Braves crumbling at first sign of adversity, just like 2011

Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez may have problems with their team beyond injuries. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez may have problems beyond team injuries. (Jason Getz/AJC)

The Braves hope this is just about injuries. They hope it’s just about a ground ball freakishly caroming off Chipper Jones’ calf and the fact none of their starting pitchers suddenly can make it through three innings without getting hit on the head with a mallet.

But when a team seemingly crumbles whenever adversity hits, there’s something wrong.

The Braves have gone from the third-best record in baseball (26-16) to losing eight consecutive games, the past five by a combined score of 36-15. Stay calm, say the eternal optimists. It’s a mere hiccup. Maybe. But if this spiral is being magnified, it’s justified.

The slide comes with the backdrop of last season’s unraveling. General manager Frank Wren brought back the same team that went 10-20 in the final stretch in 2011 because he viewed the drain-circling as an aberration. But here we are again, watching players do dumb things in the field, throw two-strike grapefruits down the middle and grip bats like they’re dangling from a rope bridge over a rocky canyon.

Injuries, erratic pitching and a deteriorating defense are all significant issues. But what happened to remembering how to compete? What happened to intangibles such as chemistry and leadership? The Braves are at the point now where they have to prove those things exist in their clubhouse because there certainly has been no evidence of them.

They want to forget about last year. Sorry. Saying it’s behind them and playing like it’s behind them are two different things.

They had a certain chemistry two years ago when they reached the postseason in Bobby Cox’s final season. They survived losing starting pitchers. They survived injuries to Jones and Martin Prado and the great Troy Glaus Belly Flop of 2010. They found ways to win games. There were many nights they left you thinking, “How did they do that?”

Resilient teams don’t hit a bump and face-plant. They don’t get body-slammed in a four-game series at Cincinnati, then come home and get hammered again in a three-game series against Washington.

The Nationals were missing Mike Morse, Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos. Did they groan? Nope. They just won — 7-4, 8-4 and 7-2.

St. Louis came to town Monday and won 8-2. The Braves were outscored 30-12 in the first four games of this homestand.

So where’s the evidence that last year was an aberration?

Wren has done little. There were two minor moves Tuesday: reliever Kris Medlen was sent to Gwinnett to get in a couple of starts, with the intent of eventually adding him to the Braves’ rotation. Jose Constanza was called up to fill out a dented bench.

It was the equivalent of dusting the furniture when a ceiling caves in.

There have been no major trades, and Wren suggested he’s not close to that mindset. He said the uncertain status of so many players, as opposed to having guys on the disabled list,  makes it difficult to get a read on the team.

“Freddie Freeman may suddenly wake up one day and be able to see,” Wren said.

He probably didn’t mean that to sound as funny as it did.

I understand Wren’s dilemma. But isn’t it fair to question to makeup of a team that pulls apart and not together?

“We haven’t seen any of that,” he said. “One thing you can be pretty sure of is this group is very close. They’re in each other’s corner. When you have four guys who are in or out of the lineup on any given night, it impacts what you can do in the lineup, it impacts how long you stay with a pitcher and when you hit for him. Believe me, these are things we talk about every day.”

Nor does Wren believe any of this should fall on his manager, Fredi Gonzalez.

“He didn’t blow sand in the eyes of Freddie Freeman,” Wren said. “He didn’t give a virus to Brian McCann. He didn’t hit a ball off Chipper’s ankle.”

True. But should a manager be doing more to help his team through a crisis?

Everything is on the table. Everything should be being questioned. Bad things happen to good teams every season. But good teams don’t get punch-drunk and keel over.

And this is starting to look a little too much like last September.

By Jeff Schultz

234 comments Add your comment

Therut

May 29th, 2012
5:12 pm

prattvillenolzfan

May 29th, 2012
5:12 pm

I just don’t see this getting any better. Now, I said the same thing after the Braves went 0-4 to start the season, and they started to prove me wrong. The question is this, is the 2012 Braves the team that went 0-4 & 0-8, or the team that went 22-9 in between these two streaks!!!!!

Therut

May 29th, 2012
5:13 pm

When we were 26 & 16 I thought we were being managed by the worst manager in baseball!

Turtsnap

May 29th, 2012
5:14 pm

Excellent article Jeff! Wren being so defensive means that he, too, must be questioning his decision to stand pat after last years collapse.

prattvillenolzfan

May 29th, 2012
5:16 pm

Actually, turtsnap,,,Wren COULD be feeling the heat from upstairs………All of this mess starts at the top. As much as I think Fredi is a AA manager at best, Wren is the one who should take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for this train-wreck of a line-up

Larvell Blanks

May 29th, 2012
5:18 pm

Last year i was defending Fredi but now i’m ready for new leadership. Can’t TP take over?

iTiSi

May 29th, 2012
5:20 pm

As I said 3 days ago, I still think it’s a “silent mutiny”. These things do happen without even being coordinated.

Keith

May 29th, 2012
5:26 pm

Jeff,

You saying that this 8-game skid is a sign of deeper issues might be a little bit of stretch.

Quite knee-jerk and reactionary.

Of course, I guess you could be right. To go from best in majors to last in division is saying that the potential is there to be great or poor. Thing is, we dont have large enough sample.

GO BRAVES! :)

Keith

May 29th, 2012
5:26 pm

Did you see that Fredi is batting Delgado 8th tonight? Maybe he’s went reactionary, too.

iTiSi

May 29th, 2012
5:27 pm

Thank you JS, we can at least trust one AJC sportswriter to tell it like it is. Love that statement by JS:
“It was the equivalent of dusting the furniture when the ceiling caves in”. Good one, and original!
Oh, would like to give a caption for the photo. Here’s what FW is saying to FG: “Just shut up, I don’t want anymore excuses!”

Sonny Clusters

May 29th, 2012
5:30 pm

A little leather on the ball hit to Chipper and there’s no bruise to deal with. When we was playing third Coach told us to catch those.

D.A. Nuggla

May 29th, 2012
5:30 pm

“Larvell Blanks”, there are two TP’s now. Don’t forget Tyler Pastornicky! (the SS that should be a 2nd baseman)

Herschel Talker

May 29th, 2012
5:31 pm

Schultzie:

Tremendous stuff. It’s obvious that these guys have quit on Fredi, so it’s time for that clown to get fired. If Wren doesn’t fire him, he should get fired. Two fools.

HT

Larry in SC

May 29th, 2012
5:32 pm

Nice as usual, Jeff..How about a pep-rally?

Keith

May 29th, 2012
5:32 pm

Jeff,

I’m going tonight so let’s hope they get a win. :)

iTiSi

May 29th, 2012
5:33 pm

Right on, SC. Had a high school coach tell me one time, after getting hit on the knee with a linedrive, “catch it with your glove and you won’t feel a thing next time”!

Fansince66

May 29th, 2012
5:34 pm

I saw that Medlen was sent to Gwinnett to get a couple of starts to get ready to come back and go into the rotation. I’m really glad, but wont it be about 10 starts late. Should have been there all along. These are kind of bad decisions that remind me of Kawakami and Lowe.

Sonny Clusters

May 29th, 2012
5:35 pm

We’d like to know where Jeff stands on those little signs in the outfield and all those “championships” Schuerholz used to brag about. This team has no aspirations that we can see – but if they did it would probably be to “win” the second wild card “championship” and squeak into the playoffs. We remember when they decided last year to just “win” the wild card and not burn too much energy trying to dispose of the Phillies. How did that work out?

AlanFalcon

May 29th, 2012
5:37 pm

September has come early this year, its going to be a long summer, we have no leadership (that goes for Chipper, McCann, Freddie and Frank), glad the OTA’s are here at least its somethng you can use to get away from the miserable showing thats going on at the TED.

TomB

May 29th, 2012
5:39 pm

For Wren to say none of this should fall on the manager shows just how inept of a GM he is. How many times did this happen to a Bobby Cox managed team? And, make no mistake this is Frank Wren’s team; he made the decision to sit on his hands this offseason, and believe his pitching staff was good enough. The success or failure of an organization starts at the top, and Wren is demonstrating that he is a big failure.

done

May 29th, 2012
5:43 pm

Terry Francona…this teams needs something new.

Darth Obama

May 29th, 2012
5:46 pm

Jeff,

I guess everytime the braves go on a losing streak you are going to bring up 2011. Where was this 2 weeks ago? Why don’t you just follow the trend and say “Fire Fredi” and get it over with?

Train Wreck Bystander

May 29th, 2012
5:47 pm

Forget the postseason for now. This team needs to convince the management to be buyers this year instead of sellers at the trade deadline.

Nativebird

May 29th, 2012
5:47 pm

Three words this franchise simply could NOT afford to come true these last 4 years: Jason Heyward: Bust.

CaiN

May 29th, 2012
5:49 pm

Great article, Schultz.

“Wren has done little. There were two minor moves Tuesday: reliever Kris Medlen was sent to Gwinnett to get in a couple of starts, with the intent of eventually adding him to the Braves’ rotation. Jose Constanza was called up to fill out a dented bench.

It was the equivalent of dusting the furniture when a ceiling caves in.”

This says everything right here, and it perfectly conveys the ineptitude of Wren and his abilities as a GM. It’s bad enough that the guy didn’t fire Fredi’s dumbass after last years calamity, but to act as if nothing is seriously wrong with this team is absolutely disgraceful. It’s a show of disrespect to not only the fans, but to the players as well. The entire team knows they’re in trouble, as it’s readily apparent when you look at their faces; they have no one to lead them and they know it, they KNOW they’re all alone on this. They’re not going to get help from their “manager,” nor from the front-office. They are stuck between a bumbling idiot in Gonzalez and an incompetent Wren. That 22-9 record shows just how talented this team could be, as they accomplished that feat by themselves. If they had a better manager and a GM who gave two shits about them, they would be one the best teams in the MLB.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership” Dr. Lee Roberson

Lil' Barry Bailout

May 29th, 2012
5:54 pm

The Braves need a few thugs to enforce expectations among the players and get in people’s faces. There’s no attitude to this team. They’d make a great book club.

D-bo

May 29th, 2012
5:55 pm

Now do you agree?
Get rid of McDowell, shake things up.
Management should let freddie g know he is on the hot seat. Light a fire under him.

PMC

May 29th, 2012
5:56 pm

Realistically though Jeff, this was the team we expected. Good when they had everyone, but RAZOR thin.

There is no need to be upset about it. Everything they are is borderline WC and hope it goes well.

The team is duck tape and bubble gum on the best day. They will eventually turn this around and win 7 or 8 in a row.

Right now they are a very bad baseball team.

TomB

May 29th, 2012
5:57 pm

Management is the problem as in General management. Wren needs to go, no more Kenshin Kawakami’s and paying Cleveland 10 million for the services of Derek Lowe.

T-Bone

May 29th, 2012
5:58 pm

The question that FW has to answer is which was the aberration, the phenomenal start that led to the 3rd best record in baseball or the last 8 games.

PMC

May 29th, 2012
5:58 pm

You are what your record says you are. Period. Wren didn’t change much because he didn’t have much money to work with.

Obviously the minor league talent is vastly overrated. Anyone living here knows that they overrate thier own talent internally and they are very poor at scouting outfielders particularly.

sheeesh

May 29th, 2012
5:59 pm

If you want to draw comparisons to 2010, it is interesting to note that the Braves had a 9-game losing streak that season, including getting swept in a 3-game and 4-game series. Was that not a faceplant? If not, why not? Because the season ended with a playoff appearance?

Stop jumping to conclusions via irrelevant comparisons. This is baseball. And it is still May. sheeesh

Joe

May 29th, 2012
6:00 pm

Gotta agree with TomB. Just don’t see this team getting to the postseason with Frank and Fredi running the show.

TomB

May 29th, 2012
6:00 pm

The difference PMC is pitching, We never had great offensive teams during Bobby Cox’s run, but the one constant was great pitching, and one reason the Braves never lost more than 3 games in row back then.

PMC

May 29th, 2012
6:01 pm

I’m not sure really if there is a team in this town that has high aspirations.

The Falcons say they do so I’ll take that at face value, but seriously, when you look at how they are run, the Braves and Hawks are just hoping people will attend thier games, they aren’t trying to win.

john

May 29th, 2012
6:02 pm

Great article. Fredi Gonzalez has shown that he can manage the team when they are playing good but can’t do squat when they are faltering. He did nothing to stop the slide at the beginning of the season it was Chipper Jones who did.

Fredi is not what this team needs.

TomB

May 29th, 2012
6:04 pm

Wren is responsible for Fredi. The truth is Cox made Wren look OK, and now that he’s gone….well you see the results.

Falling Apart

May 29th, 2012
6:05 pm

A manager should do more to help his team through a crisis.

Tdawg

May 29th, 2012
6:08 pm

Geez does this team have any pride? Of course not. They’re millionaires. Who needs pride when you got million’s of dollar’s.

TomB

May 29th, 2012
6:11 pm

Its hard to image this happening to a Bobby Cox coached team, which is precisely the point, and the reason Wren is an idiot to suggest this isn’t Fredi’s fault. What is the definition of managing anyway. You know what happened to Francona last year when it happened to him, and he had great success in the past. Clean house starting with the pitching coach.

bravesfan

May 29th, 2012
6:12 pm

I love these guys but I think the mix here does not work. They’re sellers at the break, for sure. Bourne, Uggla, Hudson should bring in a great haul of prospects. Not sure what you do with Heyward; he may be someone who just needs a new environment. Don’t mind losing if young talent is learning how to win, but that’s not what we currently have, in large part.

donte080

May 29th, 2012
6:13 pm

My gosh, this blog is full of it….The Sky is falling! The Sky is falling! weren’t you clowns (Schultz) all whining when Braves started season 0-4?

Season isn’t even 1/3 done yet…..

Fredi

May 29th, 2012
6:13 pm

I’m open to serious concrete suggestions, anyone, as to exactly what I can do. I know I should have started Medlen from the get go, now what else to do with this team as it is now?

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

May 29th, 2012
6:14 pm

i agree with earlier posts that this team has no identity. when they lose, they lose bad!! pretty sad when an entire team relies on a 40 year old man to be offensively successful.

2011champs

May 29th, 2012
6:18 pm

I have said it repeatedly today…. The Atlanta Braves do not have any leadership. Not from the dugout nor from the field. This might be the dullest team in the National League. They do have alot of talent, but it is wasted talent. The Reds, Cardinals, Phillies, and even the Nationals take the field EXPECTING to win. If they lose, it is a shock. A few weeks ago, the Braves swept the Cards in St. Louis. I was shocked. Even Braves fans, that I work with, celebrated like they had won the World Series. They tried to make me feel bad, but I just yawned and told them that they did have cause to be excited, because the Cardinals expected to win. That is just what they do. 2008 is the last time the Braves handled the Redbirds. It is expected, because they have leadership. Leadership that starts with the owners, right on down to the GM and the manager (Matheny had never managed before this season), and extends to the players who pick each other up. The last real leaders the Braves have had were McGriff and Justice. They will never play to their potential until there is some leadership.

Packers Ed

May 29th, 2012
6:26 pm

Tax Deduction for a large Corporation, Liberty Media.

Pretty much says it all, at least the Braves do have a purpose.

Mitchel

May 29th, 2012
6:32 pm

Braves crumbling at first sign of adversity, just like 2011

Just like 2010, just like in the playoffs and just like 2009.

This isn’t news.

This is like the New York Times writing on their front page tomorrow, “Barack Obama’s race and unorthodox upbringing is a divisive issue for voters.”

Thanks, we knew that already.

More great work by Jeff Schultz and the AJC.

rob g

May 29th, 2012
6:37 pm

@Fredi:

You could resign. That would force Wishy-Washy-Wren to select a new manager. I’m pretty sure he can’t do worse.

Jt

May 29th, 2012
6:45 pm

Very valid points Jeff! Team seems very fragile and not just physically. McCann will get well, Freeman will get back in the line-up but Chipper cannot be depended on and the difference in their winning and losing without him cannot be overstated. They lack consistency- and consistency is a mental state.

LakeDawg

May 29th, 2012
6:49 pm

Braves crumbling at first sign of adversity

YEP