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Surging Braves shoot into top five as slumping Phillies plummet

Is it possible Jason Heyward is even better than we've been giving him credit for? Through the first 32 games of the seasons, the Braves were 14-18, in last place and six games behind the division-leading Phillies. On May 11, manager Bobby Cox bumped Heyward into the upper half of the lineup for the first time, batting him third for a couple of games before moving him more permanently into the No. 2 hole. In the 21 games since, the Braves are 17-4 and now lead the National League East by 2.5 games.

Heyward's power numbers were actually more impressive before the switch (8 home runs, .611 slugging) than after (2 HRs, .506 slugging) but his on-base percentage has remained roughly the same, dipping almost insignificantly from .423 to .414. But simply having that power and on-base threat higher in the lineup -- Heyward leads the team in both OBP and SLG -- has dramatically improved Atlanta's overall offensive output. In 32 games with Heyward batting sixth or seventh, the team hit .231 with 20 HRs and scored 4.0 runs per game; in 21 games after the move, the Braves have batted .293 with 23 HRs and scored 6.1 runs per game.

Atlanta has won 13 of its last 15, in part because it has scored in the first inning in nine of those wins. And sure enough, the first has been Heyward's second-best inning (trailing only the ninth), as he's batted .450 with a .542 OBP and an otherworldly .900 slugging.

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