With the majority of the blame for the Atlanta Braves late-season collapse attributed to a lack of hitting and some poor pitching performances, some of the blame for the Braves missing the post season can be placed on something out of the team's control: injuries to key players.
Of the injured Braves, three notable stars, Brian McCann, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, were unable to perform and play up to their potential because of various lingering and season-ending injuries.
McCann, the victim of a mid season oblique injury that stayed with him for much of the second half, was noticeably different at the plate during the Braves late-season action. After a first half that saw McCann gain the nod as the starting catcher in the 2011 MLB All-Star game, the Braves catcher had a dismal second half as he could never fully recover from the lingering injury.
In the first half of 2011, many experts were mentioning McCann in NL MVP talks after recording a .310 batting average with 91 hits, including 15 doubles and 15 home runs, as well as 50 RBI. McCann also accumulated a .381 on-base percentage to go along with an outstanding .514 slugging percentage. However, he missed 16 games after straining his oblique on July 26 and never fully returned to form. After returning from injury, McCann hit just .203 in the second half with just 35 hits, including four doubles and nine home runs, as well as 21 RBI. The biggest tell of the injury's effect on the All-Star catcher can be seen in McCann's .301 on-base percentage but more noticeably with his dismal .384 slugging percentage.
"I felt like I let everybody down," said McCann. "I'm a guy that hits in the middle of the order, that's supposed to drive in runs, and the way I performed wasn't very good."
Along with the injury to the Braves best offensive performer, two of their top three pitchers were shut down before season's end with injuries of their own. Jurrjens was sidelined all of September with a strained knee and Hanson missed August and September with a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder.
Jurrjens was the ace of the Atlanta staff before the All-Star break after posting a 12-3 record with 1.87 ERA. In 16 starts, he recorded 65 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .229 batting average. Jurrjens second half started rocky as he posted a 1-3 record in his first four starts but the All-Star pitcher had begun to show signs of life before straining his knee in late August.
Hanson recorded 10 wins in the seasons first half but also started the second half on a 1-3 pace before tearing his rotator cuff on August 6.
With the Braves top two pitchers shut down for the season's final month, in Hanson's case the final two months, the Braves had to rely on pitchers Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and a handful of other young pitchers with little to now late-season experience.
The silver lining in all of this injury news is that each player will have a full offseason to rehab and get stronger in hope of leading the Braves to another run toward the postseason, this time one that will hopefully end with Atlanta playing deep into October.
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