After a ‘just OK’ first half, the Braves need to get cracking

These two have been very good. Their team? Less good. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

These two have been very good. Their team? Less good. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Half their season behind them, the Braves awoke Thursday holding third place in the five-team National League East, standing fifth in the wild-card chase. They were six games behind Washington, their biggest deficit of 2012.

(On Thursday night the Braves beat the Cubs to halve the series and the 10-game homestand but gained no ground in the East. First the Mets and then the Nationals rallied to win in the bottom of their respective ninth innings, prompting groans from those Braves players watching in the clubhouse.)

Asked Thursday afternoon to characterize the first 81 games of 2012, manager Fredi Gonzalez said: “Just OK. We have pretty high standards around here. This was just OK.”

Said Frank Wren, the general manager: “I think we’re better than our record. I think everyone — players, staff — would say that.”

At the close of business on the Fourth of July, the Braves were 42-39. At the midpoint last season, they were 46-35. The Braves chose not to make major offseason moves because they believed their September collapse was an aberration, and certainly no month in 2012 has been so epically wretched. Neither has one been outstanding: These Braves were 14-9 in April, 14-15 in May, 13-12 in June.

The Braves rank sixth in the league in team batting average, ninth in ERA. That latter bit flatters to deceive: Their starting pitchers have posted the league’s 12th-best ERA; a year ago, the Braves’ rotation was fifth-best.

Said Chipper Jones, telling no lies: “We haven’t had the same pitching, at least in terms of starters, we did last year. We’ve hit better than last year, but we haven’t always hit consistently.”

There are nights when the Braves’ batting order can seem as potent as an American League club’s — and try finding a better outfield than this — but other times these hitters go hungry. The nightly yield for the Braves in the first three games of their series against the Cubs was one run, then 10 runs, then one again. Quite the pattern, eh?

Wren: “I’ve used the ‘C’ word very consistently — we haven’t been consistent from game to game. I think Chipper said it best the other day: We need to bring it every night.”

Obvious question: Why don’t the Braves bring it every night? (Here we stipulate that, this being baseball and baseball seasons lasting six month, some waxing and waning is inevitable.) Chipper’s suggestion: “When you have young guys, you can get young mistakes and inconsistency.”

That might account for the wobbles of starting pitchers Mike Minor (who’s 24) and Randall Delgado (22), or even first baseman Freddie Freeman (22) and right fielder Jason Heyward (22). But what of second baseman Dan Uggla (32) or catcher Brian McCann (28) — neither of whom was, as of Thursday morning, hitting even .230? What of Jonny Venters and Jair Jurrjens, 2011 All-Stars who have been ordinary or worse in 2012?

Gonzalez: “We could have been better than we’ve played, and I think the reason we haven’t played better is that we haven’t been consistent in starting pitching. I can’t think of many times we’ve gone through five games [or one rotational turn] with quality starts; the best teams do that four or five times.”

So what happens now? Does a team that was good enough to take two of three games at Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium and Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay’s yucky place) contrive to miss the postseason yet again? Does an inconsistent team find consistency over Games 82-162? And does Wren make a move before the trade deadline?

“I expect something [meaning a deal],” Chipper said. Then this: “The best cure for an inconsistent team is to heap on the starting pitching. Five lockdown starters can make a team awfully consistent.”

Perhaps the retread signee Ben Sheets, who yielded four earned runs in five innings in his first start in Double-A on Wednesday, can take one sport. Perhaps Zack Greinke, the Milwaukee free-agent-to-be, will arrive on or about July 31. Perhaps a rotation that has hamstrung an otherwise pretty good team will become a second-half juggernaut.

Then again, maybe it’s time to face economic reality. The Braves have the 16th-biggest payroll among big-league clubs, and as of noon Thursday they had the 14th-best record. But that wouldn’t explain the Nationals (20th in payroll) and the Pirates (26th) leading divisions, would it?

Being owned by faceless Liberty Media means this organization will never be profligate, but this remains a sound franchise with a good farm system. There are enough resources in place. To date, the 2012 Braves haven’t maximized theirs. It’s time for everyone involved — this GM, this manager, these players — to implement some halftime adjustments.

By Mark Bradley

145 comments Add your comment

todd grantham

July 5th, 2012
7:38 pm

Kudos Mark for another prescient column

Sean

July 5th, 2012
7:38 pm

I’m sure the Phillies would say they’re better than their record too, but that’s not worth much these days.

Mark Bradley

July 5th, 2012
7:38 pm

I give the kudos around here, I’ll have you know.

But thanks.

todd grantham

July 5th, 2012
7:40 pm

Not a problem! do you think Randall Delgado is on the trading block?

todd grantham

July 5th, 2012
7:42 pm

Should the Braves have not cut Derrick Lowe loose? (shudder…)

todd grantham

July 5th, 2012
7:44 pm

your line reminds me of an old, old Honeymooners joke: Ralph: I wear the pants around this house!!! Alice: And believe me those pants would FIT around this house!!!

todd grantham

July 5th, 2012
7:46 pm

it would certainly be nice if a local conglomerate like Coke would buy the Braves. Or UPS. Or Home Depot. Or Delta.

Michael

July 5th, 2012
7:50 pm

Crunching the numbers a bit, the Nats are on pace to win 96 games, which isn’t out of the question with their rotation. The Braves would have to win 2 out of every 3 from here on out just to tie at 96 wins. An awfully tall order.

Dawg Haus

July 5th, 2012
7:51 pm

They didn’t make any moves in the offseason, but it’s time to make some now if this team wants to contend.

Enough Frank

July 5th, 2012
7:52 pm

Wren has to be a man and demand more from his staff and players…consistenly inconsistent. Uggla has to start pulling his weight. Mcann is looking washed up…Depending on twenty somethimgs to anchor the back half of the rotation is a joke…and our record shows it.

Grand

July 5th, 2012
7:53 pm

Anyone else see Chipper giving Fredi pointers before Fredi relays the sign.

Mark Bradley

July 5th, 2012
7:55 pm

I think Randall Delgado could get traded.

Norris

July 5th, 2012
8:07 pm

Mark you cant make statements like that without telling us more. Do you know something?

G

July 5th, 2012
8:14 pm

This team needs more than 1 starting pitcher

SSIgator

July 5th, 2012
8:14 pm

Mark -

Crack may take away the pain, but I doubt it will improve yheir won/loss record.

Norris

July 5th, 2012
8:15 pm

if they are going to get a pitcher it will be pointless unless they actually pursue an upper tier pitcher…

JSS

July 5th, 2012
8:20 pm

Ha ha, bring it every night! Which day off is this for Chipper?

Willy

July 5th, 2012
8:21 pm

I think Jeff Schultz might get traded for Woody Paige.

C U next tuesday

July 5th, 2012
8:22 pm

I got a “C” word for ya, Wren… Sums up your tenure with the team real nicely.

Caseyatthebat

July 5th, 2012
8:23 pm

Fredi is probably a very nice fella but I rarely pay any attention to what he has to say anymore. It becoming increasingly so with Wren also. Wren might think a lot of things but it is what it is. This team is average and, as it’s constituted now, will not achieve any end of season success. Might be time for Wren to stop thinking and act. I think back on Schuerholz promises at the end of last year’s collapse and sometimes wonder what golf course he’s playing on now.

Mark Bradley

July 5th, 2012
8:25 pm

The question was raised: Is Randall Delgado on the trading block? I said I thought he could get traded. That’s not something I’ve been told by anyone within the organization. It’s just my guess.

welikebaseball2

July 5th, 2012
8:31 pm

You hit it on the head Mark. We know the two culprits for the inconsistent starting pitching, but in terms of the schitzo offense…Uggla & McCann. Don’t know what’s up with McCann this year, but Uggla is notoriously streaky & has been that way his whole career. We knew that when we got him. His streakiness hurt us last year & is hurting us again this year…in terms of offensive consistency. Couple his streakiness with McCann’s virtual absence, coupled with two unpredictable rookies in the starting rotation & what do you get? A team than wins five in a row, loses five in a row, etc.

Max Sizemore

July 5th, 2012
8:36 pm

Tampa Bay and its “yucky” stadium is a much better run organization than Atlanta. Wren doesn’t compare to Andrew Friedman and Fredi is not in the same class as Joe Madden. Oh, and Tampa has a smaller payroll. And let’s not even talk about strength of schedule; the NL is WAY inferior to the AL — just look at the interleague numbers the past few years. The Rays play in the toughest division in baseball. The Braves should actually be ashamed to be as bad as they are.

todd grantham

July 5th, 2012
8:36 pm

i think Delgado is trade bait too. but for what in return?

Nativebird

July 5th, 2012
8:37 pm

Wow. Keep talkin like that and your buddy Gonzales won’t let you ride his Harley anymore.

Caseyatthebat

July 5th, 2012
8:46 pm

Minor’s right on schedule, a home run every 4 1/2 innings.

Sonny Clusters

July 5th, 2012
8:48 pm

Well, Chipper has hit the ball pretty well the last couple games but we see he is sitting out tonight. He’s no rah, rah guy. He leads by example. That’s what he says anyway. His example tonight is to miss another game with the break coming up. Oh well, got to rest those knees and thumbs and quads and obliques and ankles and toes and that bad bruise and avoid any flu-like symptoms that may have been introduced during the day since he’s not playing tonight. We are all for putting him in the HOF soon.

Mark Bradley

July 5th, 2012
8:52 pm

Can’t imagine the Braves would trade a starting pitcher without getting one in return

Caseyatthebat

July 5th, 2012
8:56 pm

Sonny……..my friend yours is a fixation on Chipper. Next year you’ll probably criticize him for retiring.

Ekim

July 5th, 2012
8:58 pm

Sonny, classless as usual.

gcs

July 5th, 2012
9:01 pm

Brave #1: “Psst, Delgado is not pitching tonight. It’s okay to score runs. Pass it down.”
Brave #2: “Psst, Delgado is not pitching tonight. It’s okay to score runs. Pass it down…”

dawg4u

July 5th, 2012
9:02 pm

Fine column Mark and agree that Delgado may be traded. I just can’t see the Braves making the playoffs without at least one more starter in addition to Sheets (who hasn’t impressed so far). They may not make it even if they do another fairly good starter. The offensive woes really concern me. If there has ever been a streaky team to redefine streaky then the Braves are it. We could score 7 by inning 5 or held to one or less runs. I just don’t have a feeling that this team can make the playoffs. I look at ownership, gm and manager and can’t be overly optimistic. Fredi seems to be in way over his head and FW probably could make some deals but think he is working with one hand tied behind his back with this ownership group. Just a feeling, I must admit but I never see a sense of urgency in mgmt anymore as I did when we were much better in ‘93 and signed McGriff. I hope that I’m wrong but just don’t see any fire in the belly types on this team or management!

Larry

July 5th, 2012
9:04 pm

Mark,

Not a single comment about the poor and uninspiring managing. I thought you were tougher than this…I know you’re smarter than this!

Dissapointed.

Sonny Clusters

July 5th, 2012
9:11 pm

Actually, we have been fed the illusion of championship caliber baseball and intense, dedicated, professional athletes and we was just questioning if that’s really what the Braves are delivering. Now, some of you real fans may think we are mean because we think a leader straps on the leotard and plays when his team needs some production. It’s okay with us if you don’t want to see him play every day – an old timer needs his rest. Some fans probably drove here for the game expecting to see him and instead they get to see Francisco and of course the All-Star at second base hitting .229. Gaze out at the little signs in the outfield and content yourselves with how good they are. We’d expect to see some rah, rah, golly, gee stuff on the DOP blog but not here. The Braves will never be more than what they are now if the fans in this city don’t expect and demand more. The fans go to the park to be entertained and do the wave and don’t seem to care if the baseball is good or the team wins. One more thing, everybody on the team is talking about Minor needing to bear down and nobody seems to be saying the same thing about Uggla and McCann. If they were to bear down maybe the team would be less streaky and they wouldn’t need Chipper in the lineup every night.

Caseyatthebat

July 5th, 2012
9:17 pm

Larry…….This isn’t New Yawk boy! Columnists down here are friendly. Although, Mark, it does seem to me that you applied some pressure on Richt last year.like to see you put on the same glasses and tell us what you think of Gonzalez.

Sonny Clusters

July 5th, 2012
9:17 pm

Well, we must be the most hated man on the blog. Here we are saying the Braves aren’t doing all they can to win and that the players (even Mr. Special) aren’t going to war every night. They lose and they don’t get mad. Prado’s arguing a pitch call right now and he’s showing a little fire. He plays that way, too. How did he get on this team? Oh, that’s right they supposedly tried to trade him over the winter and that didn’t work out. Gotta get somebody passive in his place. How about Fredi? He’s as passive as you’ll find.

Charles

July 5th, 2012
9:19 pm

I don’t know how anyone in his right mind can characterize a just over .500 team as “OK”. If you want to be a perpetual also-ran, maybe that’s “OK” but the Atlanta fans demand better. The problem with this organization, as well as the writers that cover them, is that there is no accountability for stupidity. Sure the pitching has been less than expected, but how do you explain Venters fall from grace, now with an elbow injury that presumably management knew, or should have known, but lied to the media when Venters was clearly not the same stopper of old. Instead of hiding the injury and continuing to send Venters out for more abuse, management could have been honest and perhaps done something different, like bringing on the reliable Medlen instead of using him in useless games. Sure there’s been some injuriies but Medlen has never let us down, but Fredi won’t use him, preferring to rely on the now-injured Venters. The only good thing Fredi has done this year is call Jurgens a “minor league player” — Jair listened, took his hit, and has been making marked improvement. Perhaps a little ass-kicking for Uggly, McFann and other members of this uninspired lot will produce similar results. Don’t think that Zack Greinke is the answer — he’s mediocre outside Miller Park and we’ll trade away the future for a rent-a-player, something the Braves haven’t done very well, i.e., Adam Wainwright for JD Drew; Neftali Feliz, Elvis and some other guys for Teixera, and whatever we gave up for McLouse – your article pointed out the Pirates are in contention, with a mediocre payroll. Or even worse they’ll sign him to a five year $80M extension and we’ll be paying him Lowe wages to play for someone else when they realize he is a one-park pitcher. As others point out, the Rays have done it year in and year out with a miniscule payroll and less than stellar fan base and the worst park in the majors. Stop blaming the team’s troubles on Liberty. The bigger problem is the terrible trades and the stubborn sticking to a management scheme that no longer works. To win you have to have heart and grit and get maximum performance from most of your roster — you can’t afford Ugglys, McFanns, part-time $14M players like Chipper, and inconsistency at the worst time, such as the emotionless Freeman grounding into a DP with one out and the bases loaded against the worst team in baseball in the first inning of yesterdays game. The Braves need some fire and enthusiasm — don’t look for it in a trade — the Greinke race is unlikely to be won and he’s “just OK” outside Miller Park in any event to justify a long terms Lowe-type deal.. When was the last time the Braves made a trade that “turned things around” — the only one that really did that was McGriff, but that was 18 years ago. Since management and the current clubhouse leaders won’t do it, perhaps the local media will start pillorying this team into better performances. I wouldn’t worry about not getting interviews with Fredi and Wren — after all they are either incredibly stupid or incredibly bad liars. This is the management team that told us Pastornicky was the answer as SS, when his minor league (AA) fielding over two years hardly boded well. How many additional games would we have won with Simmons starting at SS with a bat equal to or better than the loser Pastornicky. Let’s take Venters — overworked last year and now down with what sounds like a serious elbow injury — wouldn’t it have been better to use Medlen instead of Venters if he was hurt and clearly not performing well? Those 2 major management screw-ups probably cost the team 5-6 games — the difference between being a sure bet for the wild card and a threat to take the division instead of “just OK”. But real change won’t happen, in part because the DOBs and Mark Bradleys of the world are quick to delude themselves into wishful thinking that the big turnaround is just around the corner. The only way that will occur is a complete rebuilding. For this season, the Braves need to win every game before the All-Star break to stay in contention for the expanded wild card, which if the season ended at the All-Star break would find them out of the running. Time to rebuild, starting with the firing of the field manager and the graceful resignation of the failed Scherholz/Wren team — I would sure like to have half the players who are playing for other teams for their failed rent-a-player experiments. If you find this cynical, don’t listen to me, because accordingly to Fredi and Bradley, everything is “just OK”.

Ron Roberts

July 5th, 2012
9:30 pm

This team SHOULD be, by my estimation, 45-36, just going back to a few weeks’ games that the manager himself has blown. We’d be 2 games back of the Nats, securely in 2nd place and feeling a lot different about this team’s outlook (I’d think).

The Minor vs. Yankees choke job by Venters, et al, was one we should’ve had; the game last week vs. the Nats – tying runner on 2nd w/nobody out and we fail to get him in – another failure to move ‘em over and get ‘em in (and who’s sending the signs out from the bullpen to bunt or swing away?) – at the very least that game should’ve gone extras; the Sunday Blue Jays meltdown (Livan’s swan song) – just another wretched mis-use of the bullpen by Fredi himself.

I’m only going back a few weeks and finding 2-3 “should have” wins. We could probably find a half dozen or more if we really wanted to get serious about it.

I realize “that’s baseball,” but “that’s Fredi Gonzalez’ managerial style,” too, and it’s lax. We don’t put pressure on the other team with runners on base; we don’t put a bunt down (I hear all the time how bad we are at it – uh, coaching?) or hit & run or send runners. Michael Bourn should have 30-40 steals with the numbers he’s putting up at the plate. Pitchers know he’s not moving with Fredi G. in the opposing dugout. We don’t “make things happen.” We sit back and wait for the big hit.

And for that I think we’ve “un-coached” our way out of an additional 3-5 games thus far, at the least.

Coach (2012 Fredi's Beisbol Fandango)

July 5th, 2012
9:35 pm

This team needs more than just pitching. They haven’t addressed their anemic bench play (David Ross notwithstanding). Depth is key for the 162 games grind, our Bravos don’t have enough.

The evidence: Uggla and Bourn have played virtually every game because we have no true utility player to be found on our roster. Some one who can give both of these guys a day off every two weeks and not embarrass himself in the process.

Coach (2012 Fredi's Beisbol Fandango)

July 5th, 2012
9:36 pm

Ron Roberts, agreed and well said.

Ekim

July 5th, 2012
9:40 pm

Raise your hand if you read all of Charles’ 796-word post.

Herschel Talker

July 5th, 2012
9:42 pm

Charles at 9:19:

Stellar rant. Well done.

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ!!! IT’S TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE!!!

HT

Herschel Talker

July 5th, 2012
9:43 pm

Ekim:

My hand is raised.

HT

Ekim

July 5th, 2012
9:46 pm

I particularly like the part where he calls Braves management liars for hiding Venters’ injury.

Del

July 5th, 2012
9:46 pm

What in the world will it take to bench our AS 2nd baseman? His “performance” is mind blowing! Bench him, put Prado back at second and call up a LF replacement. How long are we going to wait on DU???

Bronkelliott

July 5th, 2012
9:51 pm

Del

I was thinking the same thing. Uggla has tanked, he needs to go clear his head or go to the pony league and learn how to field an hit again!

Ekim

July 5th, 2012
9:53 pm

Andrelton Simmons didn’t look nearly mad enough just now that he grounded out. I would expect him to throw a helmet or jump on Jim Joyce or something. No fire in his belly. Pathetic.

Farnsworthy

July 5th, 2012
9:54 pm

Hey Ugly: Even Franscisco is out hitting you.

Ekim

July 5th, 2012
9:59 pm

What are you laughing at, Kimbrel? Your team is only three games above .500. Think that’s funny?

Ekim

July 5th, 2012
10:01 pm

No fire in Kimbrel’s belly. He smiled.