Frank Wren spent Wednesday at a high school game, coughing from pollen that triggers his allergies. That night, the Braves lost their eighth straight game in St. Louis, coughing from their apparent allergy — the other team.
They can’t hit long. They can’t hit short. Some nights they can’t field. Some nights they forget to tag up. Usually, they can pitch pretty well, although St. Louis hung 10 on them Thursday and there are some nights when Derek Lowe looks like he’s allergic to mounds.
When the Braves broke spring training, they looked like a possible playoff team. Now they have the second-worst record in baseball.
What is Wren doing about it? Nothing. Not trading. Not panicking. Not even twitching. Just waiting for the rain to wash away the pollen.
He will tell you the Braves have the advantage of time. But don’t even baseball time frames get shortened when a team has its longest losing steak since 2006 (the same year this non-playoff string began)?
“You can go from last place to first place pretty quickly this time of year,” he said. “I know everybody is jumping off the ship now. But this is like if the Falcons had played two games. We’ve only played one-eighth of the season.”
The math is accurate. But in the NFL, nobody asks, “When is the last time we lost two in a row?” When losing streaks are being researched, there’s a problem.
The Braves lost Thursday, 10-4. That makes nine straight. One more and marketing is going to have to start including lobster with the all-you-can-eat seats.
Their record is 8-14. They’ve been outscored 16-4 in the last two days. Total offense in the nine losses: 17 runs (including three shutouts).
Wren is preaching patience. If he is having a hard time finding support, it’s because that philosophy carries more weight when the preacher has a resume. The Braves have missed the playoffs four straight seasons. Wren is 0 for 3 since taking over. When the team hit a bump during John Schuerholz’ regime, it was easy to remain calm. Wren hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt.
The leadoff spot figured to be a problem. It is. Chipper Jones’ health and production figured to be questions. They are. Troy Glaus figured to be a risk. Confirmation received. Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera – it doesn’t end.
It was easy during the 10-game losing streak in 2006. You could look into the bullpen and say, “Their fault.”
Now, the problems are everywhere. Every day is a new Bobby Cox lineup. Wednesday included six starters hitting .203 or less. Thursday’s lineup opened with Cabrera and Yunel Escobar, both hitting .197. (The blip is Martin Prado. He has no allergies.)
Wren said he is free to make a trade. He said, “We have some flexibility in our payroll,” though he didn’t quantify that.
“The other factor [in a trade] is how it affects us talent-wise. We have a farm system that we’re carefully stocking. We don’t want to do something that will lessen our ability to compete long term.”
It’s at this point that I mention the name: Mark Teixeira. In 2007, the Braves dealt a boatload of prospects to Texas for Teixeira. They hoped he would turn them into a World Series team. He didn’t. The thought occurs that memories of that deal would dissuade the Braves from making a significant prospects-for-All-Star trade again. (San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez comes to mind.) But Wren said no.
“The Teixeira trade hasn’t impacted us at all,” he said. “If you look at the players we gave up, I’m not sure it’s had any effect on the major league club. We had Escobar ahead of [Elvis] Andrus at shortstop, we had [Brian] McCann ahead of [Jarrod] Saltalamacchia at catcher, the other guys wouldn’t have made our club. Neftali Feliz would be in our bullpen.”
So you wouldn’t be gun shy?
“No, not at all. We’ll make a trade if we feel it helps us.” But he added he won’t deal a prospect whom he feels can be part of the Braves’ future. That list presumably begins with Freddie Freeman.
It’s the end of April. General managers “tend to look at the quarter-poll,” Wren said. “Mid-May is when you start to get a sense where your club is. Really, June 1 is when you start making decisions.”
The math could work out. But if 8-14 turns into 16-28, just remember how early the cough started.