Braves' offense finds its stride, thanks to Prado

The Braves went from being one of the National League’s worst offensive teams in June to being its best so far in July, and the improvement coincided with Martin Prado moving into the lineup.

Teammates will tell you it was no coincidence.

With Prado hitting second and surging shortstop Yunel Escobar moved down to the sixth spot, and with improvement from Garret Anderson and others, the Braves have found their stride on offense.

Prado had a .380 average with 12 extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and 15 runs in 18 games since becoming a lineup regular June 30, and the Braves were 12-6 in those games before Tuesday.

“Getting Prado in the two-hole, and dropping Escobar down where he can get some RBIs,” manager Bobby Cox said about the difference from June to now. “Prado’s been so hot, and getting on base so much, it’s made a world of difference.”

After averaging 3.4 runs in 24 games from June 3 to June 28, the Braves averaged 5.6 runs in 18 games since Prado became a lineup regular.

“It’s a combination of a couple of things,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “Obviously, Prado is one, being able to move him to the two-hole and move Escobar down to an RBI spot, where he seems to prosper. I think you see us hitting better as a unit, basically because you got some guys out of the lineup who were struggling and got some guys in who aren’t struggling. It’s real simple.”

The Braves put second baseman Kelly Johnson on the disabled list July 3 and later sent him to Class AAA Gwinnett after Prado took over, and they traded Jeff Francoeur to the Mets on July 10 for right fielder Ryan Church.

Center fielder Nate McLouth, acquired in a June 3 trade from Pittsburgh, has given the Braves a potent leadoff man that they sorely lacked for the first two months.

“Now you’re looking at a pitcher having to work hard 1 through 8 [against Braves hitters], as opposing to getting a hitter off to catch their breath,” said Jones, contrasting that to the situation earlier this season. “Kelly was struggling at the top of the order, Frenchy was struggling in the middle of the order, [Jordan] Schafer at the bottom, and then the pitcher.

“That’s four spots where a pitcher could catch his breath. Now they can’t do that.”

While the Braves’ pitching has continued to excel, the offense is doing its part now, and they’re no longer forced to rely quite as heavily as before on Jones and All-Star catcher Brian McCann.

“That’s where you point to Prado and Escobar,” Jones said. “Prado’s helping set the table at the top, and it’s a domino effect all the way down to Escobar.”

Cox said: “That’s how you win — everybody chips in. You feel good with everybody in the lineup right now. You feel like they’re going to get a hit.”

Carlyle progressing

Nearly seven weeks since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Buddy Carlyle made his first game appearance Monday when he worked a crisp inning for Class AAA Gwinnett. He struck out two of the three batters he faced and felt good doing it.

“That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been warming up,” Carlyle said. “I wondered how the ball would feel coming out of my hand and everything.”

The right-hander said it felt awkward at first, but he quickly got reacclimated. Carlyle threw eight strikes in 13 pitches and is scheduled to throw another inning Wednesday and two innings Saturday, both games with Gwinnett.

Cox believes that Carlyle could be ready in about two weeks.