Braves shaping up like version of Big Red Machine?
Star-studded Atlanta lineup has the power, speed ingredients to be special group
ATLANTA -- It was one game. Still, as a disciple of Cincinnati's legendary Big Red Machine, I'm prepared to utter baseball heresy after the Atlanta Braves powered their way to a 7-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night at Turner Field.
I mean, forgive me Pete, Tony, Johnny, Joe and Sparky, but the Braves could become The Big Blue Machine. Justin Upton squinted a little. That was the reaction of the Braves' newly-acquired 25-year-old slugger after I wondered if he ever heard of the Big Red Machine.
"I've heard of them," Upton said, mostly trying to be polite.
About the Big Red Machine: With an outrageously potent offense for the ages, those Reds won more games than anybody in baseball during the 1970s. They featured Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez as players and Sparky Anderson as manager. Their leadoff hitter was Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader.
In addition, those Reds had either perennial or occasional All-Stars at shortstop (Dave Concepcion), right field (Ken Griffey Sr.), center field (Cesar Geronimo) and left field (George Foster). They won the last of their consecutive World Series championships in 1976. That was eight years before B.J. Upton -- Justin's 28-year-old brother -- was born.
Not only that, B.J. joined Justin before this season as a member of The Big Blue Machine -- you know, in progress. As for the other members, you have Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla and Brian McCann, all capable of slamming pitches beyond the farthest fence with the greatest of ease.
On Monday night, for instance, Freeman sent a two-run rocket into the home bullpen in right-center field in the first inning. Uggla's solo shot in the second wasted little time settling beyond left field. Then there was Justin Upton's missile over the wall in left-center field in the fifth.
"I think that if everybody does their job without worrying about that aspect of [trying to become an all-time great slugging team], it will happen by itself," Justin Upton said. "You don't have to force it."
Hitting is contagious, and it always has been. Consider, too, that the Braves led their National League peers during the Grapefruit League in home runs. So this long-ball thing for this bunch is more of a pattern than a fluke. Like the Big Red Machine.
"I remember coming up during those days and seeing the lineup of those Reds teams and thinking, 'Geez, talk about not being able to take a breath,'" said Dale Murphy, grinning.
He played the first of his 15 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Braves in 1976, along the way to two NL MVP Awards and 398 home runs. Still grinning, Murphy added, "One of those years, the Reds had Geronimo batting eighth, and he was hitting .300. That's the best team I ever played against, and we'll see about these guys."
Yes, indeed, and just like those Reds teams, the Braves' batting order looks impressive in a hurry.
Andrelton Simmons leads off following his .289-hitting rookie season of last year with a blistering spring. Then comes the scary likes -- well, for pitchers -- of Heyward, Justin Upton, Freeman, B.J. Upton and Uggla. They each could produce 25 homers or more. The same goes for McCann, who owns five Silver Slugger Awards as the Braves' starting catcher. He'll return in a few weeks after recovering from shoulder surgery.
Even without McCann, these Braves are at least comparable offensively to Murphy's Braves of the early 1980s. They captured the old NL West in 1982, and surrounding that season, they were a significant force courtesy of impressive hitters.
Brett Butler was the definitive leadoff guy. You couldn't find a scrappier No. 2 hitter than Glenn Hubbard, followed by mashers Claudell Washington, Murphy, Bob Horner and Chris Chambliss. The Nos. 7 and 8 hitters were Bruce Benedict and Rafael Ramirez, and they had their productive moments.
"The only way you can play this game is to have a relaxed aggression sort of thing, but you have to be more relaxed than anything, and that's what we did," Murphy said. "We sort of complemented each other, just knowing something good is going to happen today."
Which begs the question: How does Murphy compare his Braves to the 2013 Braves when it comes to slugging?
"Oh, they're better than we were, and I don't think there's any question about that," Murphy said quickly. "I know it was only Spring Training, but what I saw, they can go way past what we did in the '80s. It's not only the power thing, but they've got all of that speed.
"I just think the potential is there for them to be one of the most productive lineups ever."
As productive as Pete, Tony, Johnny and Joe?
"It would be a very special year if they [rank at the end] with the Big Red Machine," Murphy said truthfully.