DH decision key to Braves' lineup outlook

Associated PressAtlanta Braves' Ozzie Albies hits a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning in Game 1 of a baseball National League Championship Series Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Arlington, Texas.

Marcell Ozuna was the last piece of the Atlanta Braves' lineup puzzle heading into spring training. But how Brian Snitker pieces together this puzzle into a lineup card every game still remains to be seen.

Various factors are still at play in how the lineup will be impacted, most notably the designated hitter (DH) rule in the National League. Astonishing as it is, Major League Baseball has yet to formulate a decision on whether the DH will implemented in the Senior Circuit for a second straight year. It was used last year, and was likely the difference to the Braves offense belting 103 homers in 60 games and scoring 348 runs. With Ozuna slotted as the DH and Adam Duvall seeing most of the time in left field, the Braves had a potent lineup.

But if the DH is not utilized in 2021, if pitchers are forced to step back in the batter's box, what does that do to the Braves' lineup? Maybe more importantly, how do the Braves move forward with reigning Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman? He batted in the No. 2 position which guaranteed him more at-bats and better protection from Ozuna, who thrived in his first season with the Bravos. But if there's not an extra hitter and the pitcher returns to batting every game, Freeman may have to move back to his normal No. 3 position to get more RBI opportunities. If that is the case, though, who moves to the No. 2 spot?

The obvious solution is second baseman Ozzie Albies. He was limited to just 29 games and 124 at-bats with a right wrist injury but still managed a .271 batting average with six homers and 21 runs. He is a natural No. 2 hitter. He hits for contact, can get on base and puts pressure on opposing defenses with his speed.

If you leave Freeman in the No. 2 position, then Ozuna bats third. The Braves then don't have a reasonable option at cleanup. 

Hopefully, the Braves and the rest of baseball get an answer soon to the DH. Their lineup hangs in the balance and could be the difference in the Braves duplicating last year's success and one that struggles against the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

The Braves return pretty much the same lineup that battered pitching staffs all of last season. But how they will look game in, game out remains a mystery. Maybe we'll get some clarity after these spring training games. Hope so. Season is just around the corner.

Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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