Melky in the middle for Game 2?
Now, I know that the very fact the Atlanta Braves are batting Melky Cabrera in the fifth spot in the order is far from ideal and somewhat confusing to some, but I’m going to try and construct a theory as to why he may – surprisingly – be a classic case of making the best of what’s around.
Here is the Game 2 lineup, before we get started:
Injuries have claimed the Braves starting third baseman twice this season. The absence of Chipper Jones and his hot corner fill-in Martin Prado have been felt in the field and in the lineup. Both men were manning the #3 spot in the order at the time of their respective injuries.
When a team loses their number three hitter, not once but twice, and still makes it into the postseason, then they have already had to “make the best of what’s around” in every meaning of the phrase.
The Braves have the best manager in baseball at maximizing the impact of all 25 men on the roster. Often second guessed but seldom, if ever out-managed, Bobby Cox no doubt spent a fair amount of time pouring over his decision before eventually settling on Cabrera and not Matt Diaz, Nate McLouth or Eric Hinske in the Atlanta outfield for Game 2 of the NLDS.
One of the things that his players will always say is that Bobby has a way of making each man feel like he can be the difference maker on any given night. That could play a role here as well.
I can’t explain why Cabrera is hitting fifth in this line-up. In a perfect world, he wouldn’t be. What I can
tell you that the men batting behind him or those on the bench don’t really offer much in the form of alternatives.
Melky Cabrera: Batted 266-3-33 with a .365/.317 (SLG/OBP) vs. RHP this season (RHP Matt Cain starts Game 2). With runners on base, his average was a healthy .274 with 38 RBI in 215 AB’s.
Brooks Conrad – For all his heroics, and they were many, Conrad only had 156 regular season at-bats, but you could certainly bat him ahead of Cabrera if you like. His situational stats with runners on base are strong (.274-5-30 in 69 AB’s), and include an excellent .378 AVG with 26 RBI’s in 45 AB’s with RISP.
Alex Gonzalez - Finished the season 2-for-his-last-35 and promptly went 0-for-3 vs. Lincecum in Game 1. He’s been ice cold, and that’s not exactly the kind of thing you can afford to just trot out there in fifth spot and hope it improves.
Rick Ankiel - Batted just .210-2-9 in and struck out 42 times in 119 AB’s with Atlanta. He has provided some pop in the past, but his stint with the Braves (47 games) has not been very productive.
Nate McLouth - He will be watching from the bench, but McLouth hit just .190-6-24 in a disastrous season and has seen his range in center field diminish. All six homers were hit against righties, but his .205/.368/.317 (AVG/SLG/OBP) vs. RHP this season does not scream middle of the order bat either.
Eric Hinske - In addition to losing a power threat pinch-hitter by starting him in left field, the AJC’s Dave O’Brien was nice enough to point out (via Twitter) that – “In his past 48 games, Hinske has hit .190 (16-for-84) w/ 3 homers, 12 RBI, 23 Ks, a .299 OBP and .333 SLG”
A cursory look at the numbers Cabrera posted this season would tell you that he has not been especially impactful to this point, and has looked like little more than a fourth outfielder who was pressed into regular play with the rash of injuries and ineffectiveness that ravaged the Braves outfield.
One thing that Cabrera has that others (save Hinske) do not possess is that all-too-valuable postseason experience, so maybe that played some role in Bobby’s final decision.
Like I said before this whole entry really got going, having to bat Cabrera fifth in a playoff game was never part of the Braves master plan, but they’re way beyond that now. The Braves need a productive showing collectively from the offense in order to even the NLDS at a game apiece and make a run deep into October.