Wren thinks offense has turned corner
General manager impressed by production in Milwaukee
ATLANTA -- With a little more than 20 percent of this season complete, Braves general manager Frank Wren has been forced to patiently await a stretch that provides strong indication that this week's offensive eruption in Milwaukee was indeed a sign of things to come.
While sweeping the Brewers, the Braves hit .307, belted five homers and tallied 28 runs. During their previous 13 road games, they had batted .215, totaled three homers, scored 33 runs and notched just two wins.
This week's offensive fireworks was a product of Troy Glaus' sudden surge and the fact that Eric Hinske and Brooks Conrad gave further reason to believe that this year's Braves club has much more depth than its recent predecessors. But while depth is a necessary ingredient to success, Atlanta looks toward the remainder of the season with the hope that Brian McCann, Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar will begin proving to be the consistent run producers that they were projected to be entering this season.
"I think we're starting to turn the corner," Wren said. "I don't think we're where we want to be yet, but I think getting more key guys back in the lineup will give us a better indication of what kind of offense we believe we have."
Through the season's first 34 games, Jones, McCann and Escobar have combined for 27 RBIs, or one fewer than the team-high total that rookie phenom Jason Heyward has compiled through the first 30 games of his blossoming career.
While compiling the team's three highest RBI totals last year, Jones, McCann and Escobar accounted for 34.4 percent of the runs that the Braves drove home. This year, they have accounted for just 19 percent of the RBIs that manager Bobby Cox's inconsistent offense has produced.
"Historically, we've all seen guys struggle during the early portion of the season," Wren said. "When the season progresses, they'll get back to their normal form and their numbers will get back to where they've always been. I think we're starting to see some guys turn things around now."
Over the course of his past 123 games, Jones has hit .231 with 12 homers and a .736 OPS. While he has still managed to hit .303 with runners in scoring position during this span, his inconsistencies have at least provided reason to wonder if the Braves would benefit from moving him out of the third spot of the lineup and filling that spot with Heyward, who has hit .500 through his first 24 career at-bats with runners in scoring position.
With Heyward batting third during the final two games of this week's series against the Brewers, the Braves totaled 20 runs. His ability to get on base during seven of the 11 plate appearances he tallied during this span was rewarded with the production that McCann and Glaus provided while positioned directly behind him in the lineup.
While hitting .386 with two homers and 14 RBIs this month, Glaus has started to live up to the expectations that were present when the Braves signed him in December to serve as a right-handed power threat. The three extra-base hits (two homers and a double) during the three-game series against the Brewers matched the number that he had totaled during his previous 19 games combined.
"Troy is doing exactly what we hoped he would do," Wren said. "He has always been a guy who has never been scared to drive in runs. He's been able to have quality at-bats. He wasn't real lucky early, but they're falling for him now."
Like Glaus has managed to improve his batting average from .167 to .267 over the course of the past 18 games, the Braves believe McCann will realize a sudden surge with the aid of the glasses that he will now wear during night games. The All-Star catcher's two-hit performance on Tuesday night was just his second since April 14.
If McCann's glasses allow him to regain his consistent form and Escobar returns from the disabled list on Saturday ready to prove his early-season struggles were just a fluke, the Braves' lineup certainly has a chance to look much more formidable than it has during the early portion of this season.
With Nate McLouth hitting just .167 with a .302 on-base percentage and a .573 OPS through his first 32 games, there are still some doubts about who should man the leadoff spot on a consistent basis. But it's not like recent championship-caliber teams haven't recently faced this same problem. Before helping the Phillies make a second consecutive trip to the World Series last year, veteran leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins spent his first 32 games hitting just .200 with a .238 on-base percentage and a .534 OPS.
"It's hard to figure why guys struggle during the early part of the season," Wren said. "You can see Nate battling to give you a good at-bat every time he comes to the plate, and he's walking and playing good defense. Just like with Jimmy Rollins, we just have to show some patience."
Even with all of their early struggles, which were highlighted by a nine-game losing streak, the Braves still enter this weekend's series against the D-backs just 4 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East race and just two games behind the pace the Phillies set on the way to their division crown last year.
Wren estimates that his offense has shown just 60 percent of its capability this year. Over the course of the next few weeks, he's hoping that McCann, Jones and Escobar show why this club exited Spring Training without many glaring concerns about the lineup.
"During the past road trip, I think we had more consistent at-bats throughout the lineup," Wren said. "We got big lifts from a number of different players like Hinske and Conrad who came in and produced. That's the sign of a good team."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.