is tearing it up in his rehab assignment and the Braves will need to make a decision when that runs out. (Of course, the odds are he’ll just get hurt again. Happy thoughts!) Darren Bragg would seem to be the player whose spot would most be in jeopardy, but he has played very well and Bobby seems to like him. It seems more likely (assuming the Braves don’t try to send Lombard through waivers to Richmond) that one of the excess corner infielders will get the axe, most likely Julio or Matt Franco. When Giles or DeRosa comes back, whoever comes first, Jesse Garcia will probably get sent down. After that… I really don’t know who the third cut would be. It might be the other Franco, but that would leave the Braves short at first base. They should cut Lockhart, but we know that won’t happen. Maybe they’ll unload Albie Lopez; I’m quite certain they wouldn’t care if he got claimed on his way to Richmond.