Atlanta Braves Magic Numbers Week 24


Remember when I said that the math would take care of itself soon? Well it happened on Sunday. The Atlanta Braves are now eliminated from the playoffs, and the season is effectively over. This team basically quit on everyone. The manager, the ownership, the fans, everyone. Frankly, I think the pitching staff probably hates the rest of the team right now, because they are still trying to fire shutouts, and the hitters just won’t live up to their end of the bargain.

Ervin Santana finally came out and said what everyone was thinking already. He mentioned that the pitchers have a hard time getting their confidence up when they feel they have to throw a shutout to get a win. He said that they know if they give up two to three runs it’s going to be tough to win a game. That’s the kind of stuff a starter should never have to worry about on a winning club. It’s also a pretty heavy shot at the Braves from a guy that knows he likely won’t be on the team next year. You can get straight answers from guys with nothing to lose.

Speaking of nothing to lose, that’s where the Braves are right now. They got eliminated while I was in the stands on Sunday afternoon after the Mets swept them in three straight games. That’s beyond pathetic. What’s more pathetic? The Mets have as many wins as the Braves right now, tied at 76 wins. The Marlins are only 2 games back with 74 wins. There is a very very real possibility this team ends up in fourth place at the end of the season.

What do I think needs to happen? Teams with good leadership don’t quit. That means that the manager has to go. I don’t usually believe in firing a manager the year after his club won the division, but this doesn’t seem like a blip on the radar. I think Fredi Gonzalez is actually more afraid of his players than he is leading his players. I get the sense that he makes moves to not upset his club, rather than setting the tone for how to play the game, ala Bobby Cox.

Add in the fact that Fredi makes some of the most bone-headed decisions with the bullpen from a statistical standpoint, and the fact that he never seems to take anybody to task for sub-par or downright lazy play, I see a guy who isn’t fit to lead this team. Anyone can manage when things are going right and the bats are hot. It’s the great managers that turn the tide when things are going long, or get a team motivated to not fall into five game losing skids repeatedly.

Here’s some horrifying facts about this team under Fredi Gonzalez this year. The Braves have been shutout 15 times, 7 of those happening in the last 30 days while the Braves were in a playoff run. They’ve scored one run or less 15 times since the All-Star break. The team is now dead last in runs scored after the All-Star break. The Braves were tied for the division lead at the All-Star break, and today they find themselves 15 games back in the standings.

In Week 15 of Magic Numbers, I assessed the Braves at the All-Star break. My biggest concern was this fact:

"However, the Dodgers are the outlier. The Dodgers actually had the lead at the break going into the break in their division, and they finished in the top half in post-break pitching. So what went wrong? Short answer, the Dodgers finished 12th in runs in the second half. They simply couldn’t score. They also finished under .700 in total season OPS, which I’ve shown in prior Magic Numbers can be extremely problematic for a team’s playoff chances. The Dodger’s heartbreak is my biggest concern about the Braves. I believe the pitching can hold up for our team, but I’m not at all secure in the hitting finishing tops in the NL. Why should I be, since the Braves are 14th in NL runs scored right now?"

Guess what? My worst fear came true. The Braves did finish in the top half of post-break pitching, but they couldn’t find the bats at all. They were 52-43 at the break, and today they are 76-79. That means they’ve gone 24-36 after the break, in a time where everyone knew the playoffs were a real possibility. That’s not just a collapse, it’s one of the worst offensive slumps in recent history for the Braves.

The one thing the team has to have is accountability. There needs to be accountability amongst the players first, then the manager, then the front office. Several of these players deserve to be traded or lose their starting spots. Chris Johnson, B.J. Upton, Tommy La Stella, and Andrelton Simmons all need to take a hard look in the mirror. Justin Upton needs to stop being so streaky and start being the dominant hitter he can be all season. Evan Gattis probably needs to be traded due to his age and so Christian Bethancourt can play more often.

But even deeper than that, Frank Wren needs to be held accountable for these contracts that make certain players untradable and unplayable. BJ’s contract is obviously the biggest albatross, but we are also going to be paying Dan Uggla for another year of free baseball. Chris Johnson got a ridiculous extension on his contract based on one outlier year of production. Jason Heyward only got a two year contract which means he’s probably unsignable if teams like Boston and New York start sniffing around.

Something has to give, and maybe multiple things. I think first it starts by changing managers, but you also have to change GM’s as well. I’m not sure what can make this team get back to the 2013 status of division winning, but I know that it’s not going to be standing pat and hoping for the best. The most disappointing part of this season isn’t that the team didn’t hit, or that they didn’t win down the stretch. It’s that they quit.

Also, according to sources today, Frank Wren has been fired already. Perhaps a step in the right direction, but only if Fredi Gonzalez follows him out the door as well.