Originally posted at The Bravesologist

This season, the Atlanta Braves are in first place despite getting close to no offensive production from their shortstop and center-field positions.

Their rookie right fielder, while productive for the first two months, has been a weak spot since the beginning June when Jason Heyward first injured his thumb.

To top it off, the right-handed portion of their left-field platoon has been injured for a majority of the season.

Most teams would be buried if two talents like Nate McLouth and Yunel Escobar flopped in the first half, but not a Bobby Cox team.

With the Braves being hurt by injuries and poor play at many different positions, it is surprising that this offense can still be as potent as it is.

The key components to keeping the offense productive have been Omar Infante, Eric Hinske, Brooks Conrad, David Ross, and to an extent, Melky Cabrera.

Hinske has moved into the left-handed role in the left-field platoon, and although he has slumped lately, he has produced well.

The flexibility of both Infante and Cabrera has also helped in covering up the problems the Braves have faced in the outfield.

Cabrera’s best suited as a fourth outfielder and not everyday play.

Since being removed from everyday play in left field against righties, Cabrera has seen his production increase.

After having an awful May, Cabrera has been at least league average in on-base abilities since, which is all you can really ask for from a fourth outfielder.

Infante has played everywhere in the field and his play so far this month has made up for Heyward’s absence from the top of the lineup. Infante has had either two hits or two RBI in each of the Braves wins this month.

Last night, both shined in the victory and even hit back-to-back home runs to give the Braves the lead. As surprising as that is, it isn’t surprising that the Braves bench has been key in the first half of the season.

In the past, Cox has gotten Lonnie Smith, Brian Hunter, Deion Sanders, Charlie O’Brien, Tony Graffanino, Gerald Williams, Eddie Perez, Randall Simon, Wes Helms, Matt Franco, Julio Franco, Mark DeRosa, Eli Marrero, Wilson Betemit, Charles Thomas, and Ryan Langerhans to all provide offensive value from the bench during the Braves run of 14 straight division titles.

Those players never had much more production after, if any, in other places aside from DeRosa and, to a marginal extent, Tony Graffanino. These players weren’t the reasons for the Braves success, but their production gave the team a great boost, for sure.

The ability to have flexible players who can fill in and produce when called upon gives a team the ability to adapt when poor play or injuries do occur.

Baseball is a random sport.

Some players have off years when they are expected to perform well and the reasons vary from player to player. This has happened this season and it has happened in the past.

While the ’90s Braves avoided the injury bug for the most part, there were cases when players were called upon, and they performed even better than expected.

One thing Bobby Cox has always been able to do is get the most out of his fringe starters and bench players. I’ve stated this on numerous occasions in the past and even before this season.

Hinske, Matt Diaz, Ross, Infante, Cabrera, and Conrad make for a very productive group that are far from black holes when put into the lineup.

Each has a niche, whether it is plate patience, defensive flexibility, power, or the ability to hit a pitcher with a certain handedness well.

While it is easy to criticize some of Bobby Cox’s in-game management decisions and bullpen decisions, as I most definitely have done, he puts his backups in positions to succeed.

Infante’s career OPS+ is 87, but with the Braves it is right at 100 over 773 plate appearances. In 234 plate appearances over the past two seasons, David Ross has an OPS+ of 124 and has 21 extra-base hits.

Diaz was nothing until he came to the Braves, and now he has a 111 OPS+ over 1368 plate appearances.

The bench management is the most overlooked part of Bobby Cox’s game. The Braves won because of pitching in the ’90s, but what they also got great performances from unexpected players.

Cox knows how to utilize them the correct way and get more out them than any other manager. When looking back on Bobby’s career, there is probably nothing he did better than manage his bench players and fringe starters.

Regardless of whom he had on the bench, he made sure that they were ready to play and ready to produce, which has helped get the Braves to October in the past and certainly looks like it will help them get there once again this year.


You can find more from Ben at The Bravesologist, Talking Chop, or on his twitter @Ben_Duronio

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com