Braves’ replacements flounder in Game 1 loss

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With Dan Uggla off the roster and B.J. Upton on the bench, the Braves were banking on lesser names helping their cause against the Dodgers. It didn’t work in Game 1, as both left fielder Evan Gattis and second baseman Elliot Johnson had key misplays in the 6-1 loss.

Uggla and Upton are the Braves’ two highest-paid players, but the Braves are willingly going without both. It’s hard to argue against the decision considering those two hit .179 and .184, respectively, this season. Still, the Braves gave up defense in the outfield by playing Gattis, and it showed as he dove for and missed A.J. Ellis’s RBI double in the second.

Johnson, on the other hand, is in there because he’s a better defender than Uggla (and hopefully not any worse offensively). But he failed to haul in Carl Crawford’s grounder to begin the third. Adrian Gonzalez later hit a two-run homer with two outs. Johnson wasn’t charged with an error, but he’ll be the first to say he should have made the play.

On offense, Gattis did contribute a bloop single and and a couple of walks. Johnson went hitless.

Personally, I thought Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez should have handled September differently. After Upton’s horrible start to the year, he was in and out of the lineup the rest of the way. Gonzalez never benched him for long, but there was always that threat hanging over Upton’s head; anytime he put up a couple of 0-fors, he knew he’d sit for the next day or two.

With the Braves’ NL East lead in hand, Gonzalez should have gone to both Upton and Uggla and told them they’d be lineup fixtures for at least a couple of weeks, no matter what happened. Give these guys, who have been everyday players their entire careers, the chance to sink or swim. If they sunk, fine; the Braves still had the second half of September to let Gattis find his rhythm at the plate (Johnson has no rhythm).

When Upton came to the plate as a pinch-hitter against Clayton Kershaw tonight, it was his first at-bat in eight days. His last hit came all of the way back on Sept. 12. There was no reason at all to think he’d succeed.

Uggla, who returned from eye surgery on Aug. 28, did get a little flurry of playing time in the end, coming after a spell in which he started one game in nine days. He was lousy. He may well have been lousy anyway. Upton, too. But I don’t think Gonzalez put them in the best position to succeed.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.