Braves suddenly lack pitching, defense and a clue

Michael Bourn misplayed this fly ball into a run-scoring triple by Rick Ankiel, one of several lowlights in Braves' loss (AP photo)

Michael Bourn misplayed this fly ball into a run-scoring triple by Rick Ankiel, one of the Braves' several lowlights. (AP photo)

If for a moment we can get past that the Braves currently have too many players who either can’t stand without wobbling (flu) or can’t see straight (blurred vision) or can’t walk without pain from a strained groin or a bruised leg (or “hematoma,” to use Chipper Jones’ new word), this isn’t a difficult problem to figure out.

If the Braves hope to survive this problematic intersection of injuries and batting slumps, they’re going to need two things: pitching and defense.

They received neither Saturday.

For the second game in a row the Braves spotted the Washington Nationals an early 4-0 lead. They scrambled back to tie, but ultimately spontaneously combusted again — like no perceived pennant contender should.

They lost 8-4. That makes six straight. They’ve suddenly tumbled into fourth in the National League East (not that standings are worthy of panic in late May).

Most important, the Braves not only lack any semblance of clutch in their offense — 15 stranded runners in two games — but their pitchers are being dismembered, and their defense Saturday looked one Volkswagen and a pair of exploding shoes short of a clown act.

“We’re not playing particularly well right now, and there’s no excuses,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Those words were stronger than any others spoken by Gonzalez in the postgame. Fact is, Gonzalez’ temperament seemed a little too mild for a manager whose team is playing so poorly and, at times, lifeless. The Braves have allowed Washington, the team ahead of them in the standings, 15 runs and 12 extra-base hits in two games — this after Cincinnati had 10 home runs in a four-game sweep last week.

Gonzalez barely said a peep about right fielder Jason Heyward, who in the fifth inning had the type of lackadaisical defensive play that aroused memories of a 1998 game, when center fielder Andruw Jones was slow to hustle for a fly ball that fell for a single, prompting Bobby Cox to yank him in the middle of the inning.

Heyward’s play didn’t result in a run. But it was heinous enough that many in the crowd of 42,698 loudly booed him. He bobbled Bryce Harper’s single and then was slow to pick up the ball, allowing Harper to get to second.

Gonzalez acknowledged the miscue later. But when asked about TV replays confirming Heyward’s nonchalantness, he said only, “I have not seen that [replay] yet. I was in the middle of trying to get [reliever Kris] Medlen warmed up.”

It might’ve been the worst coverup in postgame history.

Heyward later said, “I let the ball get away, and [Harper] took the extra base. If I had attacked it aggressively, I still more likely would’ve bobbled the ball, but he probably wouldn’t have run. … [Teammates] just said, ‘Let it go.’ I said, ‘My bad’ out there, and I said ‘My bad’ when I came in. I play the game as hard as I can. I want that to happen as few times as possible.”

The Braves were missing Chipper Jones (leg), Freddie Freeman (eyes), Brian McCann (flu) and David Ross (groin). It’s not like they have much margin for error.

But Heyward wasn’t alone. Three other plays led to runs: Left fielder Martin Prado got a slow jump on Danny Espinosa’s short fly to open the game, and the ball fell for a double. Center fielder Michael Bourn lost track of the wall, bumped into it and played a fly ball into a triple. (No error was charged.) Reliever Jonny Venters had his glove knocked off by Ryan Zimmerman’s comebacker, recovered but threw wide of first base. (The error was charged to Eric Hinske.)

Bourn was as stand-up as a guy could be: “I messed up.”

He said more. But that summed it up fine.

Nonetheless, this isn’t a time for Braves pitchers to feel victimized. Mike Minor recovered nicely after allowing four runs in the first two innings, but that doesn’t excuse the start. (He also allowed a two-single to pitcher Stephen Strasburg before Danny Espinosa’s three-run homer). Medlen and Venters were poor in relief (three runs in two innings combined).

Bourn’s tidy summary: “We were hot before. We’re not hot right now.”

Forget hot. A little less slapstick would suffice.

By Jeff Schultz

247 comments Add your comment

jipwiz

May 26th, 2012
9:31 pm

This stinks!

jipwiz

May 26th, 2012
9:31 pm

1st is not quite what it used to be…

Peter

May 26th, 2012
9:32 pm

Folks died this weekend in Atlanta driving motorcycles and cars…….The Braves are a team, and they play a game….not very well but it is just a game.

iTiSi

May 26th, 2012
9:33 pm

Leave it to Jeff Schultz to be the one to tell it like it is. Best article so far this year JS. Somebody needs to “build a fire” under some players, and so far looks like it’s not going to be the manager. Thanks for calling him out on a couple of things. Somebody needed to.

Papa Cisse

May 26th, 2012
9:33 pm

We need that Spanx chick to buy the Braves and increase the payroll so we can afford better depth.

DaveinNEPA

May 26th, 2012
9:35 pm

IMO this team needs a complete housecleaning from the FO on down. Anyone who thinks this bunch is capable of winning any kind of playoff berth needs to take off the rose colored glasses. This bunch looks uninspired and lackadaisical. Injuries and sickness haven’t helped but that’s no excuse. There weren’t any sparks coming out of the collective butts of those guys anyway.

johnny

May 26th, 2012
9:36 pm

First? Not much done right today. One thing that strikes me lately is the number of bad at bats. Watchhing to many good ones go by and getting in a hole. And the pitching… Yikes!

johnny

May 26th, 2012
9:37 pm

Oh well not first,

DetroitBraves

May 26th, 2012
9:39 pm

Jeff, I don’t know if you meant to say Bourn played a fly ball into “a trouble” but either way it was an excellent description.

Wilbo

May 26th, 2012
9:39 pm

The Braves need short skirts and really red lipsticks– they are such a tease.

Oh, and I wouldn’t let Fredi Jesus González manage my little girl’s church league softball team.

Vol4ever

May 26th, 2012
9:52 pm

Just another of the sports teams in Atlanta that wont spend the money to win. Ive been saying all along the starting pitching is overated and it seems to be proving me right.

Nutjobzach

May 26th, 2012
9:53 pm

Venters’ throw wasn’t wide of first base. A little low, but Hinske just missed it. Really sux when you would rather see Durban in the game then Venters.

Ho Hum

May 26th, 2012
10:03 pm

Atlanta. Ranked #1 most miserable sports city. Between football, baseball, basketball, and hockey (now departed), over a cumulative 154 seasons, they have delivered 1 championship. This is just too much to ask of fans.

Time to go ahead and sell the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks, move them all to another city, and let us sports fans pick another team elsewhere for whom to root vicariously. Seriously, they are considering a new football stadium for more of the same.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 26th, 2012
10:04 pm

For me, the shine is off Gonzo for PHing Chipper THEN putting him on the DL.

Officially on the clock.

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:07 pm

Screw this team! They sux!!!

RGP

May 26th, 2012
10:07 pm

The Braves once reliable starting pitching is not anymore except for Beachy. Our once lights out bullpen gives up runs like its batting practice except for Kimbrel. Its tough to win games when your down 4 runs after the first two innings. Three fielding miscues didn’t help things either. When it rains its pours.

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:09 pm

I totally agree with “Ho Hum”. Atlanta needs to get rid of all of its sports teams! SO BAD!!!!
Blow it up and start over.

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:09 pm

FIRE FREDIE! FIRE FRANK!

sugar bear blanks

May 26th, 2012
10:14 pm

June swoon…..already.

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:15 pm

Go Nats! sweep these losers!

Blahblahblah

May 26th, 2012
10:21 pm

No need to overreact. At 26-16 they were on a 100 win pace. That was not realistic. Now they’re in a funk. It’s a short term thing. They’ll rebound and get healthy. Looking at the standings at the 50 game mark is just silly.

Henry D.

May 26th, 2012
10:21 pm

Tired of hearing the excuse about players being on the DL or hurt. How many players does Washington have out? If this team is this dependent on Chipper, and that seems to be the biggest excuse thrown out,what are they going to do next year? Let’s see now, blew the playoffs last year because Fredi couldn’t pull theri head out of their butts. Played meserably in spring training and he couldn’t get them straightened out, and now this. This is what we get for hiring Bobby Cox, Jr. Same lackadasical, no inspired play.

Walt Frazier

May 26th, 2012
10:26 pm

What the hell is a “two-single”?

Walt Frazier

May 26th, 2012
10:28 pm

P.S. Lacey Underall is a complete and total moron. Please crawl back under the rock from which you came. You are an idiot. Also, please don’t respond as your comments are totally irrelevant.

Vol4ever

May 26th, 2012
10:29 pm

Chipper is killing this team making his huge salary, he wont play half the season, he’s done! That salary could have been used to bring in a very good player.

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:30 pm

Walt…Go back to the hood where you belong! you tool!

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:32 pm

Walt…Shouldn’t you be watching the Hawks? Oh wait, they aren’t playing!

norris

May 26th, 2012
10:34 pm

Part of what made Bobby such a good manager was that he would get himself kicked out of a game occasionally to light a fire under his team. Something should have been done in the first inning when Minor thru two strikes in a row that were called balls. It set the tone for the whole game cause the nats turned that into 4 runs.

Robards

May 26th, 2012
10:38 pm

Not a big deal, Jeff. This club will rebound. Things were great last week on the eve of the series win in St. Pete. The team was not as good as it seemed then and not as bad as it looks now. The Heyward blunder was something that could happen to anyone. It was a hustle play by a Harper. Most outfielders don’t hustle on routine base hits.

J-Man

May 26th, 2012
10:39 pm

All of that and you still dont address the Braves number 1 problem FREDI GONZALEZ

Dawg Haus

May 26th, 2012
10:40 pm

As flat as the Braves look right now, I’d rather them pull this kind of mess in May rather than September. There are plenty of games left to be played and I know they’ll turn it around soon. Still, watching this team right now is tough.

chuck

May 26th, 2012
10:42 pm

This team needs a swift kick in the backside. There is ZERO excuse for the lack of effort.

Lacey Underall

May 26th, 2012
10:45 pm

Dawg haus…They pulled this crap last September! Remember????

chuck

May 26th, 2012
10:48 pm

norris, excellent point. Gonzales needs to raise a little heck to let the players know he has their backs. If that doesn’t work, he better have a plan B because plan C is a new manager.

mace224

May 26th, 2012
10:48 pm

Hey Walt…Lacey’s fire Fredi comment isn’t so bad..

bravesinthetoilet

May 26th, 2012
10:50 pm

So sad to watch a team that was enjoying life and playing so well suddenly stink up the joint…so what happened? Now no hit, no field, no pitch, no enthusiasm, and that all starts with the manager and his coaches. I see so many players on the team that are content to sit out a game and relax on the bench. And to put McCann in as a PH whe you’re 4 runs down especially when he undoubtedly was too sick to play. Stupid. And Venters? Did he forget how to pitch or is it mechanical? If it’s the latter, then why can’t the pitching coach see what he’s doing wrong and correct it? I’m just tired of the same old crap…I don’t need excuses about sickness, injuries, etc…They all make way too much money to have as many crutches as they use all the time…Grow up and earn your salary and get the hell out and get a real job…

Dawg Haus

May 26th, 2012
10:52 pm

I do, Lacey. I’m just saying I’d rather them get the “jitters” out early this season rather than choking in September like they did last season.

STRETCH

May 26th, 2012
10:57 pm

Vol4ever,

Thats exactly the problem. I love Chipper, but he’s human just like all the other players that have come before him. He is finding it hard to say goodbye. He should have left this season.

iTiSi

May 26th, 2012
11:00 pm

Has anyone looked at the Braves June schedule? I predict maybe a 12-14 month if they’re lucky.

STRETCH

May 26th, 2012
11:03 pm

What amazes me is the fact the Wren and company did nothing the past few years but stock up on pitching and so far its done nothing. Heck, he should have stocked up on batters and try to out hit opponents. Cause pitching is not gonna do it. OVERRATED!!!

Steve

May 26th, 2012
11:09 pm

Agree with Lacy. Someone has to be held accountable. Frank and Freddie were in charge during the September collapse and with this lifeless team. Time for changes.

StingerSplash

May 26th, 2012
11:15 pm

(He also allowed a two-single to pitcher Stephen Strasburg before Danny Espinosa’s three-run homer).

Shouldn’t that be … a two-out single to pitcher Stephen Strasburg?
Move the copy desk back from West Palm Beach, Cox Newspapers, Inc.

Denard Span

May 26th, 2012
11:20 pm

Wren misjudged this team..they have not changed from Sept.The GM, Fredi & McDowell need to go.
Were are the great pitchers Wren talked about the last two years? McDowell is a joke, 6 years he’s done nothing. Time for someone to take charge of this team.

Mike

May 26th, 2012
11:20 pm

Yes, if Chipper is going to let a brusied leg…..er, “hematoma”, keep him out of the lineup he needs to reture tomorrow.

As far as the Venters/Hinske play, ask anyone who was sitting in the sun down the first base line today. Throw was on target. There was no way Hinske could even see the ball. Just one of those things.

Denard Span

May 26th, 2012
11:29 pm

I like Bourn. He bust his a@@ 99.9% of the time and gets mad at himself when he don’t hit.He lost the ball today that hit wall but didn’t make excuse. He never makes excuses he always mans up..We need more players like that. He also wants to play every game and told Fredi he didn’t want a rest but Fredi made him take it while his bat was hot.

ane

May 26th, 2012
11:34 pm

This is what happens when a corporation owns the team and really doesn’t give a s**t about them. As long as the gm and pres keep the team within budget so what! we need local ownership of the Braves. Fire mcdowell too. He is a lousy poitching coach, just look at the staff, not just this year, but for the past few seasons. Yes, we have some injuries that does affect the team offensivly, but what about the pitching! The shill up in the broadcast booth and the ajc keep making excuses for delgado, minor and recently venters too. The staff is falling apart and it’s only may, fire mcdowell. Make a move any move, standing with your headfs up your a**es as the team falls apart,. I know it’s early in the season, but the six straight losses count.

losers always

May 26th, 2012
11:36 pm

this team sucks

losers always

May 26th, 2012
11:39 pm

amazes me while idiots use fake names of athletes on here u guys suck also glad to see this writer addresses where that other writer does nothing fire fredi and take that DOB WITH YOU

losers always

May 26th, 2012
11:44 pm

QUIT MAKING EXCUSES WASH.LOST WERTH,AND THERE CATCHER YET STILL WINNING.ALL FAT FREDI DOES IS LIFELESS
YEAH IT IS WHAT IT IS
THIS TEAM IS A JOKE.DODGERS LOST MATT KEMP AND THEY ARE 7-2

IF U WANT A LAZY JOB JOIN THE BRAVES
EVEN BOURN SAID TO REPORTERS YESTERDAY WASH.BE A NICE PLACE TO PLAY
4 STRIKEOUTS TODAY
DONT WORRY BRAVES FANS THEY WILL BE SELLERS
GOOD BYE BOURN VENTERS FAT FREDI,AND FAT MCCANN

Harpie

May 26th, 2012
11:47 pm

Never in the history of sport has there been a city whose pro teams make more excuses than Atlanta’s teams do. Part of the Braves’ problem is that instead of getting out there and busting their butts trying to play well, they spend half their energy bellyaching about who’s out of the lineup. It takes more than 3 good players to make a good team – Play ball, guys!