For the first two months of the season, the Atlanta Braves were playing with about half a second baseman. Meaning Dan Uggla, the refugee Florida Marlin in whom they had obligated themselves for 62 million bucks. Uggla had delivered some home runs, which is his stock in trade, otherwise his offensive presence was vague. The Braves, though, carried on, maintaining a stiff front, patiently waiting for their new property to awaken to the mission.
In the middle of June, Uggla was hitting .170. Strangely, though, there was not much harangue. Sometimes he might strike out three or four times, but the silence prevailed. How does a player picked up on the open market for such a bundle get away with such quiescence?
For one thing, they were playing a cool hand in the race. They were getting the kind of pitching that kept your mind off the stock market. I can't vouch for this, but I'd wager they were close to the top in winning 1-0 games. And in the midst of it all, Uggla played on, tough and hard. No lollygagging for him.
At only one time, manager Fredi Gonzalez was asked if he and Uggla had serious words about the slump. "I asked him if there was anything that I might do to help him through it," Fredi said.
"His answer was, 'Just don't give up on me.'"
Uggla turned every ground-out into an Olympic sprint. If he couldn't get to every ground ball hit to his side of the infield, he tore up Ed Mangan's grass trying.
All that has changed, of course. Uggla has since hit in 33 straight games, a record for Atlanta's Braves. (Tommy Holmes stills holds Braves team record dating back to Boston.) His batting average has been pumped up to the .230's, which seemed as distant as Mars back in June. He has finally caught up with the pitching corps, even with Jair Jurgens huffing and puffing.
Yeah, the Phillies are busting a gusset with that heavily invested pitching crew of theirs. They still lead the league with their earned-run average, but the Braves are only a couple of notches behind. And they're doing it with a kid out of the wilderness, Brandon Beachy, and ol' hoss Tim Hudson, and assorted longshots. And, of course, The Bullpen, starring Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty.
All those "saves" are reserved for Kimbrel, but it could be either of the others.
It's late August, but not too late. It was the season of '54 that the Giants arose from the dead in August, 14 games out, and cleared the decks. It can be done, even if Derek Lowe runs low on September gas.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.