Last Thursday as the Braves were trying to win the series with the Dodgers, Justin Upton left the field after grabbing his hamstring. Braves fans feared the injury would halt Upton’s hot streak. The next night he returned and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. More than that he grabbed a lethargic Braves offense and put it on his back lighting an offensive fire that’s still burning
A rising tied lifts all boats
Justin didn’t start hitting last Friday. Prior to the Oakland game the slugger who lacked the grit to play left for the Diamondbacks slashed .292/.389/.539/.928 with four homers and 17 RBI in 26 games. In fact except for some struggles in June he’s been cooking all year posting OPS of 1.041, .877, .617 and .903 prior to August.
That’s hot but the fire didn’t break out until in the six games beginning with the Oakland series. At that point he kicked in the afterburner, slashing .409/480/.818/1.298 with three homes an nine RBI. The Braves won five straight before losing to the Pirates. Many credit Jason Heyward’s return to the leadoff spot as the catalyst but from what I saw was Justin saying jump on guys, I got this.
Since Jason returned to leadoff he’s slashed .280/.321/.440/.761 with a homer five RBI and six runs scored. That’s a significant boost to a lineup led by the worst hitter in baseball for so long. It was also a factor in starting the fire.
Freddie Freeman had been stone cold – .175/.266/.316/.581 – from the ASG through the first game of the Padres series but in the 11 games after that he was hot .442/.510/.651/.1.161 yet the offensive fire didn’t ignite and the Braves won only three times.
As an old fire chief I can tell you that it takes exactly the right mix of fuel, heat and oxygen to start a fire and keep it burning. The Braves had heat in places and created the occasional flash fire but they couldn’t sustain combustion. The missing ingredient was the home run.
When Justin launched that shot Friday night the fire – actually an explosion – started. Since then the Atlanta Artillery Brigade has launched home runs with mind boggling regularity. Including Justin’s blast they hit 10 homers in that six game run, they had hit just 9 in the previous 22 games. Justin was hitting everything and not a bloop in the bunch; he’s squaring up everything. In the time he walked three times and struck out only four. The homer wasn’t the tool in play however.
In spite of the hammy scare on Thursday Justin ran the bases on Friday and in every game since with abandon and made some unexpected catches in the outfield. By example he said he was tired of losing and even with a tight hamstring he was going as hard as he could all. the time. The rest of the lineup or at least most of the rest of the lineup started to believe again and joined the party.
That’s A Wrap
Obviously Justin didn’t do this by himself. Having Heyward leading off and Freeman hot as well was important. Even the much maligned Chris Johnson has been scorching the ball – .333/.360/.560/.860 including one of his rare home runs – in the last week. So Justin isn’t carrying everyone but when he hit that first homer it seemed to wake everyone else up. Hitting isn’t contagious, consecutive hitting is contagious. Hitters feed off of the energy of those who go before them and once that fire starts it’s hard to extinguish. In this case the ignition point was Justin Upton.