Posted: 9:13 am Monday, June 9th, 2014

Braves are golden…or doomed (you decide) 

By Jeff Schultz

After losing a weekend series to last-place Arizona, the Braves have dropped into a three-way tie for first place.

After losing to last-place Arizona, Braves are in a three-way tie for first place.

Good morning.

The Braves have lost three of their last four series (eight of 12 games) to drop into a three-way tie for first place in the National League East with Washington and Miami, neither of which have been very good, either.

This usually is when everybody picks a side in the world of sports’ debate extremes. It’s either: “The Braves are doomed because they stink, and I said so!” Or, “The Braves are golden because they’ve managed to hang in there with slumping players and … well, you just wait!”

I’ve never made it a secret that the Braves’ roster construction and flawed hitting has bothered me, and it tends to catch up with them down the stretch and in the playoffs. But since the team is 61 games into a 162-game season and things can swing either way, here’s fodder for the optimists and pessimists.

• For the optimists: The Braves (32-29) are only three games over .500. But there’s only one team in the National League (San Francisco) and two in the majors (also Oakland) playing .600-plus baseball, so there’s no reason to think they’re about to be blown off the map.

• For the pessimists: They started 17-7. They’re 15-22 since. They just lost two out of three to last-place Arizona and recently dropped four straight to a Boston team that had lost 10 straight. There’s your reality.

• For the optimists: The Washington Nationals have shown themselves to be a one-year wonder. So the Braves will win the East, which means they’re in the playoffs, and then anything can happen.

• For the pessimists: The Nationals (32-29) are treading water despite an inordinate number of injuries. Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Denard Span, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister are among those who’ve spent time on the disabled list. Are we supposed to expect they’ll play at a 32-29 pace if and when they finally get healthy? (Notable: I should add that Washington actually has won seven of its last nine.)

• For the optimists: The Braves’ staff ERA of 3.02 ranks third best in the majors, far better than expected after going through Tommy John Surgery Hell before the season even started.

• For the pessimists: The bullpen has come unraveled of late, starter-turned-temp-reliever Alex Wood hasn’t fared well in the bullpen and the team is counting on the return of Jordan Walden from a hamstring injury to straight things out. File under things you didn’t expect to hear this season: “Well, as soon as we get Jordan Walden back…”

• For the optimists: Jason Heyward, the most important hitter in the Braves’ lineup because he bats leadoff, has added 50 points to his average since dropping to .206 on May 10. When he is getting on base, the offense is far more productive and the team is less dependent on hitting home runs.

• For the pessimists:The lineup is often criticized for striking out too much (the Braves have the eighth-most in the majors at 529) and reaching baseball infrequently (the majors’ 26th ranked on-base percentage at .302). Now we can’t even count on the big bop. Notwithstanding three homers Sunday, the Braves rank 12th in the majors in homers and 19th in slugging percentage.

• For the optimists: B.J. Upton is 0-for-14 with five strikeouts in his last three games. But he’s not quite the mess at the plate that he was earlier in the year (and last season). Prior to his three games, he had hit safely in 10 of 12 games: 14 for 47, .298.

• For the pessimists: The guy makes $75 million. He’s hitting .192 in 183 games as a Brave. Is this where I celebrate a 12-game sample size?

• For the optimists: Rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella is hitting .400 (12 for 30) in nine games since being recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. This could prompt the Braves to soon release Dan Uggla.

• For the pessimists: Great – so Uggla can sign back with Miami or another National League club for the minimum and probably return to the hitter he was before he came to Atlanta and haunt the Braves down the stretch. History:  He hit .263 with the Marlins, .210 with the Braves. He had an .838 OPS (on-base and slugging percentage) with the Marlins, .711 with the Braves. He had 33 homers and 105 RBI in his final season with the Marlins, two homers, 10 RBI and is on the bench in possibly his last season with the Braves.

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51 comments
Jazzpman
Jazzpman

Please with Frank Wren and the Upton's lousy defense we are DOOMED !

BradleyBreeze
BradleyBreeze

Schultzy..................you can lay a Golden Egg and still be Doomed..................just look at the ducks that lay those eggs............there are too many people who want those eggs and they disappear just like a flash in the pan or dust in the wind.........................or better yet a Brave's lead over the National's! 

BravoDawg
BravoDawg

Why does Fredi continue to play BJ? of course its his huge contract, but arent you suppose to put the best starting 8 out there that gives you the best chance to win? Its proven that with a .192 avg since hes been a Brave that the signing is a disaster, so move on & put him on the bench, Schafer should be leading off & lets see if he can play or not, he gets 3 hits then Fredi puts him back on the bench? Heyward is NOT a leadoff hitter, move him down to 5th between Justin & Gattis, put LaStella batting 2nd, & designate BJ the 24th man that he is only ahead of Uggly! Wake the F up Fredi!!!

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

BJ Upton has to be the worst everyday player in baseball.  As long as you are playing one man short you are pretty much conceding.  Last year was fluke, they made the playoffs two men short, but that was just amazing.  You can't win a hockey game with guys sitting in the penalty box for long periods.

Wilbo
Wilbo

I really, really despise Atlanta sports writers.


Wilbo
Wilbo

"The Washington Nationals have shown themselves to be a one-year wonder. So the Braves will win the East, which means they’re in the playoffs, and then anything can happen."


What a load of delusional crap. This is the Atlanta Braves we are talking about here. This organization has shown over nearly 2 decades now, they are most certainly going to choke like dogs in the playoffs with out fail! 


How can you say anything can happen in the playoffs, you homer bozo?

JAS0N
JAS0N

Jordan Schafer has done nothing but hit this season.  I'm so glad we brought him back.

journalist jimmy smith
journalist jimmy smith

whose personality do these braves reflect?  could it be the uptons?  this journalist was noticing how the uptons are almost too cool for baseball.  not running hard to first base is one way to tell.  jimmy smith thinks fredi is too much a lightweight for the team to assume his personality.  and let's hope they don't because fredi was the author of the epic collapse.  playing the best players that give the team a chance to win is mostly just talk.  "you know what?"  gotta tip your cap.  

Birdhair
Birdhair

love how schultz toes the line and includes an optimists section. There is nothing to be optimistic about as long as Frank Wren is the GM. Why can't the AJC just come out and provide the critcism that is warranted?

BooBooBear
BooBooBear

In consulting (and psychology) there is this thing called the Hawthorn Effect.  Basically, put some new person watching into a work place and all the workers will work as well as they can, thinking someone is about to be fired for slacking.  Immediately there is an increase in production.  However, after the newness effect wears off, the slackers go back to being slackers, and then the watcher can see who really needs to be fired.  Well, the Hawthorn Effect saw all the new garbage heap pitchers act like they thought they were pitching for their lives, and some hitters did too, explaining the 17-7 start.  Now, with no one fearing they will lose their job, or don't care if they do, we see a team of all slackers, from top management all the way down.


Fire them all!  Well, at least enough of the slackers to get those who are left's attention.

cvan32802
cvan32802

While there is much to be said on the "optimist" side, the Nationals are a better team and the structural problems with the Braves, the most blatant being the BJ/Uggla situation, do not bode well. But it's baseball, and anything can happen. But Jeff has accurately pointed out that the historical indicators are not looking well for the Braves with the Nationals returning to closer to full strength -- the stories in the DC papers are where should they put Zimmerman, their franchise player who has just returned from the DL..  

ATN95
ATN95

For the pessimists:  1) Fredi Gonzalez is still our manager, makes very questionable bullpen decisions,  lineup cards, and leaves starting pitchers in too long.  2) Our pitchers are terrible at bunting which means we don't manufacture runs and continue to rely on a league-leading percentage of runs from the long ball. 3) It's almost impossible to improve our offense as currently constructed due to bad contracts given to overrated, swing for the fences, all-or-nothing, poor OBP/contact/grind it out type of hitters. 

satchel
satchel

well, look at it this way:  as soon as we got la stella up, our problems at 2b have disappeared.  same equation could apply to BJ eventually.  ie, if he cant establish something soon, jordan schafer could play CF and hit .270.  voila.  problem solved.  

MichBravesFan
MichBravesFan

A reeling Rockies team (5-15) in past 20 and a rookie pitcher making his big-league debut----sounds like a Colorado shutout tonight. 

DavidinVirginia
DavidinVirginia

Uggla is never going to be remotely close to the player he was years ago in Miami. You have heard of aging, right? Getting old? Entropy? Every game the Braves play with Uggla on the roster (and BJ, too, for that matter, though he's not *quite* as worthless as Uggla is now...but then Fredi doesn't bat Uggla #2 when he plays either, like he insists on doing with BJ), Frank Wren is forcing Fredi to play with a 23/24-man roster against teams that have 25-man rosters. Neither Fredi, nor this Braves team as currently constructed, is good enough to pull that off. Frank Wren needs to have "sunk costs" tattooed in reverse on his forehead so he'd have to read it every time he looks in a mirror. Heck, maybe he'd finally ask someone what it means if he did. He obviously doesn't understand it now.

panamaralph
panamaralph

The Rockies are a very sick team, over the past 20 games they are 5-15, time to call the doctor and Atlanta's medical team is ariveing there tonight, Rockies will be completely well by Friday morning 

C-Kirk
C-Kirk

Atlanta's main problem is Gonzalez. He just isn't good enough to be a big league manager. I like him a lot but being a position coach is the highest up he should be. 

KentKimes
KentKimes

They just don't look ready to play - I know that's not really astute analysis - but guys come in from the bullpen and don't seem to be aware of what's going on in the game, which hitters are dangerous, etc. - the Uptons routinely make boneheaded plays in the OF, then there are baserunning gaffes and the inability to bunt; and swinging for the fences instead of moving runners over...they look like a sandlot team with no discipline. 

BSNBC
BSNBC

This is a really bad team!

southgabrave
southgabrave

This team has the ability, with the right leadership. Play the best 8 regardless of contracts. Put the players in position to succeed. Improve the bench and manage more like LaRussa and less like Cox.

RangeRover
RangeRover

Actually, what these players have accomplished with the worst GM in the game and the single dumbest manager in the game is quite remarkable...


Give Bochy, for example, the #3 ERA in the game with this bunch and they'ed be up by 10 games by now...

southgabrave
southgabrave

 

The realistic thing here is that Uggla is taking up bench space. As bad as the Braves bench is, they dont have room to hold on to him at any cost. They ARE going to pay him to sit on the bench, sit at home or play somewhere else. He is costing them a bench player at this point. For that matter so is Doumit. Both are under 200 and should be cut if. They need another back-up OF'er and definitely need 2 bats off the bench.

There is no quality pinch hitting threat on the bench at this point. That is where Uggla is hurting the Braves the most. He isnt a cancer, but the Braves cant afford he to take up bench space.

DirtyDawg
DirtyDawg

The NL East...where every team is sorry, and all the others are glad of it. If it were only possible that no team from the NLE could make the playoffs.

MaxSizemore
MaxSizemore

The Marlins have Dietrich, Solano and Lucas at 2B.

Barack_Bi-Curious
Barack_Bi-Curious

Who has better hair?

The NFL's Jimmy Johnson

OR

Frank "Wrong Again" Wren

.

Barack_Bi-Curious
Barack_Bi-Curious

With Frank "Wrong Again" Wren at the helm, giving out long-term contacts and extensions to parasites like BJ Upton, Dan Uggla and Chris Johnson like candy, this team is......

D O O M E D.

Ont the bright side, at least Fredi already has the team's offense in POST-SEASON form in early June.

gretschdrum
gretschdrum

Schultzie, great article.  You are the best writer the AJC has.   Seriously.  Mazel Tov.  Kings in 5.

aulner
aulner

I think the Braves will continue to unravel offensively but the starting pitching wll keep it close.  Braves finish a distant second in the divivion and no playoffs.

Delusionaldog
Delusionaldog

Braves will lose the opening playoff series. It's what they do. 

BeastOPS
BeastOPS

It seems like every time they strike out, they put the camera on them and their facial expression (Justin's the worse) tells you they just don't care!  So why should we? 

BeastOPS
BeastOPS

I wonder how many strikeouts they'll accumulate over the next 4 games in Coors - with everybody swinging for the fence.

Zing
Zing

Slightly side with the optimists on this one because Jason Heyward is hitting, and a big black hole in the lineup in Uggla has been replaced by somebody who can actually hit.  That's 25% of your regular 8 hitters putting up a collective .250 or so more in OBP each day than what's been there.  But only time will tell...

Pat_Pending
Pat_Pending

To win the division will likely take 90 wins. With 101 to play, the Braves (or the Nats or the Marlins) will have to go 58-43. That's not too much to ask but  I don't see this team as presently constructed and given the results from the first 61 games as capable of playing even at that level.

Having Uggla hangin around is not good for anyone. Cut the guy. Trade him for a couple of rakes but the business has to be done.

joedavis
joedavis

The Braves are one injury away from oblivion.  If Freddie, Kimbrel, Justin, J-Hey, Andrelton or Gattis go down....it's over.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Wilbo

Nearly 2 decades now???!!! Huh?

Try nearly FIVE decades now.

BradleyBreeze
BradleyBreeze

@Birdhair ....................Hey Birdhair................I would say that Wren is a "BirdBrain"!........Wouldn't you agree?

BradleyBreeze
BradleyBreeze

@BooBooBear ..................I agree..........the effect of Uggla sitting around and BJ not caring has affected Freddie Freeman and if someone tells me otherwise I would call them  disillusioned or a liar!

JackClemens
JackClemens

@satchel Wonder how long it will be before that guy gets on here and tells you how horrible Schaefer is? That dude hates Jordan.

DavidinVirginia
DavidinVirginia

@C-Kirk I'm surely not a big fan of Fredi's managing, but he's not the one who put this crappy roster together. That would be Frank Wren.

KentKimes
KentKimes

They're lacking baseball smarts.

southgabrave
southgabrave

Putting players in position to succeed doesnt mean hitting the ML leader in K's second just because it would hurt his feeling to hit 9th. A 207 avg striking out at a 30% rate is not a number 2 hitter!!!! These are the type of decisions that LaRussa wouldnt make. You have 2 guys that have a K rate of one every 20-25 at bats (below 10%). They hit 7th and 8th. Now obviously, LaStella seems to be to choice here at this time. He may prove to be a 250 hitter, but he puts the ball in play! Good leadership vs poor leadership decisions

gretschdrum
gretschdrum

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^YW!!!^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

scientist2
scientist2

@BeastOPS Guess you never played baseball at any kind of level other than sandlot. The last thing you want to do is to look angry or disappointed etc after striking out... that just makes the pitcher feel all the better.

Geez!

khd713
khd713

@JackClemens I'm not that guy, but I wonder why anyone would think Schafer is going to hit .270 as an every day player? He's never come close to that. In 2012 with Houston he played in 106 games and hit .211 with a .297 OBP, and last year he played in 94 games and hit .247 with a .331 OBP. He's a career .226 hitter with a .311 OBP over five seasons. That's a far cry from .270, and not much better than what we have with B.J. I like the threat he brings on the base-paths, which is an improvement over B.J., but he doesn't get on base enough to justify a roster change considering B.J.'s contract. Worse still, Schafer's outfield play has been sub-par this season, and well below what we expect from him. With his outrageous contract, they are going to go with B.J. as long as possible. That's just a fact. I think you'll see B.J. continue to be the starter until at least the All-Star break, and if B.J. is still scuffling at that point then it's possible you'll see a change, but even then, I think, unlikely.

DavidinVirginia
DavidinVirginia

@KentKimes Yep. They're top notch athletes, not top notch baseball players. Wren has never understood the difference.