Oct 3, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez (33) relieves starting pitcher Kris Medlen (54) during the fifth inning of game one of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Lose But Who is to Blame?

Braves disappoint in game one, so who do we blame?

The Braves plan for this series was to punish the Dodgers defense and support our pitchers with the best offense/defense combo they could put on the field.  Oddly – or maybe predictably – just the opposite happened.

The Dodgers

The Dodgers went meekly in the first as Kris Medlen mowed them down with three strikeouts. That was the end of that or just about, his only other strikeout was Clayton Kershaw in the fourth. Speaking of Kershaw, the presumptive CY Young winner was anything but invincible in the first four innings but somewhere between the fifth and sixth that nasty curve ball came out of hiding and from then on he was unhittable.  The offensive players of the game for the Dodgers – fans of the home run bat take note – were both named Ellis; catcher A.J. Ellis (2 for 4, 2 doubles, 1 RBI and 1 run scored) and second baseman Mark Ellis who was 2-5 with the same  end production.  Adrian Gonzalez homered with Carl Crawford on board and that’s the highlight reel clip but the it was the assorted people we didn’t keep off base exemplified by these two made the difference.

The Braves

Losing to Kershaw isn’t a shame, a lot of folks do that every year. What niggles me is how we lost and that everyone wants to blame someone for last night. So I’m going tell you who isn’t to blame.

  • You shouldn’t blame Evan Gattis for his failure to catch the first Ellis double or for the ill advised dive. Gattis is a catcher playing left because our left fielder is playing right, our right fielder is playing center and our center fielders are sitting on the bench.  Gattis made a base running error by going too far on the line drive to right field. While that did end the inning and was a mistake, it did not cost us the game.
  • You shouldn’t blame Elliot Johnson for not fielding Crawford’s sharply hit sharply hit grounder. I’ve looked at that replay  a couple of dozen times zoomed as much as my software will allow and it looks to me like the ball hit something, and changed directions when it came up, hit the heel of his glove and went behind him, all in .06 (six one-hundredths) of a second. Maybe Brandon Phillips, Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano make that pick cleanly; maybe. But the utter balderdash spouted last night that Dan Uggla would have made it is laughable. When EJ got to the a sharply hit ball in shallow right field and threw the runner out a couple of innings later no one said Uggla got it because he simply wouldn’t have made it to the ball. That isn’t hating on Uggla it’s just a fact. EJ is faster, a better defender and hit better since he arrived than Uggla.
  • You shouldn’t blame Andrelton Simmons for not picking off Yasiel Puig’s seeing eye base hits up the middle. Either the scouting report missed that since Puig’s hitting about 200 in the last month or the coach setting the defense blew it.
  • You shouldn’t blame Kris Medlen although I am sure he does take the loss personally. When you know – even subconsciously- that getting behind early against anyone with our lineup is not a good idea and that Kershaw is on the mound, there’s a tendency to be too fine and to over throw your pitches both of which happened as the game continued.  Meds wasn’t the guy who pitched against Cliff Lee the week before but putting two spectacular outings like that together back to back is extremely hard to do and when the defense lets you down it is impossible.

Jason Heyward does however come in for some criticism. Put away the tar and feathers I do not blame Heyward I said criticism and on a scale of 1-10 it’s about a 4. I knew watching his feet as he set up – badly – to catch that fly ball that he was going to try and get Puig at the plate.  I understand why he tried as well.  Nailing Puig there or even making it close enough to argue about would have been a psychological lift for the Braves and a blow to the Dodgers – or at least Puig.  To throw him out he needed to do what he’s done in right so well; get behind the ball, catch it with his forward momentum moving towards the plate and let his accurate arm do the rest.  Instead he almost camped under it, his feet almost tap dancing in place waiting on the ball. The momentum he needed in his favor to help him generate a string on target throw, he had to generate by taking a two steps and then trying to throw the ball harder. His body wasn’t pointing towards home when he let the ball go so the throw was up the line. and late. Having said all of that I’ll say again we had a catcher playing left because our left fielder was playing right, our right fielder was playing center while all of our center fielders sat on the bench. Neither B.J. Upton nor Jordan Schafer would have attempted that throw. Heyward knows his arm is strong and as a right fielder it is what he would have done and likely nailed Puig. But in center it was the wrong thing to do. However, you shouldn’t blame Heyward either.

I heard lots of complaints about Fredi Gonzalez last night and read a lot in other blogs today; the lineup was bad, the players were out of position etc. Here’s the thing, what else could he do? He wanted Gattis’ bat in the lineup and Gattis did what he was supposed to do and was on base four times last night. To make bat available he sacrificed defense. It was a gamble, the gamble every manager makes but this one failed. Had he started Schafer as I would have and his bat remained silent everyone would have demanded Gattis. I didn’t agree but I don’t blame Fredi for that or for EJ at second. The other option was Paul Janish; enough said? Medlen was the right choice for game one because the other choices held even more risk. Sure Teheran might have thrown a masterpiece but he could as well have given up three homers. So if you can’t blame those guys what about the umpires?

I watched Hunter Wendlestedt all night and he definitely blew strike calls for Braves pitchers – but he blew them both for and against the Braves. He also refused to give Kershaw at least six strikes that weren’t just close but right over the plate at the belt. In short he was equally bad for both teams. As he got tired his zone got bigger, EJ was called out on a pitch at least four inches off the plate in the ninth. . .as were a Dodger or two in eighth and ninth. So you can’t blame the umpires either. What’s left? I demand to be able to vent. who can I scream about?

Here’s the thing, this roster is badly constructed. I’ve said so all year. Good pitchers have shown up the holes in it all year too so if you want to complain about someone, how about the man who

  • Paid $15M to a center fielder we’ve benched,
  • Didn’t go get Jake Peavy or any other top of the line starter but signed Freddy Garcia and Kameron Loe
  • Watched Uggla decline in every year we’ve had him without getting someone who could hit as well as walk and play defense even if it meant bringing up Tommy LaStella in September and starting his arbitration clock?

So if you want to complain, start and finish in the GM’s office.  Here’s a thought, why not wait and see what happens, the series isn’t over yet.

That’s A Wrap

I know at least one who will say this is another attack on Frank Wren.  It isn’t.  I just pointed out who’s responsible for getting the players Fredi puts on the field. The GM stocks the Braves tool box, all Fredi does is pick the best tool he has in it at the time to do the job at hand.  Thus Freddy Garcia starts game four and Luis Ayala is the ground ball specialist. Of course the GM has a staff but he and only he has the final say on signings and trades. You can complain about Fredi if you want or say that he shouldn’t have done whatever he did.  You can moan about a player making a mistake or an umpire blowing a call, that’s what fans do.  Try to remember when you do that all players make mistakes and all umpires miss calls – okay some blow them so badly they should never be let on a ball field again, complain about the umps all you want.   I’d prefer we save the team’s post mortem until the patient is dead. The Braves are far from dead and the Dodgers are far from invincible and the series can be won.  If you insist on complaining remember that if someone says “what would you have done,” the answer should be based on something that exists – you know like facts and stuff – and the answer isn’t ‘I don’t know but something.’

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