The off day on Monday gave us some much needed rest before we head to Miami to face the Marlins. It also provided an opportunity to evaluate where we are and why. Where we are is in a virtual dead heat for second place with those Marlins thanks to a Brewers team that has their aces pitching well and the middle of the lineup delivering with men on base. As a result the Brew Crew is heading for a Central Division title barring injury. The Braves on the other hand are stumbling into Miami after being humiliated by the Mets yet somehow still in contention. Our 32-28 record is mostly due to superior pitching. Without that we’d already be thinking about next year. Let’s just look at the losses for a minute.
In 21 of our 28 losses we scored less than three runs; five times we were shut out.
In five losses the other team scored just three runs, two of those were sub .500 teams. One more run in each of those games and we’re in first by at least a game.
At 15-14 the Braves are 22nd in the majors and 12th in the NL – ahead of only Houston, the Mets, the Dodgers and the Nationals – when facing sub .500 teams. In 11 of our losses to under 500 teams we scored three runs or less.
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Title contending teams – teams worthy of a championship – beat the teams they are supposed to beat; those playing less than .500 ball. The Braves obviously aren’t. The problem of course is inconsistent to nonexistent hitting.
All of this isn’t exactly news of course. Those of us who watch every possible game know even if we can’t recite the numbers without looking them up. Whether it’s Jason Heyward’s increasingly perplexing injury or Dan Uggla’s continuing ineptitude at the plate, every game it’s a question of who will fail this time. The team seems to lack a fire in its belly; the desire to go out and beat the opposition unmercifully and detest losing. I’ve seen no signs however of anyone doing anything to pump this lineup up, motivate them, encourage them or even get in their face when they screw up. We don’t have anyone built that way in the lineup and our new manager seems ready to let the best team win, tip his hat and move on.
In the past weeks the signs that Fredi Gonzales has become way too laid back since arriving back in Atlanta have become more and more obvious. On at least three occasions Bobby Cox would have been tossed defending his players’ against blatantly inept umpiring. Sunday’s play on Jose Reyes at third base comes immediately to mind and Brian McCann’s amazement when strikes weren’t called strikes is another; and that was just one game. When Gonzales does make his way to the field his discussions never seem to have any passion. I was never a great fan of Lou Peniella’s over the top rants or over demonstrative and idiotic gestures like throwing a base or using the rosin bag as a hand grenade. I am in favor of a manager letting his players and the fans know he’s as fed up as they are at the bad calls being made.
Fredi used to know how to argue but now he either forgotten how or become resigned to it not making a difference.To steal a quote from an old dead politician, a Fredi Gonzales argument this year is like being savaged by a dead sheep. When the boss shows no passion the players feel it and it effects their play. Passion will help the team but it won’t cure this dysfunctional lineup. It needs an injection of new blood as well.
In the halcyon years between 1991 and 2005 we could be confident that John Schuerholz was quietly working in the background to resolve that problem. That feeling dissipated after 2005 (and was badly executed in the Mark Teixeira trade) and hasn’t been seen lately. I’m waiting to see some indication that Frank Wren is at least trying to do that. It may mean giving up someone that people will be outraged about to get what we need. It seems there may be impact players available at a price. Whether the Braves are willing to pay that price is another question. Whatever is decided, these changes must happen quickly. We’re nearly 40% of the way through the season and the Phillies won’t continue to wait on us all year.