The Braves gave Dan Uggla $62 million to strike out 62 million times. They acquired B.J. Upton only to see him do much of the same. To offset the Tommy John double-whammy to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, the Braves took oh-what-the-heck fliers on Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang (and, before his own season-ending injury, Gavin Floyd).
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried most of the residents of Fulton County in the leadoff spot. Some of Atlanta's moves don't smack of such desperation: trading for Justin Upton (a top-five MVP candidate) and extending Freddie Freeman (through 2021) were no-brainers.
So why do the Braves still trail the Nationals by a sizable six games in the NL East?
A simple and resounding answer is: strikeouts. The Braves have K'd 1,138 times this year, which is a lot (fourth-most in the league). This, of course, is a thing that happens when you give over 1,500 at-bats to Dan Uggla, the brothers Upton, and Chris Johnson.
The Braves' inability to put balls in play has left them scrambling for runs, for consistency, and for a fighting chance, despite surprisingly good starting pitching.
So why, for Dan Uggla's sake, will the Braves knock off the Nationals in October?
Emilio Bonifacio and Phil Gosselin. It might just be that simple. The two unassuming playoff x-factors arrived in Atlanta in the same week -- Gosselin via Triple-A Gwinnett (on July 26th), and Bonifacio from Chicago in a deadline deal. Thought to be back-of-the-roster stretch run additions, both Gosselin and Bonifacio have played major roles since landing in Atlanta.
Gosselin has appeared in 23 games, starting at second, third, and shortstop, relieving the strikeout-prone Johnson and the light-hitting Tommy La Stella. Bonifacio, meanwhile, has basically taken B.J. Upton's job, starting three of the past four games in centerfield, getting on base at a respectable .333 clip, and, most importantly, not striking out. Both recent acquisitions are batting exactly .300 (in just 110 at-bats, but still: a welcome sign for Atlanta), and are managing to get on base for Freeman and the heating-up Justin Upton.
While neither the Nationals or the Braves made any major deadline moves (the Nationals recently picked up Nate Schierholtz, and Asdrubal Cabrera has been a boost), the seemingly inconsequential pick-ups the Braves made will be the difference.
Though the Braves have dominated the Nationals over the last two regular seasons (22-10), the conventional thought is that Washington's pitching and star power would rise to the top in a postseason series. But with Gosselin and Bonifacio getting on base -- steadily if unspectacularly -- for the Braves' big boys (and simply not striking out), Atlanta's piece-mealed pitching staff will lead the Braves to postseason success.