HOUSTON – Freddie Freeman’s fourth-inning leadoff homer Wednesday made him the fifth player in more than a century of Braves history to hit at least 12 home runs in his team’s first 31 games.
Unfortunately for the Braves, nine of his 12 homers have come with the bases empty, as Freeman has had only 35 at-bats with runners on base and a scant 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. He’s 5-for-13 with two doubles and a home run when batting with runners in scoring position and has walked eight times in those situations, including a two-out walk in the eighth inning Wednesday to load the bases for Matt Kemp, who struck out.
Before Wednesday, there were a staggering 214 major league players with more plate appearances with runners in scoring position than Freeman’s 20, and 247 players with more at-bats with runners in scoring position than his 13. On the Braves’ roster alone there are seven players with more at-bats with runners in scoring position than Freeman, led by Ender Inciarte, who has 37 at-bats and 40 plate appearances in RISP situations.
“That’s something we’re trying to rectify,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Freeman’s lack of opportunities with runners in scoring position. “It’s been good in spurts, but not real consistent. I wish it was an easy fix. I wish it was something you could do to make it not be like that. It’s just the way it happens sometimes. But (Freeman) has been phenomenal all year.”
One problem is leadoff hitter Inciarte, who has a .308 on-base percentage after posting a .372 OBP in the leadoff spot in 2016. Then there’s rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson, who had a .159 OBP batting second before being dropped in the order, and Brandon Phillips, who has hit well elsewhere but had a .192 average and OBP in the 2-hole before Sunday.
Only Adonis Garcia, batting .279 (12-for-43) with a .295 OBP, and Jace Peterson (2-for-5) have done well batting second.
Braves No. 2 hitters had a .217 OBP that was 30 points lower than any other major league team at that spot in the order before Wednesday, and Braves leadoff hitters were 18th with a .312 OBP.
Freeman joined a select group with his 12th homer. The only others in franchise history to hit as many in the first 31 games were the great Hank Aaron, who did it twice, including a franchise-record 14 homers through 31 games in 1970 and 12 in 1971; Eddie Mathews, 13 in 1959, and Ryan Klesko (1996) and Justin Upton (2013).