Braves convinced everything can’t go wrong again

Fredi Gonzalez went over his checklist before the first full-squad workout of spring training. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Fredi Gonzalez address team before Braves' first full-squad workout of spring. (Jason Getz/AJC)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – They’re all here, a rare thing in these panic-and-detonate times in pro sports. Late-season collapses generally are followed by somebody in the front office looping wire around several big toes, running it to a wooden box that reads, “Acme TNT,” and pushing down on the plunger.

Not with the Braves. There was no kaboom in the winter.

On the first day of full-squad workouts in spring training Saturday, almost every player from a year ago, save the anchor, Derek Lowe, was there: Dan Uggla, who was hitting .173 on July 4; Jason Heyward, who messed up his shoulder and then everything inside his head; Martin Prado, who struggled and added staph infection to his list of career ailments; Brian McCann, who went into a slump and, for the first time in his life, couldn’t locate a solution; Jair Jurrjens, who followed a 12-3 first half with a 1-3 second half and a season-ending knee injury.

The Braves took the rare soul-cleansing approach to failure: They stepped back, took a breath, lit some candles, opened the chakras, serentized and moved on.

I know. It doesn’t play well on blogs, fan message boards and sports talk radio. So does that make it wrong?

Funny. Through all of those improbable, dramatic, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened finishes in the 1990s, nobody ever proclaimed, “Ah, phooey. The Braves got lucky. They need big changes.”

Some perspective from Chipper Jones: “Should the Cardinals have even been in the playoffs? No. Should we have been in the playoffs? Yeah. Should the Rangers have won the World Series. Yeah. But none of that happened. I think if you look back over the last 20 years, we had our share of games where we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat — back in the heyday. Maybe it’s somebody’s way of getting us back.”

Pause.

“Did anybody say Francisco Cabrera?”

Jones smiled, recalling an exchange he had with Texas’s Michael Young last October.

“I talked to him via text before the World Series, and I said, ‘Y’all are going to kill these guys,’” he said, referring to St. Louis.

Oops.

Official closure to the 10-20, catastrophic end of last season came Saturday with the team’s first full-squad workout. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was surprisingly secretive about his pre-practice talk. But the elements weren’t expected to include great revelations. The focus is not on the final 30 games of 2011, but the 162 in 2012. The expectation is that the Braves will pay closer to attention to offensive fundamentals: bunting, hitting behind runners, making the most of situational at-bats like what to do when there’s a runner in scoring position with less than two outs (the plan: don’t hit a pop-up).

“I think he [Gonzalez] will pay a little more attention to detail of what guys are doing fundamentally,” Jones said before Gonzalez’s speech.

The Braves had so much go wrong at various points last season. Yet, they missed the playoffs by only one game. If Uggla starts better, McCann finishes better, Heyward or Prado have even average seasons, Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson stay healthy — do they not win at least one more game?

Yes, it’s a game of ifs. The emotional side of you screams: “The Braves blew it. Somebody needs to pay. Somebody other than just hitting coach Larry Parrish.”

The Boston Red Sox had a collapse that paralleled the Braves’. Seven minutes after the season, it looked like a hurricane blew through the front office. But do we know that Boston is now back on the rails?

“One year [earlier], we won the wild card by one game,” Prado said. “We clinched on the last day, but people don’t remember that. It’s easier to remember the bad things.”

There are obvious questions. Can Heyward, with weight loss, a new swing and a new coach, return to the form of his rookie season? Can Jurrjens, Hanson and Tim Hudson stay healthy? What will Gonzalez do this time if the team begins to circle the drain?

Gonzalez said he has felt “a good vibe” since camp opened. Pitchers and catchers reported, but most of the players on the roster walked in with them.

“That gives you a good feeling,” he said. “The way we finished last year, they were itching to get going. Stop looking in the rearview mirror. It’s time to look forward.”

Their expectation is that the odds are in their favor, and a few more things go right.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

121 comments Add your comment

alphonzo

February 25th, 2012
6:33 pm

i m MO reddy 4 da braves 2 whoop da ass this year. not da payroll of da othateams BUT MUCH betta team if dey all clickin. les see da big man n right play like da star he really is hele ya

Denver Brave

February 25th, 2012
6:41 pm

??? yeah! me, too!

Dawgdad (The Original)

February 25th, 2012
6:45 pm

Every new day dawns with promise, so there is always Hope.

bulldogbubba

February 25th, 2012
6:47 pm

Just PLAYBALL!!!!!

Sonny Clusters

February 25th, 2012
7:03 pm

We was worried about you.

Sonny Clusters

February 25th, 2012
7:30 pm

If it’s behind them why does Fredi keep talking about it? We want him to know it is not behind us and we remember his part in it. Now, having said that we was wondering if Chipper is saying, “Uh, I think he will pay a little more attention to detail of what guys are doing fundamentally” if that means Chipper picked up on all the bad base running and inability to hit behind runners and missing the cutoff man? We was wondering if a little stretching would pay off before the games and if situational bunting will take place even when the situation is all wrong like it did last year? One good thing about the spring and that’s the birds singing and all the spitting and scratching and adjusting is just getting started. We hope that as spring training continues we’ll be reading some comments from somebody besides the Buck Commander. Sunscreen is for sissies and so is complaining about sunburn when you don’t use sunscreen.

Bill

February 25th, 2012
7:52 pm

Thanks Jeff for info..keep up the good job..I believe J-Hey will be ok with new coach, good attitude and no pain. I still worry about the other ifs. How about something on Freeman.

bulldogbubba

February 25th, 2012
7:53 pm

Clusters – Wouldn’t we be better off with Prado at 3rd and Constanza lying the outfield? He can definitly run faster than Chip. We need speed.

bulldogbubba

February 25th, 2012
7:55 pm

meant “playing”the outfield. “lying the outfield might be for Heyward.

Robert

February 25th, 2012
8:04 pm

“looping wire around several big toes, running it to a wooden box that reads, “Acme TNT,and pushing down on the plunger.”

For years I have struggled to find the perfect image that conveyed what Bobby Cox did to a team’s chances. Now I have it

Now that Cox is no longer managing the team, it is indeed possible that everything wont go wrong

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 25th, 2012
8:06 pm

Bill: Here’s something on Freeman: Of all that has been said about the collapse and the players to blame, there was one who did not falter, good ol’ double F.

Penciling him in for the next 20y or so.

"Chef" Tim Dix

February 25th, 2012
8:14 pm

KK cooked at my table the other night. He flipped me a shrimp and I drilled him with it in the throat. To his credit, he kept cooking.

P B Orr

February 25th, 2012
8:18 pm

Jeff, just outstanding writing.

Train Wreck Bystander

February 25th, 2012
8:45 pm

And if this bunch who “deserved another chance” fails to deliver this year, the bloodletting will more than make up for this past winter’s lack of managerial discontent.

No pressure.

Trapper John

February 25th, 2012
8:46 pm

Everything can go wrong again. His name is “Fruiti Gonzales”. In so far over his head, he couldn’t see the sun if standing on a solar flare. “You know….”

DetroitBraves

February 25th, 2012
8:52 pm

Of course the Braves had some bad luck last year and several things that went wrong may well not go wrong again. However, Chipper is a year older, several pitchers are still not necessarily enjoying great health and Fredi is still calling the shots. It is not a matter of luck that Fredi is still the manager. That’s design. Not a very intelligent design at that.

Felix

February 25th, 2012
8:57 pm

Beware of Murphy’s law Braves.

Greg

February 25th, 2012
9:02 pm

I don’t know about you guys, but I am pumped! And I think the Braves are, too. I just hope they settle down a bit before the season starts and don’t come out over-playing. I’m usually looking at what’s going to go bad/wrong, but this season, I’m thinking if only two out of the three of Heyward, Uggla, and Prado hit the way they should, we’re right there this year with the pitching we have. Right there.

Sonny Clusters

February 25th, 2012
9:04 pm

Yes, Constanza looks to be faster than Chipper but we would want to see them in an all-out race to first base in order to be sure. We don’t think we have seen Chipper run all-out to first base in so long that we may not remember whether he is as fast as Constanza, who always runs as hard as he can. Now, somebody’s going to say we’re being hard on the Beaver again – we mean the Chipper – and that we are mean and not a good fan but we know one thing and that is we just witnessed an EPIC Collapse and so far we’ve read about fishing and sunburn and tomorrow we’re probably going to read about the Daytona 500 and we was wondering if these Braves really do intend to act like nothing happened in September and not work like crazy to make sure it can never happen again? If we was Fredi we’d be looking over our shoulder even though he has pledged never to look back. We would also sleep with one eye open. It probably doesn’t matter which one.

Trapper John

February 25th, 2012
9:32 pm

Chipper is talking about the guys bamming two and three run homers again! I assume he counts himself as part of that equation. Player/Manager anyone?????

Furman Bitcher

February 25th, 2012
9:45 pm

Braves make playoffs or Freddi is going home to East Cobb

phil

February 25th, 2012
9:52 pm

Braves aren’t going anywhere but backwards…

Fire FG!!

Sonny Clusters

February 25th, 2012
10:13 pm

Chipper and LaRoche was out in the woods deer hunting and after a time they realized they were lost. It was getting dark and cold and they didn’t have their pajamas. Remembering that the Buck Commanders’ distress signal is to fire three times into the air Chipper decided that’s what he’d do. One, two, three shots. Nothing happened. He shot three more times. Still nothing happened. He was getting upset by now but still he shot three more times – and nothing happened. Chipper knew the next three shots would be critical because he only had three more arrows.

Tomahawk Choke

February 25th, 2012
10:19 pm

The problem is that two teams in your division, Miami and Washington, got better. They already gave the Braves fits and now will give them even more. I don’t see any more wins than last year. Unless, all goes right… “not all goes wrong” as you say. Braves are a real long shot.

DetroitBraves

February 25th, 2012
10:34 pm

You know, Tomahawk Choke that’s a good point. I don’t think Washington and Miami are going to pass the Braves in the standings necessarily but the division is so tough it’s going to be hard for the second place team to get the wild card. The second place team could even be the second best team in the league and it may not be good enough.

Jeff Schultz

February 25th, 2012
10:39 pm

Sonny — Worry? About me?

DetroitBraves

February 25th, 2012
10:39 pm

Part of what has to go right for the Braves is when Fredi employs strategies that have been shown over and over again to make scoring runs less likely that they end up scoring anyway. Of course, sometimes this will happen. But over 162 games it seems to me a poor way to conduct business. Kind of the baseball equivalent of hitting on 19.

Jeff Schultz

February 25th, 2012
10:39 pm

Jeff Schultz

February 25th, 2012
10:40 pm

“Chef” Tim — You’re correct on Freeman, and he’ll be even better this season.

DetroitBraves

February 25th, 2012
10:45 pm

Jeff, most projection systems have Freeman being very similar to last year. Much agreement between ZiPs, PECOTA, etc. This isn’t really bad news (and I happen to like Freeman just fine) because he had an unsustainable .339 BABIP last year, so ending up with similar numbers probably means real improvement. Which is to say you may be right, even though in the end it may not necessarily look like it.

ATLcracker

February 25th, 2012
11:07 pm

A lot of people I talk to are unhappy with the BABIP stat. Can anyone explain why home runs are excluded? Also shouldn’t there be some kind of correction factor for how hard the balls are hit? Line drive percentage maybe? Slugging percentage on balls put in play SPBAB.?

Caseyatthebat

February 25th, 2012
11:24 pm

Jeff, I enjoy your column a great deal and I thank you for your work. But sometimes I think that the Atlanta fraternity of sports writers is on the Brave payroll pronouncing what is becoming a tired litany of dribble. I’m a Brave fan and I don’t care about ONE game. They blew TWENTY! I’m a Brave fan and I don’t care that for four months they were one of the four best teams. In the end they ran out of the money. By the way, those four months were four of the most boring baseball I’ve seen. I’m a Brave fan and Red Sox rationalization means nothing to me. It’s interesting to me that no one mentions the fact that they remained about seven games behind the Phillies throughout. I remember when our stated goal at the beginning of a season was to win the World Series. Now we hope to get a playoff birth. 2010 was a Luke warm finish (even though the playoff birth) and 2011 was cold, cold, cold. Management is tiptoeing through 2012 hoping for lightning to strike until 2013 when they’ll have the money to finally acquire what they really need……..a big hitter. And Sonny Clusters, Chipper can be 60 and if he maintains the numbers he has he can play for me anytime. Check his numbers against all other third basemen. The only time Prado should be at third is when Chipper isn’t. His numbers aren’t the equal of Chipper’s. A number of baseball greats have played at 40.

DetroitBraves

February 25th, 2012
11:39 pm

@ATLcracker, quickly BABIP often excludes homers because they are hit out of the field of play – therefore the defense does not have an opportunity to turn them into outs. BABIP to a great extent provides some semblance of luck, good or bad, on the part of the hitter. But you are correct that some players BABIP will be higher or lower than another. There should be regression, and there is a league average, but the regression towards average isn’t necessarily towards the league mean. As you’ve noted, line drives are more likely to be hits than grounders or fly balls. That is measured by line drive %. Freeman’s was 23% last year. Players with more speed also tend to have higher BABIP, such as Ichiro, given the number of infield hits they are likely to get. But get this – Albert Pujols has only posted a BABIP as high as Freeman’s last year twice in his career, and only once has he surpassed Freeman’s line drive %. So again, I love to be wrong but it isn’t likely Freeman’s numbers from last year are sustainable without real improvement.

JAFO

February 25th, 2012
11:54 pm

Until “Dear John” makes good on his commitment to “repair our weaknessess”, my STH renewal remains in a state of disrepair.

Stinger2

February 26th, 2012
4:45 am

Sonny Clusters: Like everyone, you have a right to your opinion about Chipper, Freddi and the Braves in general.
However, if you are really a Braves fan, it would be
refreshing to hear some new comments instead of those you have posted since last year.
Everyone has heard you by now Sonny. We know how you feel. At least, find something new about the Braves to complain about.

Disgusted

February 26th, 2012
6:59 am

Can you count on the same productivity out of Venters and Kimbrell that you got for five months of the season before they tired out?

And you have to account that there will be some injury and fall off by guys who did have good yrs.

Heyward should be better, Mc Cann hopefully will have a better second half and I would gladly take Uggla’s numbers again (would like 20 more opints on OBP) assuming that he maintains it more consistently over the course of the season.

Will Freeman maintain his rookie success–that is a wait and see and they are going with a rookie at short who we do not know about yet.

The keys are the healthy of JJ, Hudson and Hanson. If that does not work out we are going with a bunch of unproven kids in a division that is tougher now—You have three lineups in Miami, Washington and Philly that are not easy to pitch through.

Until they prove me wrong, I say 4th place and 83 wins. The division will be so competitive that first thru 4th might be a less than 10 game difference. I say 92 wins the division, 90 wins finished second and 87 wins gets u third with 4th at 83.

It could be the other way around but do not sell me the rose colored glasses sun isin the sky get over September after what happened.

I am going to Boo them as they take the field when I go to my 1st game in April till they win again if ever. Yes—I am still bitter about it and they can win 5 WS in a row and I will NEVER forgive what happened.

Disgusted

February 26th, 2012
7:00 am

Stinger 2—Why should the poster post new sunny side up comments after what happened in September?

Who owes the Braves anything? Its up to them to show that they are better than what they did down the stretch.

bulldogbubba

February 26th, 2012
7:22 am

I like Sonny’s deer stories, its almost like being there. We honestly won’t know if the EPIC FAILURE is forgotten until we break camp.Are you gonna play the hit and run or are you gonna play hit for the fence style of game.

Bob the Blogger

February 26th, 2012
7:24 am

Chipper is the first person I’ve ever heard say “sunscreen is for sissies” while he’s standing there with a sunburn. He’s gonna love getting those skin cancers burned off for the rest of his life.

Mitchell

February 26th, 2012
8:33 am

Oh, that’s reassuring.

Convinced. Weren’t they convinced this time last year that 2011 was “The Year”?

Wasn’t that the mantra, “This is Our Year”?

That old guy in Oakland, California who keeps telling everyone the world is coming to an end has more credibility at this point.

Mitchell

February 26th, 2012
8:44 am

Bobby Cox lost four World Series in nine years.

Why should it come as any surprise that “they’re all here” after missing the playoffs last year?

They won fourteen division titles in a row and barely made the playoffs one year out of the six since.

Give me a freakin’ briz-ache.

This is a loser organization with nothing but a bunch of hack reporters who do nothing but kiss @$$ for a living.

Joey

February 26th, 2012
8:46 am

“Everyone has heard you by now Sonny”
***************************************
And a bunch of us wait for the next Sonny-post, Stinger2. Just scroll past, if you must.

old fart

February 26th, 2012
8:48 am

The AJC should hire Sonny Clusters to write a column three times a week. If there’s a payroll issue at the AJC then either fire Dave O’Brien or let him write an entertainment column on his BS music.

dale morphy

February 26th, 2012
8:54 am

I am feeling very positive about the Braves’ ability to score more runs this year and about Gonzalez’s commitment to situational hitting. However, the elephants in the room are Jurrgens and Hanson. I hope I am wrong, but I think Hanson is done. His mechanics are absolutely unsustainable. He barely bends his back or rotates his hips through his delivery, and with a more-than-3/4 arm angle it creates too much torque on his arm and shoulder. As a fan, albeit without inside information, it appears nobody in the Braves organization has attempted to correct or improve his mechanics. As it stands, he has about one full season left before Tommy John or irrelevancy due to lack of velocity or poor location. On the flip side, Jurrgens seems to have great mechanics but bad lack: he can’t keep his power base healthy. It looks like it is a chronic and career shortening condition in that it happens year after year. I hope I’m wrong about these guys but I don’t think so.

Joey

February 26th, 2012
8:56 am

If Fredi hadn’t wore out the ‘pen last season, we woulda made the playoffs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .and probably choked. But still, we make it instead of the Cards.

Last year, some guy on here started on Fredi on the day he was hired, asking, “why hire a manager with a losing record?”

I thought he was a jerk. After a season of Fredi-watching, I think he was ahead of the curve.

Lobosolo

February 26th, 2012
8:56 am

Robert, you and phil and Mitchell need to look up alexis before too long and get some of those binkies from him… we get it… you don’t like Bobby Cox… jealousy, maybe? Who knows, but your mama might want to know you’re spending too much time crying about yet something else on the internet and not minding your lessons… world doesn’t need anymore ignorant, stupid crybabies, you know… get back to work, Mr. Wah-Wah…

Joey

February 26th, 2012
9:07 am

Um, Dale, who, pray tell, is gonna knock the runners in? We have the same, exact hitters, who were dead last (or next to last) in hitting with RISP in all of MLB. We have the same, exact doofus manager setting the batting order.

I want to be optimistic about the hitting. Tell me how?

Mitchell

February 26th, 2012
9:10 am

If all we keep hearing in the final weeks of the season is Braves players making comments to the of, “Hey, we may be on the verge of missing the playoffs again in spite of being in first place for three months in a row but if you told us in March that we still had a chance in September, that would be awesome,” then nothing’s going to change.

You don’t hear the Yankees saying that and that’s probably the reason they’re not only in it in September, they’re winning in September.

But then again I suppose we ought not compare ourselves to the great Yankees, except for the fact that we were their equal if not their superior in baseball’s regular season for ther better part of a decade plus.

But we were all so spoiled in the first place, weren’t we? We Braves fans never really deserved to enjoy the kind of success we were fortunate to witness firsthand lo those many years. It was never truly meant to last.

It’s different nowadays. We only have an all star at every position. Perhaps if we’re really lucky the baseball gods will smile upon us in 2012 with the chance to see our Braves play meaningful games in September.

A boy can dream.

Joey

February 26th, 2012
9:10 am

Lobosolo = Bobby Cox

Slapped the old lady around lately, L?

Mitchell

February 26th, 2012
9:21 am

I wasn’t bashing Bobby Cox.

I was just stating a fact… Jack.

And as for Fredi wearing out the bullpen, that’s on Frank Wren.

I heard Mark Bowman in an interview in November say players were divulging to him that Larry Parrish “wasn’t working.”

That was apparently in April and since the media in Atlanta is so deferential to the Braves it wasn’t reported.

But surely Frank Wren had to know, didn’t he? I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t since, again, it wasn’t written about… by anybody… but the fact that he sat there and saw how badly the bullpen was being overworked due to the horrible offense and essentially did nothing about it, i.e. firing Mr. Parrish, tells me he’s either a complete wuss and ineffectual, an idiot or is not committed to doing everything in his power to help his team win games… or all of the above.

The Braves didn’t score enough runs, the starters don’t go deep enough into games… who’s going to be counted on to win games.

The bullpen.

Thank you. Good night.