ATLANTA — Jason Heyward’s bat has cooled off considerably.
Jair Jurrjens is still hurt. Chipper Jones might be on his way to retirement when the season ends.
Yet no matter how much difficulty the Atlanta Braves seem to face, they keep winning.
Since ending a nine-game losing streak on April 30, the Braves are 34-14, best in the major leagues, and their 42-28 overall record leads the NL.
“We’ve held our own as a team,” Heyward said last weekend. “All year everybody’s been picking each other up.”
Ask around the Atlanta clubhouse who’s most responsible for the surge, and Troy Glaus is the consensus answer.
“It’s an amazing story,” manager Bobby Cox said. “A great pickup. He’s played a great first base as well. And he’s a gamer.”
Nobody, including Glaus, imagined a few weeks ago that he would lead the National League in RBIs or that Atlanta would have the NL’s best record.
Glaus was hitting .194 with six homers and nine RBIs on May 1. Fans at Turner Field booed him every at-bat.
It seemed the skeptics were right. Shoulder surgery that limited him to 14 games last year in St. Louis had depleted the former World Series MVP’s power. Maybe he was just trying to hang on as big league player. Switching from third base to first base looked like a desperate move for a four-time All-Star and the cost conscious Braves.
Last week in the clubhouse, Jones, the Braves’ longtime third baseman, took a few playful jabs at Glaus’ expense.
“You made it sound like it was impossible,” Jones said.
Glaus quickly fired back.
“It IS impossible,” he said. “I had no choice. It was either play first or go home.”
Though he’s likely no candidate to win a Gold Glove, Glaus isn’t a liability, either. Cox cites soft hands, quick reflexes and decent range as “solid.” Glaus has five errors, but he’s helped the Braves turn 69 double plays, more than any first baseman in the majors.
“We couldn’t be happier with Troy,” Cox said. “He’s done a wonderful job, which is a testament to how much work he puts in every day. He’s inspired all of us.”
It’s also a testament to Cox that the Braves are winning without getting big contributions from a handful of star players.
The Braves, who lead baseball with a 24-7 home record, have drawn more walks than any team in the majors and have 13 victories in their final at-bat.
And yet when Atlanta opens a three-game road series Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox, three of the team’s star hitters are struggling.
Catcher Brian McCann, a three-time All-Star, has combined with Jones, a former NL MVP and batting champion, for just 11 homers in 114 games.
Heyward, the NL’s rookie of the month for April and May, has dropped his average 37 points to .264 since May 30. Baseball’s former top prospect has struck out 27 times over his last 16 games, a span of 69 at-bats.
As those three try to find their swings, second baseman Martin Prado has emerged with a .339 batting average that leads the NL and 101 hits, most in the majors through Sunday.
The pitching staff overcame the absence of projected ace Jurrjens, out 48 games with a strained hamstring, and the 0-9 record of fifth starter Kenshin Kawakami. But the rest of the rotation — Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe and Kris Medlen — is a combined 29-10 in 51 starts.
Hudson and closer Billy Wagner underwent season-ending elbow replacement surgery less than two years ago. Wagner hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 19.
No Atlanta player, however, has been forced to make more adjustments than Glaus.
Fighting through a batting slump is nothing new to a 33-year old with 319 career homers in 1,479 games, but moving across the infield on defense has been tougher than most people know.
“You have to accept the fact that you’re not going to play third again,” Glaus said. “I’m still not as comfortable over there as I ever was at third, and I never will be, but it’s getting better. It’s better now than it was a month ago.”
So are the Braves.