Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Ramiro Pena, Cristhan Martinez, Tyler Pastornicky, Tim Hudson, Jason Heyward… the list of players lost for the season on the 2013 Atlanta Braves is starting to read like an All-Star roster. The Braves have had 21 players spend time on the disabled list this season — nearly their entire 25-man roster. They’ve had 10 players who have each missed 30 games or more; 5 players who have missed 75 games or more.
The bodies are starting to pile up.
The fear of what this season could become without Jason Heyward is starting to overtake me. The dread of what might become of this Braves squad is weighing on me, as I’m sure it has weighed on many Braves fans over the past 24 hours.
As I fret over it more and more my thoughts drift to how badly injuries devastated the 2010 Braves squad. That season — the last year of the Bobby Cox era — Atlanta suffered the loss of key players like Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, and were forced to turn to lesser players like Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad. They lost a key starter that year in Jair Jurrjens, and they later lost his replacement in the rotation, Kris Medlen. The bullpen suffered the loss of key setup men Eric O’Flaherty and Takashi Saito.
That 2010 team had 17 players that missed a total of 583 games. This season’s squad has already had 21 players miss a combined total of 941 games! That total will only go up in the final five weeks of the season.
The 2010 Braves squad was still able to win the Wild Card and play four of the most exciting one-run playoff games against the Giants you will ever see. The impact of all those injuries throughout the season was felt during three one-run losses, where the good defense of Prado or the middle-of-the-order power of Chipper could have made a difference between winning and losing.
The Braves have so far been able to fill in for many of their injured players, but at what point will their amazing depth this year dry up or fail to perform up to the level of the players that need to be replaced. I fear it is now. Jason Heyward was such a critical part of this team, and we have watched for the past month as the Braves have soared to new heights with him as the ignitor at the top of the lineup. Heyward is hitting .341/.414/.580 (.994 OPS) batting in the leadoff spot, and the team is 17-and-4 with Heyward batting leadoff since the end of July. When Heyward was on the DL after his appendectomy from late April to mid-May the Braves went 9-13.
A player key to the Braves success the rest of the season could be Jordan Schafer. As the Braves look to fill the leadoff void, they need someone to step up and be that spark that Heyward has been. Andrelton Simmons could be an option, but he has already proven a less than ideal leadoff man. B.J. Upton has the speed, but he’s stuck in an 0-for-26 slump, and he hasn’t hit well all season. Schafer seems to be the guy who will be looked upon to get things going at the top of the lineup. He has been fighting it at the plate since returning from an ankle injury. In the 7 games since his return he is hitting just .136 (.240 OBP). But with regular playing time perhaps he can find the swing that helped him hit .312 (.399 OBP) over the first half of the season.
Perhaps the middle of the order can start popping them out of the park again. Is it too much to ask B.J. Upton or Dan Uggla to hit their weight? These are the other places where the Braves could find more offense to make up for the loss of their right fielder.
This may have come off as “house on fire,” but it’s hard seeing such a great player who has meant so much to his team be lost for what might be the rest of the season… as well as the postseason. The postseason part is the most distressing, as the injuries in 2010 impacted October more than they did the 162.
Click here for a PDF recap of the injuries the Braves faced in 2010. This is an excerpt written by Scott Coleman from the 2011 MSP Braves Annual.