It’s all about the bench, my friends, whether you want to admit it or not.
Many teams that make it to the World Series get there only to find themselves injured, depleted,and just downright tired. But the teams with solid benches are the ones that come out in a pinch(hit) or a jam(got nothing) and make something happen that usually find themselves getting fitted for jewelry.
If I were to argue that the Atlanta Braves have a shot at not only the postseason, but at the World Series (and I do, quite frequently), the depth of their bench would be one of my main points. And Thursday night’s conclusion to a wacky four-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays proves it.
The Jays sent Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the hill, who hasn’t had quite the season that everyone expected him to have, but the guy did win the award. And climbed a mountain. And then wrote a book. Mama says he’s bonafide! Rather than send the usual suspects to face him, Fredi Gonzalez decided to … um … rest his starters so they could come out strong against the Washington Nationals over the weekend.
What he really did was give a little N-N-B-B (nanny-nanny-boo-boo) to the starting players who aren’t playing like they should (read: at their paygrade).
Let’s face it, B.J. Upton has been a huge disappointment this season. And it really is a bummer. Atlanta fans haven’t wasted any time letting him know just how disappointed they are. Dan Uggla has been letting Braves fans down repeatedly over the last three years, so that’s nothing new. And Jason Heyward is dangerously close to becoming an “Even Year” guy – performing well in even years and not so much in the odd ones.
Instead, Gonzalez brought out Ramiro Pena at second base, Evan Gattis in left field and Jordan Schafer in center. Earlier that day, he also sent Juan Francisco to the minors to make room for rookie left-hander Alex Wood to help shore up the battered bullpen. So, the de facto third baseman is now Chris Johnson, who has been a very bright spot in this lineup, leading the team with a .343 average.
If you are a casual Braves fan (who probably doesn’t read this) you may not have recognized half the team that played.
I can remember years when the “B” team came in on getaway day or when a series didn’t really matter and it seemed like the Braves were just giving away a game. Not this time.
The B team came out and recorded more hits and scored more runs than in any game this season. Schafer had two RBI and scored one. Pena had four RBI while going 3-for-4. Reed Johnson pinch hit a two-run shot to left! Wood and recently activated Jordan Walden came in and pitched clear frames to secure a well-deserved win for Mike Minor. But I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Freddie Freeman‘s continued dominance over Dickey, crushing a home run on his bobblehead night.
All while Uggla, B.J. Upton and Heyward looked on.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In my ideal world, all three of these guys would play and perform at least up to expectation (the realistic kind, not what you’re thinking), and this team of bench players would be used in the clutch, and bacon would be calorie free but taste exactly the same.
Two of these things are possible, and sadly, one is not. But I can continue to enjoy bacon as is, especially if Braves starters play like I want them to.
El Oso Blanco appeared to me in a dream last night. Not a white bear, mind you, but Evan Gattis himself. Actually, I was giving him a bed to crash on while he decided whether or not to continue pursuing baseball. Don’t worry, Braves fans, I convinced him he should. And, therefore, you all owe me for doing the work of a hero!
I’ve decided it’s a good omen of things to come. As was Thursday’s game. Unlike many Braves fans who have toughened their hides to frustration and defeat by poo-pooing the future of the team at any given point in a season, I look at this as a positive. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in big contracts and frustration at under-performing players, which can be a vicious cycle. Sometimes, it’s good to watch young players go out and play like they love the game. And I can tell you, from where I was sitting at Turner Field, that’s exactly what it looked like. It was a fun game. (Also, the club level at the Ted is awesome. Just thought you should know.)
Yeah, yeah. Rose-colored glasses and all that. But mark my words — a team that has the bench the Atlanta Braves do can relax with the knowledge that when one player falters, there’s another guy to pick him up. And that is the foundation for a team ready to make the long haul to October.