ATLANTA (AP) — Manager Fredi Gonzalez knows the Atlanta Braves have a few batting problems to correct if they're going win the NL East for the first time in eight years.
The Braves are striking out at an alarming rate, particularly with runners in scoring position. They've been shut out in 11 games after getting blanked just 13 times all last season.
And they're just 4-25 without a home run, a potential pitfall if they reach the postseason and face a loaded pitching staff.
Even so, Gonzalez isn't about to start complaining. Atlanta is 6½ games ahead of Washington in the division, owns the majors' best home record and has rallied for 23 comeback wins to lead the NL.
"We couldn't be in a better place, really," Gonzalez said. "Here we are complaining — there's not a perfect team out there — but we're in first place. We're pitching good and we feel like we haven't swung the bats like we're capable of swinging, so you feel good. It's a good place to be."
With the Braves beginning a three-game home series on Tuesday against the woeful Miami Marlins, the team is looking for more improvement at the plate.
Even after sweeping three games from NL West-leading Arizona last weekend, Atlanta is still hitting just .227 with runners in scoring position, worst in the league. Their strikeout total is the majors' second-highest.
Second baseman Dan Uggla, left fielder Justin Upton and center fielder B.J. Upton all rank in the top seven in NL strikeouts, but Justin Upton points out that the lineup and bench have shown a knack for picking each other up when somebody else is struggling.
First baseman Freddie Freeman has been the most consistent hitter this year, and the Braves got an unexpected boost when 26-year-old rookie Evan Gattis made the team in spring training and earned NL rookie of the month honors in April and May.
Gattis has missed 12 games with a right oblique strain and his timetable to return is uncertain, but Upton is confident Atlanta will still succeed. That certainly was the case when Heyward, Freeman and catcher Brian McCann spent time on the disabled list earlier this year.
"Yeah, when we've been missing with some injuries, but we've had that one hot guy and everybody else contributing," Upton said. "It's kind of helped get us to this point. I think down the stretch we really need everybody to be comfortable, like it's been the last few days, to get a run from anybody."
Heyward is batting .321 with five homers and 10 RBIs in his last 26 games after struggling with a .153 average in his first 32 games.
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