During the playoffs in Major League Baseball, teams are allowed the normal 25-man roster as in most of the regular season. If a team advances in the playoffs to the next round, they are allowed to change their roster or adjust it to their liking to account for injuries, poor performance, etc. The tendency would be to keep your roster intact to provide the same output and success that a team had during the regular season to get them into the post season. However, some teams opt to make changes right away to give them a boost for the 5-game divisional series, or the 1-game wild card.
The Atlanta Braves had a second baseman in Dan Uggla who played in 136 games during the regular season. However, for their divisional series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, manager Freddie Gonzalez chose to keep Uggla off of the roster. In his place, Elliot Johnson became the Braves’ starter for the entire series. Uggla hit a measly .179 from April through September, but he also hit 22 home runs. Although he had 171 strikeouts, he was part of an Atlanta Braves arsenal and fit right into the identity of the team.
Uggla is a presence on the field in the fact that at any given at-bat, he can put a run or more on the board with one swing. His power is always a threat, especially given that he plays second base, a position not typically known for power hitters. He strikes out more than most players, but so did the rest of the Braves’ lineup throughout the course of the year. They lived and died by their pitching and the long ball. Granted, BJ Upton has some pop in his bat that puts balls over the fence, but his even his performance was too poor to justify putting him in the everyday lineup for the second half of the year. Uggla kept his starting position, and part of that was due his ability as a fielder on defense. Over the last few years, he has established himself as a credible second baseman in the field. He may not win any Gold Gloves, but he costs his team very runs from his defensive play.
While Upton made the roster for the post season and even had 3 at-bats against the Dodgers, Uggla was not allowed to play in any of the games because Gonzalez chose to keep him off of the roster. The Braves kept three catchers, Brain McCann, Evan Gattis, and Gerald Laird, although Gattis played left field due to his presence at the plate with his power. Gattis played average defense at best, and his hitting did not equate to justifying having him in the lineup away from his natural position. Brain McCann, who was 0-13 in four games against the Dodgers, is part of the heart and soul of the Braves, which is why he was not replaced in the games and was a starter the entire series, even though he only appeared in 102 games during the regular season. The games he did not start were to give him rest being a catcher, but Uggla was just as much a part of the core of the Braves as any other player.
Team chemistry impacts player production
The decision to leave Uggla off of the roster probably hurt the Braves more mentally than on the field. Elliot Johnson is a good hitter and fielder, but he was not part of their ‘clique’. Johnson has been with many teams over the past few seasons, while Uggla has been with the Braves for the past 3 seasons and has established himself as a regular and part of the Braves’ core. I don’t know the relationships that Uggla has with the other players on the team, but by being in the position he has with the other core players around him, it probably was a low blow to Uggla and a defiant moment to his teammates, even though Uggla’s average was as low as it was during the year.
Johnson was plugged into a lineup that was pretty consistent in the infield over the course of the season. He knows what to do and when to do it, but his chemistry with the rest of the team was probably nowhere near where Uggla’s was. To have a 5-game series determine whether you move on or your season is done, it baffles me that Gonzalez would choose to not start Uggla, let alone not even keep him on the roster. There was an abundance of outfielders, one of whom as I mentioned was BJ Upton. Uggla has a personality that feels like he can hit a home run every at-bat. Upton carries himself in a way that comes across as him not wanting to be there and being in the shadow of his brother Justin, whom the Braves relied on heavily as their 3-hole hitter throughout the year.
By placing Johnson as a starter, I believe the Braves were at a disadvantage solely because of the makeup of their team. Uggla was in the dugout for all of the game against Los Angeles, but he was legally unable to play. He even had to wear a hoodie in the dugout, since he isn’t allowed to be in uniform if he is not on the roster, although I did see him in his jersey top towards the end of game 4 with the Braves trailing. At that point he probably didn’t care if he was fined for wearing his official uniform. Johnson recorded one hit in the series, so he didn’t provide any offense that Uggla could not have provided. He also did not improve the team on defense any more than Uggla.
With the lack of performance and decreased team chemistry, putting Johnson at second base was a bad managerial decision. Despite starting Johnson, Gonzalez made an even worse move by keep Uggla off the roster altogether. Uggla would have been a hitter forced to make Dodger skipper Don Mattingly think on his feet as a potential pinch hitter late in a game, and may have made him make decisions he otherwise would not make with lesser power hitters available to the Braves. By not having Uggla available, the Braves lost a good defender, a power hitter, and a piece of their core that identified the 2013 Atlanta Braves.
He may not have had a hit, but by having Uggla in the lineup, or at least on the roster like BJ Upton, the Braves could have breathed a little easier by not wondering what if. I am a big believer in keeping a good thing going for a team that is winning, and Uggla was a part of that formula. By not having him around, the complexion of the lineup changed, the roles of the players changed slightly by putting more pressure on the other power hitters to produce (which they did not), and the players may have even been disgruntled with the exclusion of Uggla, even though they would never admit to such a thing. If Elliot Johnson had a monumental moment, this would all be down the drain and Gonzalez would have been a genius. He didn’t, and he’s not.