Coming into the season, we knew there was a strong possibility that the Braves bench could be a significant weak point for this team. Alex Anthopoulos decided to move on from Adam Duvall in hopes Cristian Pache, Johan Camargo, and others who lacked much major-league success could pick up the slack. It hasn’t worked out like that, and the Braves are finally starting to feel the consequences.
The Cristian Pache experiment in the majors was a failure from the start. It quickly became apparent he just wasn’t ready offensively to be an everyday player and was eventually demoted back to Gwinnett. The same could be said for Johan Camargo, who can no longer be viewed as anything more than an AAAA player (someone who dominates AAA but can’t find a groove in the majors) at this point. Thankfully, the Braves — like they seemingly do every season under Alex Anthopoulos as their general manager — had a few players, who most fans probably hadn’t even heard of before 2021, come through early on with several clutch performances.
Pablo Sandoval saved the Braves on many occasions during the first month of the season, smacking four pinch-hit home runs from April 1st to May 8th. Unfortunately, but somewhat expectedly, that pace hasn’t been sustainable. Sandoval hasn’t homered since and has posted a .393 OPS in his last 32 plate appearances. He’s probably worth keeping on the roster, given his flair for the dramatic and veteran experience, but he shouldn’t be a team’s best offensive option coming off the bench.
Like Sandoval, Ehire Adrianza began the season red-hot after a superb Spring Training. Following that same May 8th contest that included Sandoval’s last pinch-hit homer, Adrianza was hitting .302. But again, like Sandoval, that’s when the wheels fell off. Adrianza has hit just .172 in his last 66 at-bats, and it’s fair to wonder whether we will ever see the guy who had so much success to start the season again.
The trend continues with Guillermo Heredia, who has turned into the Braves’ starting centerfielder since Cristian Pache was sent down. And for a while, it looked like a brilliant decision (Heredia has still been infinitely better than Pache offensively), but his numbers have begun to really slip since late May. In his last 23 games (19 starts), Heredia’s hit just .219 at the plate, and that includes a hot stretch in which he had eight hits in five games. Take that out, and Heredia isn’t providing much more than Adrianza and Sandoval.
We already know that the Braves can count on next to nothing from Inciarte, and the backup catcher’s spot is rarely a position of offensive strength. The stories that Sandoval, Adrianza, and Heredia were producing at the beginning of the season were heartwarming. Hell, Abraham Almonte is currently providing a second act, but eventually, regression will rear its ugly head, just as it has for the other three. The Braves are lucky to survive to this point and sit just five games outside of first place; however, their bench must improve significantly if they want to be viewed as World Series contenders again.
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