After 51 games, or nearly one-third of the way through the season, the Braves have been something less than predictable.
They have winning records against Philadelphia and San Francisco. But they are a combined 4-8 against Washington, Arizona and Los Angeles. They have pitched and defended impressively (No. 2 in the majors in ERA at 2.97, No. 3 in fielding percentage at .988). But they have struggled at the plate, hitting .242 (24th overall) with 377 strikeouts (fifth most), when offense wasn’t expected to be a problem.
Words like flow and rhythm don’t come to mind.
Let’s assume the Braves are still as good as most believed coming into this season. It’s possible that this is nothing more than common early season hiccups, and at some point there will be a market correction.
But could it be that the transition in managers, from Bobby Cox to Fredi Gonzalez, actually is causing a little bit of an adjustment period?
I realize this isn’t football. It’s not like Gonzalez is burning the old playbook and switching from the wishbone to the run-and-shoot. He’s certainly not unfamiliar with most of the players, or they with him. Gonzalez coached here. He coached for Cox. But considering Cox had managed the previous 21 seasons in Atlanta, it’s not a stretch to think there’s some kind of impact when a player looks down at the end of the bench and sees Gonzalez instead of the old Buddha sitting there.
General manager Frank Wren agrees, but only to an extent. He acknowledges everybody is going through an adjustment, but he doesn’t believe it has affected the Braves’ offense or overall play.
“I think the transition is more with us thinking in terms of, ‘What’s the next move [by Gonzalez]?’” Wren said. “We watched Bobby manage for so long, we knew what the next move was going to be.
“Obviously, our team hasn’t really found a rhythm yet, but I really like the way Fredi has managed the team. A lot of people are uncomfortable with change. Bobby was masterful at running a game, but that doesn’t mean things Fredi is doing are wrong. There are just different ways of doing things.”
When asked about his comment that some people are “uncomfortable with change” and whether that has affected the players, Wren said, “I don’t think so. I really don’t think it’s impacted the players as much as it has people like us. Fredi’s a really good communicator so I don’t think anybody is real surprised by anything he’s done.
“Hitters hit. The fact is, if hitters were functioning and playing at the levels we expected, the manager wouldn’t have a lot to do. Fredi has had to create some situations for hitters because we haven’t scored runs like we expected. The manager is more involved when the team is struggling than when it’s rolling.”
The Braves are 17th in the majors in runs scored. They’ve scored three or fewer runs in 25 of 51 games, two or less in 17. Their on-base percentage of .308 ranks 25th in the majors. They’re also last in stolen bases (eight). That’s a little surprising given the expectation that Gonzalez would have players run more, but as Wren said, “You can have a more wide open offense when you have a two- or three-run lead. We’re fighting for a run to get a lead. You don’t want to lose base runners.”
Then again, if Dan Uggla wasn’t hitting .180 — and .128 with runners in scoring position — all of this analysis might not be necessary.
Wren conceded that Uggla is feeling pressure. “It’s an extraordinary change in your life when you sign a big contract, sign with the hometown team or the team where you wanted to go play,” he said. “There are additional pressures on the guy. But it’ll run its course and he’ll be fine.”
So, probably, will the Braves. But to this point, they’ve been a team out of sync.
By Jeff Schultz
Last 3 posts