Before today’s game against the Miami Marlins, the Upton Brothers were probably huddled in a telly, sitting side by side with Kendrick Lamar on repeat like, “hol’ up, hol’ up, hol’ up, hol’ up.”
The corner pillars of Atlanta’s vaunted “Soul Patrol” outfield (the Upton Brothers and Jayson Heyward) were supposed to bring the black back to the Braves outfield. They were gifts sent by the baseball gods, ready to showcase five-tool arsenals and have a dynamic impact on the style of baseball played in Atlanta.
Right now, they probably want a do-over.
In the offseason, the Braves signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million deal as a free agent, and then two months later, added his brother Justin to the mix in a seven-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Their arrival added two young, dope pieces to form a devastating outfield with rising star Jason Heyward. Some proclaimed it to be an all-black outfield, reminiscent of the Braves’ glory years when brown bombers like Ron Gant, Lonnie Smith, Otis Nixon and Brian Jordan were catalysts for ATL’s consistent National League dominance.
Back in April, TSL spoke of the Upton buzz in ATL, stating how some were optimistic that the Soul Patrol’s arrival could reinvigorate a disenfranchised black baseball fan base. Culturally, it was a dope power move; the African-American baseball star has been a dwindling commodity for some time now. GM Frank Wren’s wheeling and dealing was lauded as “masterful” by the MLB community and respected analysts.
Well, the Soul Patrol’s been ice cold for most of the season. Sure, Atlanta has 52 wins and a six-game lead in the NL East, but the blackout that was supposed to captivate baseball has caused little more than a power shortage.
Justin came out the gate cold-kicking ass, banging 12 homers and slugging .734 in April to win the National League player of the month award. He’s only hit four homers since and his average is down to a bland .251.
B.J. has been akin to the invisible man. He’s following up the best power season of his career (28 homers in ’12) with a herculean effort in futility. The young blood is hitting .178 with just eight homers.
To compound the problem, B.J., who’s usually good money for 30-45 steals a season, has just seven. It’s gotten so ratchet for B.J. that at one point, manager Fredi González was contemplating the unthinkable: chucking him down to the minors.
As expected, Heyward is following the lead of his veteran gloves, just not down a good road. He is hitting a feeble .228 with just seven homers while battling injuries much of the season.
Even worse, the Upton brothers and Heyward are now being psychoanalyzed by every hitting guru in America. There’s been nauseating talk about balance and plate discipline and hip movement and timing and approach to the breaking ball – just too much analysis, not enough production.
These cats have been balling and doing it in electrifying fashion for a minute now. They are still young bucks, with killer room for growth. Don’t believe that they just forgot how to thump. The problem is BBD – strictly mental.
All isn’t lost, however. Baseball is a game of redeeming features. The All-Star game is days away. These cats need to re-charge their batteries, just relax and play ball. The second half should be better.
“I think I’ve looked at enough film and been in the cage enough,” B.J. said to ESPN. “It’s just a matter of going out and doing it…I’ll break out of it – hopefully sooner rather than later.”
The Braves are fortunate to be in first with their high-priced talent laying eggs so far. Whenever these cats wake up from what, at times, seems like a haze-induced paralysis, it will only add to the Braves ultimate goal of winning a World Series.