Dark days for Braves following Jason Heyward beaning
Is this a case of Murphy’s Law? Is there a curse from indian burial grounds?
Here’s a glimpse behind the red curtain: I had a nice article almost finished; it was going to have some clever title like “Put the top down, the Atlanta Braves are ready to cruise!” Okay, so clever may not be the right word. But all of that changed when Jason Heyward was dropped like a sack of potatoes in Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets. John Niese’s fastball came high and tight, catching Jason Heyward in the jaw and Citi Field went silent.
I’ll tell you something: I’m tired of these brutal injuries. I can’t stomach another replay of someone’s ankle being bent at an impossible angle. I don’t want to see the keystone of the Braves’ offense dropping to his knees and spitting up blood. And I swear, if the Mets try to eliminate one more Braves player, I think their franchise should be dissolved and Citi Field should become a horse track. Or a monster truck arena. I haven’t decided on that part yet.
If you don’t know already, the word is Jason Heyward has two fractures in his jaw and is definitely out for the remainder of the regular season. His chances of playing in the postseason are up in the air.
I know I wasn’t the only fan in Atlanta who thought “Take (Dan) Uggla! B.J. Upton?” Not because I’m an asshole, I swear. Because Heyward has been an unbelievable spark for the Braves. His time at the top of the lineup has completely changed the makeup and look of this team. Everyone and their favorite writers have talked about what an unusual leadoff hitter Heyward makes, but I think it makes perfect sense. Sure, he’s not the typical size. He doesn’t have the typical stats. However, last time I checked, he gives you exactly what you want from your numero uno: He makes things happen. He gets on base, he makes pitchers nervous and sometimes (not rarely) he can give his team the lead on the first pitch of the game.
I know it’s pointless to talk about how great he is in that role right now, since we won’t see Jason Heyward again this season. Getting him back for October is going to be icing on my cake, but the Braves can’t count on that. Both from the standpoint of expecting him back on time as well as expecting him to be in perfect shape to get right back in the groove. I bring it up to emphasize the gaping hole that has to be filled now.
Not that it’s anything new for the Braves.
I mean, I know every team has their injuries, but really? They’ve spent at least two weeks without the following players: Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, B.J. Upton, Jordan Schafer, Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, Brandon Beachy, Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Ramiro Pena, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty. Jeez, let me catch my breath already! We aren’t talking about backups or second-tier guys; we’re talking top of the rotation, setup men, sluggers and veterans. And yet, the Braves still have the best record in baseball to go along with their 15-game lead in the NL east.
The big question: Will they survive this latest hit?
A trip to the postseason is all but imminent for the Braves. But for it to mean anything, two things have to happen. First, they can’t let up on the pressure. They have to continue to grind and battle in their remaining games, even though they only face two more teams with winning records, which includes the current series with the Cardinals. Having the home-field advantage could well be the difference maker in the playoffs for the Braves, who currently carry a 44-18 record at home. And that race isn’t even close to over.
Second, they have to figure out, yet again, how to make the pieces fit without the huge presence of Jason Heyward. Once again, guys are going to have to step up and fill the void and build some new momentum heading into the last month of the season. I’m looking at you Uggla and B.J.! The leadoff spot is open to the first guy to show he deserves it, and it will likely a more typical type, like B.J. or Schafer.
This isn’t the first sign of adversity for this team. At any point, they could have considered the deck stacked against them and folded under the pressure. But they’ve bounced back and made it work, and this is going to be exactly the same. One day after losing Tim Hudson for the season, they went on a 14-game winning streak and buried the rest of the division. Ironically, they faced the Cardinals right after that. … I’m just sayin’.
Things may look dark, but on top of being a dominant force in the National League, the Braves have proven they’re up to the task no matter what gets thrown at them. Let’s hope that’s a streak that continues well into the fall.