It’s a long season, but time might not be on the Braves’ side

A rare sight thus far: The Braves scoring actual runs in an actual game. (AP photo)

A sight seldom seen thus far: The Atlanta Braves in the process of scoring runs. (AP photo)

Update: The Braves are no longer 0-3. They’re 0-4. They lost to the Astros on Monday by five runs, which takes some doing. And now we return to regularly scheduled programming.

Stipulation: It’s a long season. It’s so long that, by the time the Braves finish their regular season, the Georgia Bulldogs — who haven’t yet gotten to G-Day — will have played five actual games. To judge a baseball team off its first series is akin to rating an NFL club on how it handles the opening kickoff of Week 1. That said …

The Braves didn’t enter 2012 with the benefit of the doubt carried by most winning teams. The Braves, as we know, went 9-18 in September 2011. They began the new season by getting swept by a team picked to finish last in the National League East. The awoke Monday having gone 9-21 over the past 30 regular-season games. That’s a winning percentage of .300. Carried over a 162-game schedule, that rate would yield a 49-113 record, which would be the worst in Atlanta annals.

But enough non-fun with numbers. I don’t expect the Braves to lose 113 games. I’m on record as believing they’ll win 92 or thereabouts and make the playoffs, perhaps as NL East champ. I thought last week — and think still — that this is a good team. But even Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm couldn’t fail to note that the Braves of Opening Weekend 2012 bore a lamentable likeness to the Braves of September 2011.

The Epic Collapse ended with them being swept by Philadelphia. The new season commenced with another sweep. Midway through Game 2, the issue wasn’t so much if they’d win — they didn’t lead in the series — but if they’d manage a run. Six innings into Game 3, they hadn’t even mustered a hit.

The weekend’s unhappy totals: Seven runs, 14 hits, 11 walks against 25 strikeouts, an on-base percentage of .238 and a team batting average of .151. Come back, Larry Parrish! All is forgiven!

I’m kidding about the last part. But black humor will soon give way to utter bleakness if the Braves don’t start to hit and win. There’s no consolation in noting that the Yankees and Red Sox likewise started 0-3, or that the Marlins were 1-3, or that the Phillies scored one fewer run in their first three games than did the local Hitless Wonders. At this point, the Braves can’t worry about anyone else. They’ve got to get themselves right.

A team coming off an egregious September — and then a pretty rotten spring training, not that spring training counts — needs to win games and influence people, and it needs to do it soon. Otherwise the doubters will be in full cry, and some of that doubt will spread to the clubhouse. It was never going to be easy for the Braves to put September 2011 behind them, but it will be impossible if April 2012 becomes more of the same.

Baseball isn’t so much a game of momentum — momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitching, to quote the apt phrase — as belief. Even good teams have crummy weeks. By Memorial Day, though, you can begin to tell which teams, in their heart of hearts, see themselves as winners. The same Braves roster in a different year might be able to shrug off an awful April; I’m not sure this one can.

A sorry start could impel Frank Wren to start making trades. He resisted the urge over the winter, but he’s not by nature the most patient of general managers. Some of you will say: “Wren needs to be making trades hand over fist!” Even if he does, beggars tend not to be choosy. Would Wren in right-the-ship mode be able to wait for a sweet deal — getting Michael Bourn without sacrificing a prime arm — or would desperation trump good sense?

Nor would a poor April augur well for the biggest hire of Wren’s tenure. Fredi Gonzalez was seen as such an obvious successor to Bobby Cox that the GM didn’t bother to interview anyone else. To suggest that the collapse was all the manager’s fault is to ignore the obvious: Gonzalez’s best starting pitchers got hurt. But when a team falls to pieces at the shank of one season and makes almost no personnel changes, the front office has essentially said: “We’ve got enough talent.” When a team believed to have enough talent doesn’t win, what usually happens?

I know, I know. A week from now, this could all be moot. The Braves could go on a tear and claim first place and Gonzalez could be managing this club for the next 15 years. It is, let’s say again, a long season. But the 2012 Braves are already on the clock.

By Mark Bradley

317 comments Add your comment

BillytheKid

April 9th, 2012
12:01 pm

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2012
12:02 pm

Kudos, Billy The K

Paper Bag Hitter

April 9th, 2012
12:05 pm

I couldn’t hit my way out of a Paper Bag……But it appears that the Brave’s can’t either!

Rickster

April 9th, 2012
12:07 pm

Dang. Third.

I think Tiger Woods is petulant and vulgar and will never be the champion Jack, Arnie or eve Phil are.

Wren's Pen

April 9th, 2012
12:08 pm

The Brave’s might have the best closer in the Business(Kimbrel)…….But what good is he if you can’t get a lead for him?

My Man Woody

April 9th, 2012
12:09 pm

in other depressing news D.Lowe gave up none earned in 7 IP and got the win, did not see how KK was doing

BillytheKid

April 9th, 2012
12:09 pm

I saw where the Braves didn’t get swept in a three game series last year until September. Now they start off the year with one – to the Mets no less who might not win 60 games.

After the bad finish you know the Braves lost a lot of goodwill with the fans. Not a good way to try and regain it by tanking in NYC to start the year.

Brave Hokie

April 9th, 2012
12:09 pm

The Braves are the most thankless team to pull for in sports… even when they win they make me miserable…

That Guy

April 9th, 2012
12:10 pm

I’ve loved the Braves since 1991 (when I was in first grade). I grew up with them winning each year and suffered through the bad years of Chuck James and Buddy Carlyle as starters. But this is new to me. The Braves need to do something to show they care. They seem laskluster and uneffected by their inabilitis to but up any offense. Getting swept by the Mets is a TERRIBLE way to start the season. I know it is a long one, but COME ON! I’m not saying “Blow up the Braves” but something needs to be done. I’m not sure what it is…just something! It’s hard to see my beloved Braves performing like this.

Calvin Mcdonald

April 9th, 2012
12:11 pm

It’s only been three games. Yea they looked awful while getting swept by the lowly Mets but I’m not sure if it is something that needs to cause panic. I remember when the Braves lost 9 in a row in 2010, they swept the Astros at home, played avg for the new few games then went up to Milwaukee and Prado hit that grand slam to kick start them to an unbelievable May and early June. Perhaps the ‘Stros can do the same here…..sort of….

Birdman of Falcatraz

April 9th, 2012
12:12 pm

As important as the team believing they can win is the fan base believing the same. There is no basis for this belief considering Black September of 2011. What has improved on this team? You cannot say throwing a lot of youth into the pitching staff or at shortstop can be seen as improvement as most rookies cant be counted on without some bumps in the road.

Wren's Hitters

April 9th, 2012
12:12 pm

If the Brave’s don’t start Hitting………then the only one who will be Hitting is Wren………….Hitting The Road out of Atl!

Rickster

April 9th, 2012
12:13 pm

Oh… sorry. This was supposed to be about the Braves. Of course… neither they nor Tiger could hit well this weekend.

Birdman of Falcatraz

April 9th, 2012
12:13 pm

Clarification, the fans belief in the team affects not the wins, but the ticket sales, which is the most important aspect of any team.

Skeezix

April 9th, 2012
12:13 pm

Could not have gotten off to a worse start………..and to play so poorly against the Mets. They made the Mets look like world beaters.

After the Sept. 2012 crash, a dismal Spring training and now the Mets series, the entire team could be a head case.

JTH

April 9th, 2012
12:14 pm

An epic collapse is something that will linger for years.

Fredi G looks lost managing games.

Half the team looks disinterested.

The Braves won’t win again with Liberty Media in control. They refuse to commit to winning, it’s all about profit.

Going to be a long summer folks and it could get ugly.

And Meg....

April 9th, 2012
12:14 pm

Mr. Bradley do you think Coach Gonzales will make it through the season if continue to struggle? Also if the season is a wash, do you see the Braves looking at a Terry Franconia?

Skeezix

April 9th, 2012
12:16 pm

Correction: Sept. 2011 crash…

Bill

April 9th, 2012
12:16 pm

Wish the Braves could trade Liberty Media as easy as trading players or firing managers.

Frank "I Love Prospects" Wren

April 9th, 2012
12:16 pm

“As Fredi “Tip Your Cap” Gonzalez always says, you gotta tip your cap to a World Series contender like the NY Mets, who should also be called the “NL Allstars” because their team is all All-Star caliber players.”

“As for our team, we will continue to hang on to our prospects even while we get no-hit every game because we are complacent and happy with losing.”

NL least

April 9th, 2012
12:17 pm

The Brave’s,Marlins and Phillies look great this year……………1 win in 9 games between the 3 of them!……………….LOL

George Stein

April 9th, 2012
12:18 pm

The low OBP is merely the result of the organization in general devaluing the statistic. It’s why they got on Heyward for being too patient and it’s why they push players to be aggressive.

Fredi wasn’t solely responsible for the collapse last year, but he bears some culpability because he would have claimed credit if they were successful. Further, there have been enough legitimate criticisms offered (and they don’t need to be rehashed here) that his position should be in peril.

Mako

April 9th, 2012
12:19 pm

The time to trade some of the young pitching talent is past, that needed to be done by last December. Now Wren & Gonzo gotta go with what they got. Otherwise they’ll be over paying for mediocre talent at best.

Brian "Boob" McCann

April 9th, 2012
12:19 pm

“Well said Frank “I Love Prospects” Wren, you gotta tip your cap! It’s never our fault when we lose, that’s why we gotta tip our caps to the other team!”

dennis montecalvo

April 9th, 2012
12:20 pm

hate baseball,put’s me to sleep faster than a good old sunday afternoon nascar snoozefest

Kyle

April 9th, 2012
12:21 pm

Wren deserves this for not making moves in the winter like he should have. Hopefully Houston lights them up too in order to keep making the point.

Ted M

April 9th, 2012
12:22 pm

That was more then a sweep as their offense looked utterly terrible.

What if Houston takes 2 of 3, which doesn’t look beyond reason?

Then they have to start playing good teams.

Felix

April 9th, 2012
12:22 pm

As teams go, this one really stinks bad!

The MLB 2012 Braves = NBA 2012 Charlotte Bobcats

Bye bye Fredi, bye bye Frank.

bulldogbubba

April 9th, 2012
12:23 pm

What does it take to get these guys to score runs? Are they waiting on Chipper to come back and lead them to victory? Maybe this team is too young to get it done.No leader in the clubhouse or on the bench.Where is the rah-rah person to push everybody else? All questions and no answers.WHERES CLUSTERS?

SR

April 9th, 2012
12:23 pm

Let’s start with your premise, exactly what makes you believe this is a good team? They have one of the least productive outfields in baseball. They have an unproven raw rook at shortstop. They have a hall of famer at third base who cannot stay healthy. They have a starter in Jurjjens who is a shell of his former self. They have an all star pitcher coming off back surgery. They have a starter in Hanson who seems to always be one start away from the DL. They have slop as middle relievers. Other than Bourn, who suddenly forget how to hit, they are slow as molasses. They have an extraordinarily weak bench. They cannot hit with RISP nor with two outs. They are not fundamentally sound. They have a manager who is overmatched and a nitwit for a GM who sat on his ass all offseason doing absolutely zilch to correct admitted deficiences in the face of abject failure. Does this sound like a “good team” to you?? It surely does not to me.

bulldogbubba

April 9th, 2012
12:24 pm

Just remember us Bulldog Bubba’s are Winners!!!!

Herschel Talker

April 9th, 2012
12:25 pm

MB:

What a bunch of apathetic jokers. These guys are toast, nothing has changed since September for these losers. I have been saying for over a year now.

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ!!!

HT

Ted M

April 9th, 2012
12:25 pm

the Phillies & the Marlins each have a win…the Braves are alone in last place.

Season Ticket Holder

April 9th, 2012
12:25 pm

As a Season Ticket Holder I was pleased to hear about the 33%off on concessions but I am beginning to wonder if that’s enough as it probably will take 100% discount on Beer to be able to stand watching this group of BallPlayers at the Stadium…..At least at home I can flip the channel!

Ralf Gar

April 9th, 2012
12:26 pm

Put a fork in ‘em, they’re done.

Felix

April 9th, 2012
12:29 pm

Hey Liberty Media/JS/Frank Wren: We don’t want no cheap concessions! We want a winning baseball team!

Tootsi

April 9th, 2012
12:30 pm

This start makes Mark’s “We are hyenas” article look that much more absurd. What was Fredi basing that comment on again?

Steph

April 9th, 2012
12:31 pm

Yup. Second this Mark.

Trey

April 9th, 2012
12:32 pm

The Braves don’t care. Whenever a team struggles, I noticed that it is the manager who gets fired, why not the General Manager for once?

Trey

April 9th, 2012
12:32 pm

I know that the manager didn’t get fired, but it is always him, when the team ends up tanking.

Ted M

April 9th, 2012
12:34 pm

the Braves are dead last in team batting ave. for both leagues.

dean

April 9th, 2012
12:35 pm

Thank God this weekend I: 1) Yard work 2) And some more yard work 3) Rode my motorcycle 4) Watched round 3 of the Masters 5) Got up at 0430 for a sunrise service 6) Ate at The Breakfast Club 6) Rode some more 7) Watched round 4 of the Masters

I did hear the Braves had some struggles this weekend. Has anyone been fired yet?

PureEvil

April 9th, 2012
12:35 pm

I miss Bobby!

ramblingbuzz

April 9th, 2012
12:35 pm

Talk about a team with no fire and no desire. Now tell me again how last year’s meltdown was an aberration and these same players are going to tear it up on offense this year. What a fairy tale.

Ted M

April 9th, 2012
12:36 pm

AJ Happ has pitched well against the Braves thru out his career.

jerry

April 9th, 2012
12:36 pm

Uggla is a problem. 2011 hit .201 vs lefthanders, which is his job. Now hitting .111, no homers, no doubles, no rbi’s.

Brett

April 9th, 2012
12:37 pm

Hiring Freddi Gonzalez was a colossal mistake. The guy was a loser who was fired by the Marlins and now he’s bringing the Braves down with him. The fact that he wasn’t fired after the worst collapse since the start of divisional play only proves that the guy knows where the body is buried. Either that, or it proves that Frank Wren is a bumbling boob who should be sent out the door right behind his worthless manager. How do you stand pat after blowing an 8 1/2 game lead in September? Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. The only up side to this Braves disaster is that we don’t have to wait until September to get our hearts ripped out again. The sooner Freddi and Wren go, the faster the rebuilding job can begin.

urban redneck

April 9th, 2012
12:37 pm

again, first is dumb. please stop.

just saw where FF made the list of the 40 most overrated players in MLB. i wholeheartedly disagree.

gonna be a long season, boys.

Wren Hater

April 9th, 2012
12:38 pm

Will the Braves pull an “‘03 Marlins” by firing Fredi around the All-Star Break and asking Bobby Cox to come out of retirement for a couple of months for one last stretch run with Chipper (a la Jack McKeon in 2003)?

Mark Bradley

April 9th, 2012
12:40 pm

The Braves are indeed last in the majors in team batting. But it’s early. They might yet work their way up to 28th.

I’m kidding. Sort of.