Braves are fizzling in a season that has never felt right

Can any more meetings solve the Braves' problems, starting with Derek Lowe?

Can any more meetings solve the Braves' problems, starting with Derek Lowe?

(Updated: 11:40 p.m.)

Maybe it was the raised expectations that followed the Dan Uggla trade, or maybe it was the euphoria of an anticipated lineup with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman (the cover of Sports Illustrated!), or maybe it was just the Braves’ return to the playoffs last season that got us all drunk.

But something has been off all season.

Braves general manager Frank Wren said Tuesday, “For most of the season we had the third or fourth best record in baseball, and one of the best pitching staffs.” And that may be true. But there never has been a sense of rhythm to the season. It seems like something always has gone wrong, whether it was Dan Uggla’s half season of whiffs, or Heyward’s post-injury mutant swing, or Martin Prado devolving from all-everything to everything’s-a-struggle, to Derek Lowe — well, let’s not even get started on Derek Lowe — to the injuries to the suddenly mortal tendencies of Craig Kimbrel.

The Braves are an air mattress with holes. Patch one, another opens up.

That team with the “third or fourth” best record in baseball? They have only the eighth-best record today. Since a high-water mark of 79-53, the Braves have gone only 9-14, including Tuesday’s desperately needed 4-0 win at Florida. Philadelphia lapped them in the National League East. Their wild-card lead has been trimmed to 2½ games over St. Louis.

Even with the team’s flaws, there was no way to see this kaputski coming.

Back in February, we were lost in the possibilities.

Back in February, we were lost in the possibilities.

Consider: After an 8-3 win over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 25, the Braves led San Francisco by 9½ games and St. Louis by 10½ for the wild card. They had 30 games left. Simple math said if the Braves played only .500 for the rest of the season, the Giants would need to go 25-6, and the Cardinals 26-5, just to catch them.

Seriously?

The biggest problem has been injuries to starting pitchers Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. The Braves needed Lowe to pick it up to support the kiddie corps behind Tim Hudson. He didn’t have to look like a $15 million pitcher (which unfortunately he is). He just couldn’t look like a $1.50 one. But here’s Lowe’s numbers in his past three starts: 0-3, 26 hits, 17 runs (15 earned) and an ERA of 10.13.

If the Braves had given Nevin Shapiro $15 million, it would’ve been a better investment.

Starting pitching problems have led to an overworked bullpen. Don’t blame any of the young starters because they never should have been put in this position. Don’t blame Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and the rest because the bullpen never should have resembled an abusive textile factory in the 1960s.

Then you watch games like Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Marlins and wonder if it just wasn’t meant to be this season. They were one strike from a victory when Chipper Jones lost a high chopper in the lights and Omar Infante — with five home runs in 606 plate appearances — takes Kimbrel deep for the first walkoff homer of his career.

None of this means the Braves won’t make the playoffs. Nor does it preclude the possibility of them even going on a long and bizarre run. But they’re doing little to stir confidence. They even seem to be sliding off the Atlanta sports landscape.

If the Braves miss the playoffs, manager Fredi Gonzalez probably will take a hit in the public. But the man has changed the lineup a zilllion times, even having the guts to sit down Heyward and taking Chipper Jones out of the No. 3 spot.

“We’ve just got to play better,” Wren said. “We’ve just fallen into a little bit of a funk.”

It’s a helpless feeling for a general manager at this point of the season because the reality is that all of the moves have been made.

“We still feel like we’ll be fine,” he said. “Once you get through that clinch period, then everybody can take a breath and you can start anew in the postseason.”

Still waiting to exhale.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

238 comments Add your comment

TG

September 20th, 2011
2:03 pm

5 Time National Champs Nebraska

September 20th, 2011
2:06 pm

Stop with the first thing. It’s really dumb and juvenile. Do you brag to your friends when this happens? Do you have any friends?

P.S.

Braves are toast.

dean

September 20th, 2011
2:14 pm

I was nervous when all the “experts” had the Braves facing the Brewers in the first round. I’m not nervous anymore. I have accepted that we will soon read a blog headline, “Was this the biggest collapse of an Atlanta team?”

Mitchell

September 20th, 2011
2:18 pm

Really has been a disappointing season, not even including the September collapse.

It’s just unbelievable what they did last year so many times in their last at-bat. The times where you could feel they were going to do it and the times where it seemed like they had blown their last best chance and had screwed themselves.

It became routine and yet was often totally dumbfounding and unexpected.

There’s been almost no carry-over this year. It’s said knowing that all the Mets had to do was get one run on Sunday in the 8th and we were going to lose.

It just sucks.

Mitchell

September 20th, 2011
2:22 pm

No dean, that will always be the ‘96 Braves versus the Yanks.

Robert

September 20th, 2011
2:23 pm

It is time for the Braves to step out of the shadow of incompetence that Bobby Cox cast over this franchise for the past twenty years.

Two and a half up with what – 8 to play?

Get it done and start a new positive legacy

Go Braves!!!

rc35

September 20th, 2011
2:24 pm

“A season that has never felt right.” Jeff, you put into words what has been out there for five months. Even when the Braves won, they often did so after several innings of lethargic offense. Seldom was there a game in which we scored early, continued to pick up a few more along the way, and just shut the other team down. How many runners have we left at third this year? How many times would a simple single to the opposite field or up the middle have given us that one or two runs needed to seal the deal?

There’s still hope, but it’s getting pretty thin…

reebok

September 20th, 2011
2:28 pm

the braves may sneak into the playoffs by 1/2 game, but they’ll be swept out of them quick enough.

club level

September 20th, 2011
2:28 pm

St. Louis Cardinals >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>wild card ahead>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Matt from MN

September 20th, 2011
2:28 pm

Frank Wren=Captain of the Titanic?

mountain_jim

September 20th, 2011
2:33 pm

Last night showed that the baseball gods have put on their St Louie shirts and made popcorn.

Main problem with Braves this year is on the do-nothing hitting coach. Worse approaches at the plate for almost all of the players compared to previous years, too much fence-swinging and not enough patience. Yet the hitting coach never changes a thing. imho.

Bright Idea

September 20th, 2011
2:39 pm

Poor hitting except for during Uggla’s streak kept too much pressure on young starters and bullpen plus the injuries have worn down the staff. Too many games starting 0 for 12 before they even get a hit takes a toll. What’s the point of squeezing out a wild card playing like this anyway?

Robert

September 20th, 2011
2:39 pm

I found the problem.

At the top of one of Bradley’s recent columns is a picture which shows Bobby Cox in attendence at a recent Braves game.

Is it any wonder they are in a free fall?

Someone needs to make sure that Donk is not allowed anywhere near the premises when the Braves play.

Dozer

September 20th, 2011
2:39 pm

Right on mountain_jim – they still go out there like a softball team. Uggla is the worst – his caveman approach brings back memories of Frenchy. Can you imagine this bunch rolling into Milwaukee????

extremus

September 20th, 2011
2:41 pm

I think the closest feeling I’ve had to this Braves team was when the Hawks signed Reggie Theus to go alongside Dominique Wilkins and Moses Malone in an effort to finally climb above the likes of the Celtics and Pistons back in the 80s. Many sports mags posed the question, “Is this the Hawks’ year?”. While they did win about 50 games that season as I recall, there never was a feeling on anyone’s part that the team ever gelled or was firing on all cylinders. And they fell flat in the playoffs and afterward were never the same again. On paper you can have a championship-caliber roster, but sometimes less tangible issues keep things from ever coming together.

As I look back over what is looking more and more to be a disastrous end to the 2011 Braves season, I cannot help but feel inclined on some level to look toward the dugout for the reasons this team has so consistently underachieved. Granted, when Freddi Gonzalez came in as Bobby Cox’s successor he did so with a reputation for getting the most out of his players; the opposite has been true in many cases this year (particularly at the plate), and the players who’ve had to pick up so much of the slack (primarily the pitching staff and back end of the bullpen) appear to have simply run out of gas.

Maybe it was Gonzalez’s efforts to make a smooth transition from Bobby Cox and to continue to give this team a “players’ manager” that has resulted in at times baffling apparent indecision (Heyward should have spent most of this year at Gwinnett; no question. He’d have benefitted far more from it and the Braves much more in the long run). How and why did so many hitters in this lineup have GROSSLY extended slumps (and why is it that Chipper Jones felt the need to “assist” Larry Parrish in coaching Jason Heyward in the batting cage in one instance)? Why, when “speed never goes into a slump” and for awhile the Braves’ offense seemed to finally be coming together, do you pull Jose Constanza out of the lineup in favor of even Prado right now (last year is LAST YEAR; if we’re honest with ourselves 2010 may have been a career year and perhaps even an aberration for Martin Prado)? How many innings and games do you send out O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel before they simply give out (I guess that question is being answered, isn’t it)? Where is any semblance of fire and passion not just when things go right but when they go wrong (you don’t “tip your cap” endlessly to the other team; you come out and say “We didn’t get the job done tonight and we’re going to FIX IT!”)?

Yes, the players are the ones that have to perform on the field, but it’s the manager and coaching staff who are responsible for quickly and decisively solving issues and getting the most out of their team. Mission failed for Freddi Gonzalez and his staff in 2011. Should heads roll if the Braves don’t make the playoffs? I honestly think so; we need a manager who lends his own identity, decisiveness, and passion to this team and no longer operates under the shadow of Bobby Cox.

Glock 45

September 20th, 2011
2:43 pm

TG = Douchebag. What a looser!

dean

September 20th, 2011
2:43 pm

@ Mitchell.

See? You already have yours locked and loaded! :)

extremus

September 20th, 2011
2:43 pm

Mr. Schultz,

Looks like my last post got caught in the screen thingy. Could you put it up for me please (it was a long one)?

Since the 90's

September 20th, 2011
2:46 pm

I said it to the DOB and I will say it here. Until we get power arms in to pitch on a regular basis, this team will go NOWHERE. Its nice to say “Oh, with Huddy on the mound, fielders have to be on their toes”. Yea, but that is how mistakes happen. Kimbrel choking not withstanding, when you can’t hit the ball, it won’t go in play and allow Conrad Brooks to cost a post season series. Look back at the 90’s. Maddux? Average. Glavine? Average. Smoltz? Power pitcher and you know the rest. You can’t just put balls in play. All of the great post season pitchers throw over 94mph.
Until the Bravos change the philosophy, this organization goes NOWHERE!

dean

September 20th, 2011
2:46 pm

All kidding aside, why do Atlanta fans-of any of the teams-always feel like they’re headed to the gallows and waiting on that phone call from the guvner?

slykatayama69

September 20th, 2011
2:46 pm

Fredi has had the balls to sit people? Yeah, thats why Derek Lowe is still trotting out there to lose every start and demolish our bullpen? Cmon, these loyalty tendencies are killing us.

WTF

September 20th, 2011
2:47 pm

Rather be up 2 1/2 than down 2 1/2. But this feels like we’re SF in 91 (or was it 92?). I know SF folks from then and they tell me it just didn’t ‘feel right’ to them either…but then it IS San Francisco and nothing feels right there.
Hoping for the best, but limping into playoffs is very, very hard.

Just The Facts

September 20th, 2011
2:49 pm

The Braves never get hot at The Right Time, not EVEN in ‘95 when they won the World Series. Even then they barely pulled that one out, a 1-0 clincher with no offense, IMAGINE THAT.

Hate to be negative but here’s my prediction….as screwed up as it has been lately & with the remaining schedule favoring the Cardinals the Braves & Cardinals end the season tied & Cardinals get home field for the one game playoff…… Braves lose in the bottom of the ninth on a walkoff homer by the Cardinals weakest hitter. Game over season over.

Mark K.

September 20th, 2011
2:50 pm

Why on Earth is Heyward still in the lineup?? With Constanza starting we are 18-10. When he doesn’t start we are 8-14. Now I know that other factors are at play here but come on Fredi!!! Get “georgie” back in there for crying out loud!

They All Count!

September 20th, 2011
2:50 pm

It always amazes me when in the early season the Braves or any other MLB team lose a close game and then declare ” it’s early in the season and we can get those things worked out” – as if the game they just lost didn’t mean anything. Last time I looked, they all count the same!!! Last night was a dose of harsh reality – we have little pitching left and almost zero hitting – we have hit the proverbial wall – I hope we do it but it’s looking grim right now.

Blog comments are retarded

September 20th, 2011
2:52 pm

Its the spirit of Kawakami.

slykatayama69

September 20th, 2011
2:52 pm

@ Since the 90s
I’m frustrated too but Maddux and Glavine were never power pitchers.

Listen, our lineup blows turds right now. Prado, who was supposed to be our most consistent hitter is obviously taking swing lessons from Heyward (who should have finished the year at AAA) Lowe getting to pitch every 5th or 6th game is an instant loss and sets our bullpen back a couple of days. This just isn’t the year…

freshd

September 20th, 2011
2:52 pm

Fredi Gonzalez has used up his bullpen and he should find a new hitting coach and send Parrish back home to his farm. The guy has been given a pass all year and he turned Heyward into a pull happy wanna be power hitter. Last year he was hitting the outside pitch to left, but now he beats it into the ground. And whatever happened to Jose Constanza, he brought some energy to this team that suddenly looks tired. Put him back in there.

Blog comments are retarded

September 20th, 2011
2:53 pm

So I guess the folks blaming Parrish for Heyward’s struggles won’t give him credit for Uggla’s turn around?

O'Brien

September 20th, 2011
2:55 pm

Jeff,

Numbers don’t lie. 20th in runs, 22nd in batting average, 24th in OBP.

How much of the blame (if any) do you think hitting coach should get?

Herschel Talker

September 20th, 2011
2:55 pm

Schultzie:

EXCELLENT POSTING!!!

As you said in the link you referenced, Fredi is Bobby Cox 2.0 – another pathetic choker. We need some new blood in this organization.

Derek Lowe is a disaster. The fact that we have to pay him $15 million next year to suck for us is a train wreck. Do you really think we’re winning anything next year with that loser going every 5th day?

HT

Love Mark Richt-Hate Coach Richt

September 20th, 2011
2:55 pm

Poor hitting and scoring is the problem with the Braves. How many times this year have the Braves won in a “blow out” with a score of something like 8-2 ? Almost never. A lopsided game in our favor would allow the starters to perhaps leave the game an inning ( 15 – 20 pitches ) early and also allow our top relievers a needed night off for rest.

double dip....

September 20th, 2011
2:57 pm

last 10 games atlanta and boston have same record, 3 – 7. what a weird whacky world if both teams miss the playoffs. anytime in baseball that 2 teams have choked in september?

Herschel Talker

September 20th, 2011
2:58 pm

Robert:

We keep rehashing this. Fredi is as big a donkey as that moron Cox. I don’t know why you can’t see it. Destroyed the bullpen, sticks with pitchers too long in games, has the strategic knowledge of a kindergarterner.

HT

STRETCH

September 20th, 2011
2:59 pm

As long as they continue to run Lowe out there, thats an automatic loss. By the way, how many more starts does he get this season?

dean

September 20th, 2011
3:00 pm

Blog comments ARE retarded. But the banging of keys keeps Lombard out of my cube.

Dr. Warren

September 20th, 2011
3:01 pm

I remember columns in which you asserted the Braves are legit World Series contenders. You can’t have it both ways, Jeff. If something didn’t feel right all season, why didn’t you say it, even when they were winning frequently? Forgive me if you did, but I don’t recall it. So much sports blogging is just hindsight passed off as insight. How easy is it to watch a team flail and write they were never meant to be, then see the same team surge a week later and write they’re a threat to win it all–or vice versa? Too easy–and done too frequently in this age when high click rates mean everything.

STRETCH

September 20th, 2011
3:03 pm

But, we can blame it all on D Lowe. The offense is not a post-season offense anyway. Maybe they dont make it, im hoping they do and im kinda hoping they dont, cause us GA sports fans are used to getting crushed in ALL major sports anyway.

archie

September 20th, 2011
3:04 pm

Numbers don’t lie. Braves call up Jose Costanza. They go 16-7 with him in the lineup. Then he sprains his ankle against the Cubs. They’re 10-16 ever since. They went from being a speed-oriented team, to a team that can’t advance baserunners. End of story.

Feeanch

September 20th, 2011
3:04 pm

The kawakami ghost post was hilarious

They All Count!

September 20th, 2011
3:09 pm

Hey Robert! Bobby Cox Managed the Braves to 14 consecutive division titles! And you call that incompetent? I guess you demand all A’s from your kids, huh?

freshd

September 20th, 2011
3:13 pm

Larry Parrish makes TP look like a genius and that aint saying much.

AlanFalcon

September 20th, 2011
3:23 pm

Continued use of Lowe and the insertion of Heyward were the beginning of the end–IS IT TIME TO PANIC YET !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

up north

September 20th, 2011
3:32 pm

Is Winnipeg looking for a baseball team? JK! Is it true that most of Uggla’s home runs have been with nobody on base?

rally

September 20th, 2011
3:33 pm

Schultzie is a pansy…..

Robert

September 20th, 2011
3:33 pm

“Hey Robert! Bobby Cox Managed the Braves to ….. division titles! And you call that incompetent? ”

Managing a World Series team to a divsion title is not an honorable achievement

In Cox’s hands, this particular team wouldve been toast in July and would be struggling to win their 80th game before season’s end

HT – Fredi is an average major league manager. He is much much better than Cox

DC Braves Fan

September 20th, 2011
3:34 pm

@reebok…explain to me how it is possible for the Braves to make the playoffs by 1/2 game. They all play 162.

Bruce Mac

September 20th, 2011
3:36 pm

Frank, there will be no post season. Have you been paying attention you Jack Wagon. How is KK doing in Missisissippi and how is McOut’s rehab. You are a joke sir. Move along please.

gooch

September 20th, 2011
3:38 pm

Braves please dont make the Playoffs. Just go away and get off the TV.

Robert

September 20th, 2011
3:39 pm

The Braves are struggling and recently lost a game because Chipper Jones couldnt field a ball

Flash back to the start of spring training when Chipper was flabbergasted that the new manager was going to make the team take fielding practice.

Maybe if Chipper fielded a few more practice balls during Bobby Cox’s tenure he couldve fielded that ball the other night and the team mightve won that game

I always said that Cox’s poor decisions cost the team games at the moment he made them and also down the line – the Chipper error the other day is a dramatic illustration of just how long-lasting Cox’s negative influence might prove to be

If this team DOES choke it away, Cox will have had a hand in it

But I prefer to think positive. They will end up with the wild card, will find a second wind in the playoffs, and, free of the cancer that ruined them for so long, will win it all this October

You read it here first – when the bandwagon was down in the dumps, one guy at least kept the faith

Go Braves.

Keep Cox the heck AWAY from the stadium until at least November 1st, and it can still turn out happy happy joy joy