Braves have lost the benefit of the doubt

Like this grounder to Omar Infante, everything with the Braves today seems out of reach.

Much like this ground ball to second baseman Omar Infante, everything with the Braves these days seem just out of reach. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

They have a left fielder hitting .171 but turning down rehab assignments, a Japanese pitcher who looks out of his league, a catcher who can’t see, a legend who can’t throw and a rookie starter who’s on pace for over 200 strikeouts, which would be great if we were talking about Jordan Schafer as a pitcher, not a hitter.

Still bubbling over with enthusiasm about your Atlanta Braves?

They started the season 5-1. They were 6-14 since, heading into Wednesday night’s game at Florida. They dropped consecutive home games to the struggling New York Mets, and in Tuesday’s loss committed two errors and hit into three double plays. Manager Bobby Cox scooped up the remains of starting pitcher Kenshin Kawakami after five innings, which seemed wise given Kawakami was on a pace to throw 203.4 pitches.

If Kawakami were being paid by the pitch, his $23 million contract would seem like a bargain. Instead, it looks like the second cousin of Mike Hampton’s contract.

It sure would be nice if Brian McCann could see again. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

It sure would be nice if catcher Brian McCann (eye infection) could see again. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

It’s only May. The possibilities are endless. Injuries heal. Hitters get hot. Bad luck evens out. Who knows? Maybe one day, somebody will even ship Brian McCann glasses that actually have two corrective lenses in them instead of one (as happened Tuesday).

But ask yourself this: Given that so much went right for the Braves over 14 straight seasons, did you ever think this might be the market correction?

“Eventually some good things have to start happening,” Chipper Jones said.

And then this: “I once told one of my good friends in baseball, ‘We’ll get ’em next time.’ Then he dropped an expletive and basically said, ‘Screw that, I wanted to get ’em this time.’ That’s how we all feel. We’re living for today. We’re hoping today is what turns it. It just seems when we put ourselves in a good situation, we self-destruct or something unlucky happens.”

Problem is, good baseball teams don’t self-destruct. Franchises certainly aren’t defined by luck. They are defined by personnel decisions, player development and, unfortunately, economic agendas.

If the Braves don’t turn it around, they will fail to reach the playoffs for the fourth straight season. That’s not luck. That’s definition.

The fizzled trades and free agent rejections of this past off-season are well known. Maybe expecting to make it back to October with so many second choices was too much to expect.

Garret Anderson — summoned after the Ken Griffey Jr. signing unraveled — has struggled with a calf injury. He rejected a minor-league assignment that was meant to help him find his swing. So he returned Tuesday against the Mets and went 0-for-4, stranded three base runners and hit into a double play. He was batting cleanup.

Does this sound like the backdrop for a turnaround?

The Braves rank 26th in the majors in runs, 23rd in hits, 24th in home runs and 27th in total bases. Defense has been mediocre. Overall, pitching has been solid. But Kawakami (1-4, 6.41 ERA) has been an early bust, Tom Glavine has yet to throw a pitch and reliever Blaine Boyer was punted to St. Louis two weeks ago.

Manager Bobby Cox reacts as he always does, with a positive: “We’re only 3 ½ back.”

General manager Frank Wren, who put this team together, harps on injuries. When asked if the season has been a letdown, he said: “We all feel like we’ve left some games out there we could’ve won if we had our full club together.”

There are built-in assumptions there. But assumptions go down easier when a team is coming off a string of post-seasons, not declining win totals. Maybe now, this is the norm.

161 comments Add your comment

Little Mary Sunshine

May 6th, 2009
2:54 pm

It’s only mid-May, Jeff. Put on your happy face. The season is still young.

mountain_jim

May 6th, 2009
3:03 pm

just waiting for football season myself…

Nativebird

May 6th, 2009
3:12 pm

When Casey Kotchman is your “RBI producing power hitting” First baseman…you have to look into the mirror as a GM and ask, who am I kidding?

You are spot on. Personnel decisions and economic agenda.

both are not conducive to winning in Atlanta.

Left to Right

May 6th, 2009
3:14 pm

As the Braves no longer have one of the highest paying payrolls in baseball, and as they no longer have 3 Hall of Fame pitchers in their starting lineup (including perhaps the best ever), they are going to have to do things the way so many other losing professional teams have done things-by rebuilding from the ground up. This means no more trading of promising players for ultimately futile runs. I know C. Jones wants to win now because his playing career is coming to an end, but unfortunately I just don’t think there are any quick fixes to the Braves problems.

matt_T

May 6th, 2009
3:18 pm

“Garret Anderson — summoned after the Ken Griffey Jr. signing unraveled — has struggled with a calf injury. ”

Griffey isn’t doing much better in Seattle. If they can’t swing a trade for a power hitting LF, just cut Anderson and play Brandon Jones or Diaz.

Johnson

May 6th, 2009
3:19 pm

The Braves were the best regular season team of the 90’s but where it counted were tied for the 3rd best team behind NY, Toronto, and tied with the likes of Cinci, Minn, and FL. Braves made it to 5 World Series and won 1. Winning 3 or more would make this down cycle a bit easier to take. Not striking while the iron was hot is the travesty here. Unfortunately, the players (besides Smoltz) were drinking the Cox koolaide and never seemed disappointed with the poor outcomes in the postseason.

NC Braves Fan

May 6th, 2009
3:21 pm

Perhaps worse than the W-L record at this point is how absolutely unwatchable this team is right now. They look like a collection of zombies out there.

Football Ken

May 6th, 2009
3:38 pm

Jeff,

Enuff is enuff. We REAL Braves fans can’t take this anymore. Get Kelly(cost you 3 games a year cuz of errors) Johnson outta here. Get Garret (my prime wuz 5 years ago) Anderson outta here. Tired of our eternal hope for the bullpen. When will our “reluctant supastar”(10) light a fire under his teammates. Do I dare state the obvoious, time for Bobby to go. He has lost this team with his “ho hum” even keeled approach. Wren doesn’t have a clue, have you seen Andrus with the Rangers, kid’s a stud. This reminds this native ATLien of the old days and old Braves. We can’t hit for power, can’t steal bases, it’s like if you make it to the bigs with this team, fundamentals go out the window. Going to be a long summer.

Simple Really

May 6th, 2009
3:43 pm

Here come the whiners….wah, wah, wah. It’s barely freakin’ May.

lawton

May 6th, 2009
3:43 pm

CHIPPER JONES. thats one problem everybody is ignoring. not chipper HIMSELF, but the fact that chipper shouldve been traded long ago for a topline starting pitcher. who cares about the drop off in production in the middle, they are not going anywhere with him here, so, rebuild a top notch pitching staff, restock the minor league and stop trying to build the team around the long ball (bobby cox). thats why they got only one world championship in the first place, not building around run manufacturing and team speed. if they dont hit a homerun in the right situation with men on base they lose. not a good way to build a team. they are the equivalent of a nba team that shoots 3 pointers all the time.

G State Ben

May 6th, 2009
3:52 pm

Fizzled trades? Wren looks like a genius. Peavy is 2-3 with an ERA of 4.58 and is on pace to walk a career high in batters. Braves would have given up Escobar, Gorkys Hernandez, Boyer and Charlie Morton. I’ll keep the kids thank you very much.

G State Ben

May 6th, 2009
3:54 pm

Andrus a Stud? Huh? .264, 1 HR, 4 RBI is not exactly killing it. His defense is great but seriously.

TRobb1

May 6th, 2009
3:55 pm

Actually, the pitching is very good. Really solid. Even Ho-Ho has looked good. If Kawakami can keep the ball down, it’s excellent.

But the hitting? Madre, dios mio… In November, Wren said he needed two pitchers and a major bat. He was exactly right, ’cause a bopper would get that lineup over the critical mass line. Instead, he bought three pitchers, one of whom was unneccesary, and a minor bat who hasn’t played and isn’t much better than the guy he shares time with.

I’m not sure who the committee was that decided to sign/trade for three pitchers and fill left with a spare part, but if it’s Wren, it’s almost a pink slip. We’ve got a roster full of seventh place hitters.

Jeff Schultz

May 6th, 2009
4:09 pm

Sunshine — this is my happy face.

Left to right — agreed. I think Chipper’s more likely to vent than anybody else because he knows his window is closing.

MattT — yeah, didn’t mean to imply that Griffey would’ve been the savior. I think they’ll give anderson a while, though, before they make a change.

FootballKen — you can’t just subtract, you’ve got to add. the problem is nobody’s really making trades right now. It’s too early. so they’re kinda stuck for a while.

TRobb — “a roster full of seventh place hitters.” yeah, that kind of sums it up right now.

Al Beeski

May 6th, 2009
4:21 pm

Gee everybody chill out! give em more than a month, of course JUST ABOUT EVERYBODY IS RIGHT ON THIS BLOg. But c’mon Frankie baby, you GOT 2 get more power out of your RF & 1B, methinks the pitching will be OK, but we’ve got 2 get some protection for Mac & Hoss and Anderson & Kotchman **are not** the answers. Wren did a decent job considering the financial constraints, but c’mon Frank u could of did better than this, I’d rather have 2 youngsters w/ power who can produce than a has been (garrett) and a never was (kotchman).

CLTDawg

May 6th, 2009
4:27 pm

It is sad to see how far we have fallen. I had season tickets in the 90’s before I left for college and have always been and will always be a Braves fan, but something needs to change. I am hoping that Liberty decides to sell the team and maybe someone who has a passion for the game (a Mark Cuban type or Cuban himself) will snatch them up and do what it takes to win. Until then, we are likely looking up at the rest of the division.

We had a great run, but we cannot keep looking to the past for help. Time to move forward.

Leland

May 6th, 2009
4:29 pm

Dear Mr. JS–good article, but not funny. Your pal, Leland

Plato

May 6th, 2009
4:37 pm

Let’s hear no more whining about payroll. The Braves have four times the payroll of Florida and they are looking up at the Marlins in the standings–just like last year. Also, their injury problems Wren is crying about are no worse than other teams.

matt r

May 6th, 2009
4:54 pm

CLTDawg… That someone is Arthur Blank who has made inquiries before. We just need those inquiries to come to fruition.

The Grinch

May 6th, 2009
4:55 pm

Josh Anderson’s hitting over .300 leading off for Detroit and has more stolen bases than our entire team. Last year in the majors, he hit almost .300 with a touch of power and 11 stolen bases in limited duty; it isn’t exactly a surprise. You think we could have benefited from starting him and giving Schaeffer a few more months in the minors? Yes, I said the same thing when the season started.

The only positive I see is Tex getting exposed for the mercenary fraud he is on the big stage. It makes me smile.

Paul H

May 6th, 2009
5:04 pm

The last 3 years I have asked “when’s football season” around July. Now I’m asking it now. When’s football season?

Mike

May 6th, 2009
5:06 pm

Seriously – these guys are a joke. How could you not look at this lineup at the beginning of the year and not laugh? Garret Anderson? Please. K Johnson has been regressing since day one. Power at 1B? None to speak of. The only good thing about our lineup is Chipper has not taken a trip to the DL, but of course that is offset by McCann. At least Schafer can…..well he’s young at least so maybe by the time were 15 games out he’ll come around.
How many games left? Ugh.

Joey

May 6th, 2009
5:17 pm

Mountain Jim, Why not just get off the baseball blog????

JD

May 6th, 2009
5:20 pm

Jeff – I mentioned on Dave O’Brien’s blog that we want to see sportswriters putting more heat on Bobby, TP, and co. It’s obvious there’s a problem with management, but it seems like Bobby’s going to live until he’s 100…and insist on managing the Braves until he dies.

The average fan reveres Bobby for his 14 consecutive division titles, and are blind to how poor his managing has become. We need a change, and I’m hoping sports writers will start calling out management (namely Bobby and Pendleton).

JD

May 6th, 2009
5:22 pm

I don’t see how you can blame the offensive woes on McCann’s abscence. The Braves are collectively hitting .250 as a team. McCann returning won’t help his teammates get on base any (except Chipper).

mike arnone

May 6th, 2009
5:25 pm

I agree with The Grinch. What a mistake it was trading Josh Anderson. Believe me I felt the same about Schafer. I didn’t think he was ready, despite ripping it up in spring trading.

Joey

May 6th, 2009
5:30 pm

The Grinch, Amen to the line about Tex. I love seeing him struggle in the Big Apple. He is absolutely the product of statistics. I remember a Ranger fan from Texas warning us to be wary of the mercenary getting hot after the races were over, and hitting homeruns with no runners on base. But, how many stolen bases would Josh Anderson have playing for Bobby Cox?

concerned fan

May 6th, 2009
5:31 pm

The Braves are a soft ball club. They are not without talent, but they lack that competitive chromosome we became use to seeing in the 14-year run. Yes we had all those Cy Young winners, but we also had players who could delivery the clutch hit…at least during the regular season. Chipper is a great player but a lousy leader. Many fans hated Justice for his big mouth, but he was a leader and he got it done when it counted the most.

We also have to look at how the Braves are drafting and developing players. As someone mentioned above, we seem to develop 5th, 6th, 7th place hitters and not much else. We don’t seem to draft speedy players or even athletic players. Big, tall, big swinging,can’t bunt, slow, guys are what we produce now.

I have never been a Bobby Cox basher because to me the man’s record speaks for itself. But I really think that he and his staff is not getting the most out of the players on a consistent enough basis. It is clear that either we change staffs, or it’s time to cut bait on some players(like the right side of our infield).

old fart

May 6th, 2009
5:36 pm

Season’s over boys and girls. It’s another battle for third place.

Kenny Gannon

May 6th, 2009
5:37 pm

Looks like the 90s will be the golden years and the exception rather than the rule. We’re back to the crummy Braves of yore only now we have to endure it with Skip, Pete and Ernie. That makes me really not care. And without TBS nobody else cares either–outside of ATL. Braves are old news and a small market team getting smaller and smaller.

Kenny Gannon

May 6th, 2009
5:38 pm

Without Skip, Pete and Ernie I meant.

it's early

May 6th, 2009
5:41 pm

Many of the years where the Bravos won the division, April and early May were bleak. It’s early, don’t panic. We’ve gottta get Mac back, that’ll help Chipper, and lay off of Kotch…we knew he wasn’t a power guy. He’s a good hitter who gets on base, its up to others to drive him in. Part of that is included in a healthy Mac protecting Chipper. Garrett is not the answer, now was Griffey. They both will spend much of the season hurt. The final few Schuerholtz years hurt us as he traded way too much away to rent players for a season or so. Kelly has to hit or get off the pot (nice, huh?)
And finally, Bobby has to figure out how to manage to manufacture runs. We are not a three run homer team anymore, and he is not a small ball manager.

concerned fan

May 6th, 2009
5:58 pm

Why does Matt Diaz get a pass and all the blame goes to Garret Anderson? This town just does not care for African-Americans on it’s baseball team does it?And if they are they get zero benefit of the doubt. Even Shultz repeats thelie that Garret Anderson “refused” a rehab assignment and no one bothered to correct him.Why did you not tell the truth Mr. Shultz?

Garret Anderson said he felt that he didn’t need a rehab assignment when given a choice. Chipper has done the same thing when returning from his many DL stints but no one had a problem when he exercised his choice not to go on a rehab assignment in the minors.

Garret Anderson is going to be the player he’s always been when all is said and done.

61 year Braves Fan

May 6th, 2009
6:18 pm

Time to replace Cox and his entire staff. I said it last year. This team is very poor in fundamentals, has no spark, no stealing, no hit & run, Shafer should go back to minors. Cox should know Vasquez
is a great 5 inning pitcher and bring in someone to start the 6th. Just check his history gets hit 3rd
time around batting order. Kelly is a woeful 2nd baseman. Play Prado there and Infante in left field
every day. Escobar & Francouer still not patient enough at plate and swing at to many pitches out of the strike zone. Blame Terry P. for this. It will be a long summer.

Einstein

May 6th, 2009
6:27 pm

Our pitchers can’t make the pitch when they have to, our hitters can’t hit when the game’s on the line, we wouldn’t know speed from speedo, and our manager is still managing like it’s a shutout and we need a home run. Folks, it’s time to retire these clowns, because they’re not going to go on their on…”when they pry their cold, dead fingers from the paycheck”. If not more mediocrity and same old, same old.

Coach (2010 or bust)

May 6th, 2009
6:41 pm

This is by far the slowest team in the entire 44 year history of the Braves in Atlanta, Georgia.

That should be a clue because professional baseball teams should be able to run the bases.

This one can’t, they have no running game to speak of. The obvious is evident in that statement.

BravesAreDone

May 6th, 2009
6:41 pm

Ridiculous to not accept the minor league assignment. What a joke this whole team is…but I knew that before the season even got started.

ProfFish

May 6th, 2009
6:51 pm

Sorry, but it is time to panic. At the start of the season I blogged that we need career years from most of our position players to score enough runs to win consistently. I also said the key to starting pitching wasn’t innings pitched, but the number of times starting pitchers left after six innings having given up two runs or less. Finally, I said that to expect all three key relievers to be back performing at a high level wasn’t realistic.

I think all three comments are still accurate, and the early results aren’t promising. Many of our position players are having career years–career worst years. Our starting pitching has been good on average, but too many games have been turned over to the bullpen with the Braves trailing. And none of the “big three” in the bullpen has been exceptional. All have looked good at times, but all have looked terrible at times, especially Moylan.

Mr. Bisher had a great column about a week ago, pointing out the failures of the Braves’ vaunted farm system. Despite the continued high ratings, what position players have reached the All-Star level? Brian McCann starts and finishes the list and he’s the most over-rated player in baseball. He doesn’t play enough or produce enough to carry a team like the great catchers of the past.

Unless anf until the Braves farm system generates two or three all-start caliber position players, we’ll be fans of a team that will be lucky to win half its games.

woodie

May 6th, 2009
7:41 pm

The Braves aren’t very good at doing the little things like bunting or stealing bases. Remember the Cardinals with Vince Coleman and the other speed-burners? They won because they manufactured runs and played good defense.

Alan

May 6th, 2009
7:42 pm

It all comes back to the top echelon, Frank, Bobby and the ownership.

Bobby as good as he was seems to be out of touch with reality, the game and the atheletes seems to have passed him by, I see little hope, I would like to see them prove me wrong.

turkey

May 6th, 2009
8:05 pm

61 year Braves Fan, amen. This team has absoultly no spark just going through the motions. The Braves will finish dead last.

Larry

May 6th, 2009
8:08 pm

“The game passed Bobby by” in 1983 when Joe Torre took the same players to a division title. The ONLY reason Bobby took 14 consecutive teams to division titles was the masterful work of the General Manager and expert player development and scouting. However, once there, you need a smart in-game, strategic manager to out manage your opponent in the short series and this is why Bobby is 1-14 all time in the last game (and series) of the postseason. Simply put, without shutout pitching and a three run homer, Bobby hasn’t a clue, but he is clearly the best all time at mining his left nostril with his right thumb and barking out silly little nicknames to grown men.

Shamus Thacker

May 6th, 2009
8:13 pm

Garret Anderson STINKS!!

Hope the Braves can find a way to let him go that’s appropriately humiliating. He’s a damned stiff!

Shamus Thacker

May 6th, 2009
8:19 pm

Coach, your observation about the Braves speed is encouraging.

I thought they were the slowest team in the history of ORGANIZED SPORT.

I stand corrected, and relieved…

PMC

May 6th, 2009
9:09 pm

Garrett looks pretty good tonight. I still think he was a good get by Wren.

I still think Wren did pretty well this offseason with what he had to work with. They don’t have the Marlins farm system. They did trade away lots of talent for Tex and then fail to capitalise while they had him. They have though been quietly amassing some minor league talent through drafts and trades the last several years.

Ultimately, how upset can we be that they are struggling when we can all see the lack of talent compared to the old 90’s teams.

They are only 3.5 back. They will compete and still likely finish where they belong talent wise in 4th. Even with everyone healthy the lineup isn’t scary in the least. The bullpen is spray and pray and the starters once Huddy is back… pretty solid.

At best this team is 85 wins or so. That would be a good year for this bunch. It’s unfortunate but that’s what we’ve got this year. It’s really a good thing they didn’t make a talent reducing short term acquisition this year. They should benifit in the long run… It’s just unfortunate that they have not really competed since 2001 or maybe even 1999 when they were outclassed by the Yankees.

Jeff Schultz

May 6th, 2009
9:13 pm

JD – I understand your point but I don’t believe people go from a good manager/coach to a bad manager/coach overnight. I think it’s more the players than the coaching.

Concerned fan – you really making this a race issue? Anderson was acquired to be the starter. That’s why he’s getting more heat than Diaz. If Diaz was the intended started, the team never would’ve signed Anderson. … as for the rehab assignment, of course it was his choice. that’s in the collective bargaining agreement. but it’s unusual that he said no when asked.

Coach: I agree. the team needs more speed and needs to run more to help[ produce runs.

Jeff Schultz

May 6th, 2009
9:15 pm

Question to the masses: Is the anti-Bobby Cox faction growing? Just curious.

Michael

May 6th, 2009
9:26 pm

Is there anybody in this lineup, on this team, who could hit 30 homers? That’s part of your main problem. If you don’t have enough power, you don’t get those cheapo runs that can win you a few one-run games. Without McCann, the lineup is just mediocre. Francoeur has turned it around, but he’s still not a big bopper. Big sticks cost money, and that’s what it will take.

[...] Braves have lost the benefit of the doubt | Jeff Schultz Good read on the current state of this franchise. [...]

FireCox

May 6th, 2009
9:38 pm

The Braves have showed that they aren’t serious about winning by not making a change with their manager. Cox is obviously just taking it easy during his last season before retirement. The man should’ve been fired during the 90’s when he team choked in the post-season every year.

And I honestly don’t think most Braves fans realize that this is professional sports- you are either working toward a championship or you should geting rid of everyone and rebuilding. The Braves haven’t been in the mix for a World Series in ten years.