2. What went wrong in 2009?

The Braves Show's Bill Shanks continues the series looking at the Braves' top questions.

Let's look at some of the things that went wrong for the Braves in 2009.

1. Inconsistent offense
The Braves started the season on April 5 in Philadelphia with this lineup:
Kelly Johnson
Yunel Escobar
Chipper Jones
Brian McCann
Garrett Anderson
Jeff Francoeur
Casey Kotchman
Jordan Schafer

That lineup did not work and struggled early in the season. Johnson hit only .203 in April as the leadoff man. McCann had trouble with his eyes and hit only .195 before going on the disabled list. Anderson hit only .200 in the first month of the season. The Braves averaged only 4.05 runs per game in 21 April games, and the team had only 18 home runs.

When McCann was out, the Braves struggled to field a competitive lineup. Bobby Cox even had Casey Kotchman hitting cleanup for a few games. The Braves went 10-11 in the first month of the season.

May was a bit better, as the Braves scored 4.66 runs per game and were 15-14.. But the power was still lacking. The Braves hit only 18 home runs in 29 games in May.

June provided the first of a few changes. After hitting just .158 in May, Jordan Schafer was sent to the minors on the first day of the month. A few days later the Braves acquired Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh, who settled in as the leadoff man, especially after Johnson hit only .125 in June and was replaced at second base by Martin Prado.

The offense took some time to get adjusted, with McLouth at the top and then Martin Prado hitting second. Yunel Escobar was then moved lower in the order later in the month, and the offense started to produce a bit more.

The turning point in the season was the win versus Boston on Sunday, June 28. Before that game, the Braves were 34-40, a season-high six games under .500. After the win, the Braves went 53-35 for the rest of the season. Of course, the six-game losing streak in the final week of the year damaged that record a great deal. They were 53-29 in the first 82 games after that Sunday game against Boston.

You can look at the stats and see why the Braves got better. It was an improved offense. Here's a look at the Braves runs scored per game in each of the months of the season:

MONTH – GAMES – RUNS PER GAME
April – 21 – 4.05
May – 29 – 4.66
June – 26 – 3.58
July – 27 – 5.15
August – 28 – 5.14
September – 27 – 4.81
October – 4 – 2.25

And if you break it down to before June 28 and after, there is a stark difference:
DATE – GAMES – RUNS PER GAME – RECORD
Through June 27 – 74 games – 4.14 runs per game – 34-40 record
June 28 – end of the season – 88 games – 4.88 runs per game – 53-35 record

There is no doubt the struggles this team had offensively contributed to the slow start, which caught up with the team at the end of the season. If the team had been more consistent offensively, they might have been closer in the end.


2. Lack of power
One reason the offense struggled was the lack of power, particularly early in the season. Here's a breakdown of the number of home runs through the months of the season:

MONTH – GAMES – HOME RUNS - HOME RUNS PER GAME
April – 21 games – 18 home runs – 0.86
May – 29 – 18 – 0.62
June – 26 – 23 – 0.88
July – 27 – 32 – 1.19
August – 28 – 34 – 1.21
September – 27 – 22 – 0.81
October – 4 – 2 – 0.50

The split between the game on June 28 and after is also evident in the change in the power production for the team:
DATE – GAMES – HOME RUNS – HOME RUNS PER GAME
Through June 27 – 74 games – 56 home runs – 0.76 home runs per game
June 28 – end of season – 88 games – 93 home runs – 1.06 home runs per game

The addition of Adam LaRoche on July 31 was a huge difference in the lineup. LaRoche replaced Casey Kotchman, who hit only six home runs in 87 games. LaRoche hit twice that number in only 57 games.

Jeff Francoeur's troubles were also a problem. He hit only five home runs in 82 games before being traded to New York on July 10. After he was dealt away, the Braves got nine home runs from Matt Diaz and two from Ryan Church in right field.

The outfield as a whole was not productive in the power category. Atlanta's outfield hit only 41 home runs for the entire season.


3. Chipper Jones' struggles
There is no other way to put it other than to characterize Chipper Jones' 2009 season as a disaster. He had his lower number of home runs and RBI in his career, and his batting average dropped 100 points from the .364 that won him a batting title just a season ago.

Jones started off strong, hitting .316 through May. Even though his power was gone (only five home runs in the first two months), he was at least contributing by getting on base.

But the wheels came off in June, as Jones hit only .247. He bounced back a bit in July, hitting .284, but after July 31 Jones hit only .225 through the rest of the season.

Cox kept Jones in the third spot in the order, and too many rallies were killed with Jones's lack of production.

4. The cleanup spot in the order
While Brian McCann had a good season he was really miscast as a true cleanup hitter. McCann provided 20 home runs from the number four hole in the lineup in 114 games. Overall, the cleanup spot for Atlanta provided 28 home runs and 114 RBI for the season. That's ok, but not good enough.


5. Bobby Cox's stubbornness
Cox refused to move Kelly Johnson from the leadoff spot in the batting order early in the season, even though Johnson proved in 2008 he was not a leadoff man. It took Johnson's horrid month of June, and the addition of Nate McLouth to move Johnson down. By then, it was too late, as Martin Prado rightfully moved Johnson to the bench.


***


A team that won 86 games is far from perfect, but a lot of things went well for a team that improved by 14 wins from the previous season. The things that went wrong mainly revolve around the offense, and with the excess pitching it's almost certain improvements can be made this offseason.


Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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