A year’s worth of struggles leads reason to wonder what changes are in store for the Braves
As the Braves were getting destroyed and nearing the inevitability of being swept by the woeful Rangers on Sunday afternoon, it was hard not to think about all the negative developments that this organization has experienced since nearly forcing the Dodgers to a fifth game in last year’s National League Division Series.
Before getting into specifics, I think it’s safe to say that while this year’s Hall of Fame experience in Cooperstown was wonderful, the Braves did not want a celebration of the past to be this year’s most memorable occasion. Coming in a close second might be the three-week stretch this past winter when a flurry of long-term extensions gave hope for the future.
However you want to look at it, there hasn’t been much reason to be excited about the present for the Braves, who are expected to make significant changes once this season concludes. The only question is whether general manager Frank Wren and all of the members of the coaching staff will survive what has been the most disappointing season the Braves have experienced since the 1980s.
Coming off a 2-7 road trip that concluded in embarrassing fashion in Texas, the Braves now sit four games behind the Pirates and 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the battle for the National League’s second Wild Card spot. Needless to say, with 13 games remaining, the odds of passing both the Pirates and Brewers are slim.
But it would be easy to just continue harping on the negative. We’ve been doing that as the Braves have gone 58-67 going back to April 29. To put this in perspective, the Braves have matched the Mets during his span, played a half-game better than the Astros and one game better than the Cubs.
Sorry about that, I meant to get back into positive mode. If you want to hold out hope for a miraculous turnaround that would earn the Braves a playoff berth, you can look at the fact that the Pirates will play three games against the Brewers this weekend and then come to Turner Field for a four-game set that might have plenty of postseason intrigue.
Of course in order for their to be some drama surrounding next week’s Pirates series, the Braves will first have to take care of business against the Nationals and Mets. And since we are focusing on positives, it seems fitting to point out that Stephen Strasburg (0-4,4.98 ERA in past nine starts vs. Braves) and Gio Gonzalez (0-6, 5.53 ERA in his past seven starts vs. Braves) are both scheduled to pitch this week in Atlanta.
While the Braves long ago bid adieu to hope of defending their division crown, they now have to win two of these next three games against the Nationals to prevent a National League East title celebration from taking place on their home turf. The Nationals managed to avoid this embarrassment when the Braves put them in the same position last year.
Obviously the offense has been the primary problem throughout this frustration-filled year for the Braves. But long before scoring became a nightly struggle, this organization started to experience some of instability that seemingly marked the start of the struggles that have followed.
Highly-regarded scout Dom Chiti and notable pitching guru Dave Wallace both left the Braves to join Buck Showalter’s coaching staff in Baltimore. While both benefited financially by going to a Major League coaching staff, Wallace had indicated in the past that he was not interested in going back to the big leagues. But his mindset changed as he butted heads with members of the front office.
Then of course, the Braves nearly made the mistake of allowing pitching coach Roger McDowell go to the Phillies. President John Schuerholz stepped in at the last minute to keep McDowell, whose value extends far beyond what he does for the pitching staff.
A few weeks later, when Schuerholz hired his good friend John Hart to serve as a senior advisor in the baseball operations department,there was obvious reason to wonder about Wren’s job security. There is still reason to wonder a year later. But it does seem like Hart like his other ventures, especially as an MLB Network analyst, to assume the position on a full-time basis.
This past offseason’s most significant development centers around the departure of Tim Hudson. While for more than a year it had been assumed Brian McCann would depart after the 2013 season, there was at least some reason to think Hudson would remain close to his family by continuing to play in Atlanta as he faced the uncertainty surrounding his attempt to return from a fractured right ankle.
This mindset changed last September, when he said he had not had any conversations with the Braves about sticking around. Then of course came the early November revelation that the Braves had essentially offended him with an initial one-year, $2 million offer that included an option for the 2015 season.
Though the Braves’ offers improved, they would have never matched the two-year, $23 million offer Hudson received from the Giants. But as another disappointing September elapses, there is at least reason to wonder how beneficial Hudson’s clubhouse presence might have been this year had the Braves at least reached out last September and made him a respectable offer that he might have accepted.
As Hudson has spent the past few months experiencing an All-Star selection and aiding in the development of Madison Bumgarner, the Braves have lost three rotation members (Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Gavin Floyd) to elbow injuries. While it’s never easy to overcome this kind of damage to a rotation, the Braves can’t say pitching is the reason they are now on the brink of being eliminated from the postseason scene.
If the Braves end up going on an incredible run and making the postseason, some of the struggles experienced over the past year will be forgotten. But in the midst of extended disappointment, there is no choice but to wonder how things might have been different if so many of these things had not gone wrong.