Braves need B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla for World Series run

Outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla were supposed to be two of the more important bats in the Braves lineup last season. However, things didn’t turn out as planned.

Upton, who signed a five-year, $75 million contract with Atlanta in November of 2012, had considerable expectations to bring that leadoff presence to the lineup. He quickly showed that he was trying to live up to his huge contract, or just wasn’t comfortable with the new surroundings in his first year.

He batted an abysmal .184/.268/.289 with nine home runs and 26 RBI in 126 games for Atlanta last season. While he showed flashes at times, it wasn’t anywhere near on a consistent basis which frustrated Braves fans, the organization and more importantly himself. Braves reporter Mark Bowman produced a column on Thursday that outlines Upton’s new and simple approach at the plate. Bowman was able to get a sense from Braves hitting coach Greg Walker about how Upton has simplified his swing, which should produce better results.

“The swings I saw work for me,” Walker said. “It was a lot different than what we saw last year. It was a lot more simple, with less moving parts.”

Upton’s issue was swinging for the fences too much, trying to pull the ball and not directing the ball off the bat the way it was pitched.

The talented outfielder had previously shown his ability to hit the ball anywhere as he batted .300 with 24 home runs in 2007. He hasn’t produced a batting average near .300 since then, but at this point getting back to his .248 career number in 2014 would feel like he’s hitting .300.

The Braves won 96 games which included an N.L. East title without much contribution from Upton. They surely need him to get on base and show his ability to drive runners in without pressing. If he continues with his simpler swing and doesn’t get back into old habits, we could see a rejuvenated and better Upton in 2014.

When it comes to Uggla, Braves fans are growing ever more frustrated with the lack of consistent production. Yes, he produced a 22 home run campaign, but even that number was down from his better seasons with the Marlins and first year in Atlanta when he eclipsed 30. Many fans point to the disgusting .179 batting average in 537 plate appearances and get emotional.

Uggla almost produced more strikeouts (171) than his batting average (.179). He only produced three more hits (80) than walks (77). While it’s great he reached base via walks, the Braves need his bat to come through in order for him to be fully productive and be a mainstay in the lineup.

Atlanta’s success last season was predicated on their starting pitching, which ranked the best in the National League (3.18 ERA) and their bullpen (2.49 ERA).

This is a statistic to ponder that would have made Atlanta even better if they could have received consistent production from Upton and Uggla. The Braves were fourth in the National League with 688 runs scored. Only the Cardinals (783), Rockies (706) and Reds (698) were better. Upton and Uggla combined for 90 runs scored.

Between 2007-2012, Upton averaged 83 runs scored a season, 53 more than his putrid 2013 total. From 2006-2012, Uggla averaged 96 runs scored a campaign, a differential of 36 from the 2013 season.

If Upton and Uggla would have reached their average run totals per season, Atlanta would have put up 89 more runs (777 total) which falls five short of St. Louis.

How many more game winners would that have led to? How many more playoff wins would that have accounted for? It’s not all questions that could have been answered in 2013. But if Upton and Uggla answer the bell and provide their share of runs scored, expect the Braves to advance farther in the postseason in 2014.

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If I was Frank Wren and I am glad I am not, I would have looked at the Cf option both in 2012 and 2013 and would have just made the trade for Justin Upton move him to RF use Heyward in CF and make Schafer our starting LF and lead-off hitter. Then take that money that was offered to BJ the Braves could have gone after Elsbury Choo, Byrd or Beltran.

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