It’s time to close the book on the Atlanta Braves’ playoff hopes in 2014.
I wish I could say it’s been a wild ride, but that wouldn’t be true at all. It was mostly down year, with a couple of bright spots, but those came too few and far between to actually turn into something better. In fact, as the calendar turned over to September, my biggest fear was the Braves would stumble awkwardly through the playoff door, only to fall flat on their faces.
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In other words, it was a bit of a relief to get the playoff monkey off their backs yesterday.
Sure, I didn’t really imagine it coming at the hands of a sweep at home by the Mets, but it’s felt inevitable for a majority of the year. If the recent 4-14 slump wasn’t an indicator, maybe it could’ve been the sweep at the hands of the Rangers in Texas, who hadn’t won back-to-back games at home since June. Or the dismal eight-game losing streak that all but dashed whatever playoff hopes remained.
Whatever the case, this has been a largely forgettable season, marred by the continued struggles of B.J. Upton, the release of Dan Uggla and the offensive woes that plagued the team all season.
The truly ironic part is the main concern going into the season was pitching. Preseason injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were devastating to a pitching staff that was going to have a breakout year. Then GM Frank Wren signed Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang to one-year deals, which still seemed like it wouldn’t cover the spread. Yet, here we are, almost at the end of the season, and Braves pitching has been one of the few bright spots this whole season. They were the first to 100 quality starts among all major league teams, and their current total of 107 is still best. Their team 3.39 ERA ranks third in the NL, fifth in MLB. They’ve allowed the fifth fewest home runs.
No, the pitching was never really the trouble.
Offensively, this team looked strong in the preseason. Even with Uggla and B.J. barely dragging their end of the burden, there should have been more offense to speak of this year. They’re second to last in runs scored, above the lowly Padres. They’re fourth to last in hits. Seventh to last in home runs. Sixth to last in average. And, as expected, they have the fourth most strikeouts. When you add all of that up, it doesn’t paint a good picture. And while it may be easy to pin the tail on Uggla and B.J., they’re only two players, one of whom hasn’t been on the team for more than a month now.
If you believed the rumors over the last week or so, it wasn’t a surprise that Frank Wren was the first domino to fall today. I seriously doubt he’ll be the last.
Over the next few months, the Braves will likely see many more changes, and I’ll discuss what I think led to this fantastic collapse this season. Even though numerous reports call Fredi Gonzalez safe, at least for now, I think his tenure is tenuous at best. But we’ll table that for now.
Frank Wren has definitely made some smart moves during his time with the Braves, but unfortunately, his misses are bigger than his hits. Obviously, Uggla and B.J. (can we come up with a name for the two of them? Buggla? Ugg-J?) are the most recent, glaring examples of bloated contracts that didn’t come close to panning out. But let’s not forget Derek Lowe and the $10 million paid to him after he left Atlanta. Or Kenshin Kawakami’s miserable season with a $23 million dollar price tag. And one more for you: Mark Teixeira. On top of all that, Wren apparently doesn’t gel well with the rest of the management staff, so he was probably on thin ice coming into the season.
If I were a betting man, I’d say hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher could be seeing pink slips sooner than later, but that’s pure speculation.
In any case, the Braves are on the market for a new GM. Special Advisor John Hart has been named the interim GM for the moment, but he has expressed no interest in keeping the job, preferring his analyst position with the MLB Network. Two names that have been floated out are Wren’s assistant, John Coppolella, and Royals GM Dayton Moore. Both are from the John Schuerholz camp and are bright stars in the sabermetrics methodology. With Moore’s success in Kansas City, it would surprise me to see him jump ship, but who knows, maybe he feels like he has unfinished business here?
I do expect more proverbial heads to roll in the next couple weeks, although very few will be players. Obviously, their performance is ultimately what sunk this team. It always strikes me as more than a little odd when player performance takes a back seat to what goes on behind the curtain. But the job of management is to set these players up for success and clearly the Braves feel that hasn’t been happening. Whether it’s the culture or the fact that they don’t want to move to a new stadium with a losing team, it’s time for a shake up and this is just the beginning.