Nate McLouth “Highlights”

Like most Braves fans I was extremely excited to see the 2011 baseball season get underway.  Although by the end of 2010 we had lost in the playoffs to the eventual World Series Champions, had lost the greatest manager in franchise (and baseball) history, and had many questions surrounding the third base, outfield, and closer positions, there were still plenty of reasons to be optimistic.  We brought in a prolific power bat in Dan Uggla, had four or five of the top prospects in baseball looking to make an impact, the organization seemed to transition flawlessly from the Bobby Cox era to the one now led by Fredi Gonzalez, and Nate McLouth had regained his confidence and his trademark hair-highlights.  So far, however, the highlights on McLouth’s head are the only ones he’s been able to produce.

Just like last year, the Braves are off to a slower-than-expected start, and I can’t help but notice one particular similarity to last years starting line-up:  Nate McLouth is hitting at the top of the order.  Don’t get me wrong, no starter is having any great success at the plate, but I feel like McLouth is the constant in this experiment.  Bobby Cox went all-in on Nate Dogg early last season.  By mid-May Atlanta was two games under .500 and McLouth was hitting. 167.  On May 14th Jason Heyward moved up to the two spot while McLouth was dropped to eighth.  The Braves finished the final weeks of May by winning 13 of the 17 games they played.  I hope you can see the correlation.

As a hitter at the top of the order your job is to get on base so the 3, 4, 5, and (in our case) 6 hitters can drive in the runs.  As of today (April 11th), McLouth has an on-base-percentage of .289 and the Braves have scored 3 or fewer runs in 70% of their games.  Personally, I would like to see a change before we repeat last April’s performance and find ourselves far too many games behind the heavily-favored Phillies.  Moving McLouth to the eight spot in the line up not only allows a player like Heyward the opportunity to get more at bats hitting second, it gets Freddie Freeman out of the eighth spot and into one with a little more protection, as he won’t be hitting immediately in front of the pitcher.

Despite the slow start I’m still very optimistic about the season and Fredi’s ability to manage the Atlanta Braves.  Those feelings could definitely change, however, if by mid-May McLouth is still hitting in front of Chipper, McCann, Uggla, Heyward, Gonzalez, Freeman, and…….. ok, I won’t say the starting pitcher…….. for now.  Oh, but if Nasty Nate does, somehow, hit above .280, scores more than 90 runs, and steals 20+ bases, I will be the first person to copy his style and put highlights in my hair.  Because if McLouth puts together that type of season, then there must be something magical about those highlights.

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