Braves would have lineup challenges if Freeman is out

Bill Shanks

We have two weeks to go before the 2020 season starts. There are plenty of COVID tests to conduct. Every team in baseball will continue to hold its collective breath that no one or not many on their roster will test positive.

Consequently, we can look at the rosters and only go on what we have right now. There is no doubt things could change with one phone call from Utah (where the testing is conducted).

The Braves already have a huge question about their roster. Freddie Freeman is one of the biggest names in the sport to have tested positive. The team is not giving daily updates on his condition. All we know if Freeman was really sick a week ago when it was announced, and he was also sick enough to spook his teammate, Nick Markakis, into backing out of playing this season.

But what if Freeman cannot go early on? There’s little chance Freeman will be ready for opening day. If he has been sick and is not just asymptomatic like many his age who have the virus, then to expect him to just bounce back and be 100-percent in two weeks is likely unrealistic.

And could Freeman even decide to opt out and simply get ready for the 2021 season?

The Braves have plenty of options to sit in for Freeman at first base. But the lineup will be drastically different with their best hitter not hitting third. And therein lies the biggest issue.

Who will hit third if Freeman cannot go? Well, it might depend, of course, on who is playing first base. However, it will be curious if manager Brian Snitker would be tempted to move Ronald Acuna down from the leadoff spot to possibly hit third.

We all know how well that worked at the start of the 2019 season. The Braves were 18-20 and not looking like a good team at all, and Acuna had been hitting cleanup with Josh Donaldson hitting second. When Snitker switched Acuna back to leadoff, the Braves took off and didn’t look back winning their second straight division title.

If Acuna were moved to third, the Braves could slide Ozzie Albies up to leadoff and then have either Johan Camargo or Dansby Swanson as the second hitter.

Ozzie Albies
Dansby Swanson
Ronald Acuna
Marcell Ozuna

How would that top four do to start the Braves offense?

And with Adam Duvall and Austin Riley also likely to be in the lineup, the Braves would have the chance to get two power bats in the lineup. Of course, there would also be two bats in the lineup who strike out a lot. Plus, there would be a lot of right-handed hitters, which could be important when facing left-handed starting pitchers.

But if Acuna stays at the top of the order, the Braves could instead move Albies down to the third hole and have Camargo or Swanson hit second instead. Would the Braves want to disrupt that pair of Acuna and Albies being back-to-back in the lineup? But there is no doubt Albies has the power, and him being a switch-hitter could be a benefit in that spot, as well.

Another name to keep in mind is Yonder Alonso, a left-handed batter with 809 starts at first base in the Major Leagues. I admit I laughed when the Braves brought Alonso in as a non-roster player to spring training, but with what’s happened Alonso could be important.

If the Braves prefer a left-handed hitter to fill-in for Freeman, Alonso could possibly get a chance. He hit .250 with 23 home runs and 83 RBI just two seasons ago, and his experience could be important.

Would Alonso be a candidate to hit third, behind Acuna and Albies and in front of Ozuna, Riley and Duvall? Again, with all those right-handed hitters, having a lefty bat in the middle could help.

How the Braves handle those first three spots will determine how the rest of the lineup falls. But if Freeman is out, it will be a challenge to have the lineup be productive until he returns.

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 p.m. ET on Middle Georgia’s ESPN. You can listen online at TheSuperStations.com. Follow Bill on Twitter at @billshanks and you can email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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