SI Vault
 
Baseball
Albert Chen
June 02, 2003
From the TopThe first two hitters in the order have juiced up the Braves' offense
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 02, 2003

Baseball

View CoverRead All Articles

Scoring in Bunches

At week's end only the Blue Jays (305) and the Red Sox (297) had scored more runs than the Braves (284) this season, but no trio of teammates had crossed the plate more often than Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles and Gary Sheffield, the hitters at the top of Atlanta's batting order. Here's how they compare with baseball's other high-scoring threesomes.

Team

Scoring Leaders

Combined Runs

Braves

Rafael Furcal (48), Gary Sheffield (41), Marcus Giles (36)

125

Blue Jays

Carlos Delgado (42), Vernon Wells (39), Shannon Stewart (35)

116

Rangers

Carl Everett (43), Alex Rodriguez (36), Rafael Palmeiro (34)

113

Red Sox

Nomar Garciaparra (42), Johnny Damon (36), Manny Ramirez (35)

113

Rockies

Todd Helton (42), Jay Payton (35), Larry Walker (31)

108

Yankees

Alfonso Soriano (42), Raul Mondesi (34), Bernie Williams (32)

108

From the Top
The first two hitters in the order have juiced up the Braves' offense

In their unprecedented streak of 11 consecutive division titles, the Braves have never finished a season as the league leader in team batting average or runs scored. At week's end Atlanta was atop the NL in both categories this season, with a .284 average and 284 runs, due largely to the first two hitters in the order, shortstop Rafael Furcal and second baseman Marcus Giles—indispensible tablesetters in a lineup that has carried the normally pitching-centric Braves to the best record in the major leagues (34-16).

The two players have matured as hitters, cutting down on their swings and being more disciplined in their pitch selection. After batting .247 in 136 games over the past two seasons, Giles was tied for ninth in the league in hitting (.329) and ranked sixth in runs (36). Another factor in his turnaround was a winter of eating chicken breasts instead of chalupas. The 5'8" infielder dropped 10 pounds (to his current weight of 175) under his new diet and gained speed on the bases plus an extra step and a half in his fielding range. "We always knew he could hit, but his progress since last year defensively has been unreal," says Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard. "No one has worked harder than Marcus."

"When you're getting $2,000 a month in the minors, it's hard not to eat Taco Bell every day," says Giles, 25, who was optioned to Triple A Richmond last year but spent his first off-season living on a full major league paycheck. "I finally could afford some decent sitdown meals. I feel a lot quicker, but I'm just as strong as before."

Very little went right for Giles last season. In what was supposed to be his first full year as Atlanta's regular second baseman, he hit .237 over the first two months and then landed on the DL for seven weeks with a severely sprained right ankle. Worse, in June, Marcus and his wife, Tracy, suffered the loss of their first child. Lundyn Mae was born prematurely at 26 weeks and died 16 days later. "Last year was a gut check," says Marcus.

Giles finally got some good news in March when he learned that he'd cracked the Opening Day starting lineup. Batting second, he has been a perfect complement to leadoff hitter Furcal, who also made some adjustments. "Before, I tried to do too much—I swung the bat too hard," says the 24-year-old Furcal, who hit .275 last year but through Sunday was the 11th-leading hitter in the NL (.327) and led the league in hits (69) and runs (48). "Now I know that I need to get on base however I can." He already had 22 walks, more than half as many as he had last season (43). Thus his on-base percentage had climbed to .387 from .323 last year, and the Braves were 27-5 in games when he scored a run. Says hitting coach Terry Pendleton, "I always tell him, this offense is only as good as he is."

The success of Furcal and Giles has had a trickle-down effect on the heart of the order. Rightfielder Gary Sheffield, leftfielder Chipper Jones and centerfielder Andruw Jones are the league's most prolific 3-4-5 hitters, with 117 RBIs among them. "My problem has always been that I'm too aggressive," says Sheffield, who led the league in batting (.358) at week's end. "With Rafael and Marcus on base all the time, I can wait for my pitch."

The timing of the offensive outburst could not be better for Atlanta. After leading the league in ERA for six straight seasons, the Braves were 10th best (4.26), with ace righthander Greg Maddux carrying a 4.99 mark through 12 starts (40% of the runs he had allowed had come in the first inning). "Speed, power, average, this is a lineup with a great offensive mix," says Pendleton, who played third base for the Braves on three World Series teams. "Not to take anything away from the guys I played with, but this Braves offense is as good as any mat I've ever seen."

Francisco Rodriguez Falters
Setup Man Relieved of Duty

Seven months ago he was the unlikely hero of the postseason and had been anointed K-Rod for his prodigious strikeouts against some of the game's best lineups. Now Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez is just another rookie suffering major league growing pains. Last week the 21-year-old Venezuelan righthander, who was a September call-up in 2002, lost his job as Anaheim's setup man to righthander Brendan Donnelly.

Continue Story
1 2