Shh, don’t tell anyone!
Yes, they’re back, but what’s particularly fun is how they’re back. On the offensive side of the ledger, they’re back at full strength now that Giles is back. But more basically, the lineup has been reconfigured. Instead of Chipper Jones in left, he’s at third. That’s produced two interrelated benefits. First, it’s moved Mark DeRosa into the utility role he’s made for, helping to wipe Jesse Garcia off of the roster because Nick Green has been everything DeRosa or Wilson Betemit have not. How long Green can stick around as an infield reserve is an open question, since he really only plays second, but as long as DeRosa’s on the bench, it isn’t a major issue.
More importantly, by moving Chipper into the infield, the Braves have made space for a platoon of Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero in left. Now, no, I don’t expect Rogers to keep hitting like he wants to permanently erase the memory of Dion James, but I don’t expect him to segue into Ralph Garr flashbacks either. Seamhead purists might note that if Thomas hits more like we might expect, that doesn’t add up to a great-hitting outfielder, and that’s true–but that’s the abstract comparison. Here in reality, the Braves needed an offensive improvement over what they were getting from DeRosa’s playing time. Although they sort of fell into it on the go, it’s easier to find outfielders who can out-hit utility infielders than it is to find good offensive outfielders growing on trees.
No more Garcia. No more Dewayne Wise. No more DeRosa getting five or six starts per week. Instead, you’ve got Giles, a platoon that’s putting runs on the board, a stronger bench, and the chance that Adam LaRoche adjusts and gets hot down the stretch. Leo Mazzone may have Wrighted Jaret, but now that Paul Byrd is back, he might not need to fix Mike Hampton or John Thomson. Horacio Ramirez will be back for the stretch run. That might put Thomson in the pen, and keep both of them out of the postseason rotation if and when the time comes.
So, without a blue chip prospect or a major deal, the Braves are back. It’s enough to make a grown Bowa weep.