The Braves suffered a major blow in the form of Nick Markakis fracturing his wrist after being struck by a pitch over the weekend. As the Braves try to fill his hole in the lineup, questions surround how this untimely injury will change the look of the Braves lineup.
In Friday’s game, against the Phillies, Cole Irvin, a Phillies reliever, plunked Nick Markakis in the wrist fracturing the wrist in the process. The Braves placed Markakis on the 10-day IL and he’s expected to miss 6-8 weeks. In his five seasons with the Braves, this stint will the first time Markakis has landed on the IL, an incredible mix of luck and good health.
Markakis isn’t the star of this Braves lineup. That attention goes to guys like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman, even Ozzie Albies would be considered more of a vital piece of the lineup than Markakis. However, Markakis has an essential role within the Braves lineup. For most of the season, Markakis has been in the fifth spot, 340 of his 366 ABs have come in the 5th spot. What Markakis provided more than anything was protection for Josh Donaldson, the cleanup hitter. Markakis is so good at putting the bat on the ball, opposing teams couldn’t pitch around Donaldson as much. Now, with his absence comes a big hole is in the middle of the lineup.
After the Markakis injury, the Braves called up Adam Duvall from the AAA team. Duvall, who was acquired in a trade with the Reds last season, has been this season in the minors after a disappointing start to his Braves tenure last season. This season has been a different story for Duvall. In 94 games, Duvall has hit 29 home runs with 84 RBI. Those numbers are more reminiscent of Duvall when he was with the Reds. The Braves are hoping his power streak can continue with the big league club.
Ender Inciarte is another option for the Braves in the outfield. Coming off an injury, Inciarte has missed a big chunk of the season before coming back on July 18th. Inicarte will not, and never will, provide the same kind of offensive production Markakis is capable of, but his defense is what makes Inciarte such a valuable commodity for the Braves. Inciarte once looked like a valuable trade chip, but now seems like the Braves will be willing to keep with the Markakis injury.
There are more options on this team to fill the slot left vacant by Markakis. Ozzie Albies could slot behind Donaldson when Dansby Swanson, another starter, returns to the lineup. Albies has continued to hit for average and power while at the bottom of the lineup for most of the season. Moving up Albies could provide him a new role while giving the Braves the extra protection around Freeman and Donaldson.
Charlie Culberson, another option in the outfield, has provided clutch hits from the bench all season. Culberson even hit a home run last night against the Nationals. Even with his clutch and timely hits from the bench, Culberson could be exposed to be not such a good option if he’s given more and more ABs. Culberson is great to have on the bench, but may not be the best option for an everyday starter.
It seems like the Braves are content with Duvall and Inciarte moving forward. Acuna and Austin Riley will likely take the other two outfield spots with Duvall or Inciarte filling in whatever position is needed. However, Duvall and Inciarte cannot provide the kind of offensive production and consistency that Markakis has brought to this Braves lineup. There is a massive hole in the middle of the Braves order and not a lot of great options to fill that spot.
Even with the uncertainty surrounding the Braves lineup, I do not see the Braves making any moves for an outfielder through a trade. The Braves pitching needs will take precedence over any offensive needs. As of now, the Braves will do their best to fill the hole with the players that are on their roster. Markakis isn’t the flashiest of players, but his contributions can’t go unnoticed. The Braves won’t easily replace their quiet, productive right-fielder.