Atlanta Braves: 2015, A Year to Forget


The 2015 Atlanta Braves were a rebuilding team, but why was it so painful to endure in the second half?

The 2015 Atlanta Braves finished with the third-worst record in baseball at 67-95, ahead of only the 64-98 Cincinnati Reds and the 63-99 Philadelphia Phillies. Going into the 2015 MLB Season, Braves Country subconsciously knew that this wasn’t a playoff bound team in any capacity. Many were spot on in predicting the Braves’ dismal record on the season.

I thought that addition by subtraction, through several trades, would get this club back to playing .500 ball (81-81) in this abbreviated rebuild of the Atlanta ball club. Through 84 games this team was exactly that, playing .500 ball and in the NL East race, albeit third behind both the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals.

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Then the Kelly Johnson/Juan Uribe Trade with the Mets happened and it was all down hill from there. Trading away two productive bats to a major divisional rival was unsettling, but understandable: selling high on two utility guys in the hopes of acquiring promising pitching prospects from a pitching rich organization. This was the type of move I expected the Atlanta Braves front office to make. I approved of most of the trades President of Baseball Operations John Hart made in 2015. The LA deal is still head-scratching months later.

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However, the deal with the Mets set in motion that this Atlanta Braves team was no longer going to compete in 2015. The rest of the MLB took notice and had their way with the baseball club in the second half. Blowing a late inning lead in Milwaukee on getaway day. Fredi Gonzalez and his staff getting contract extensions. Getting swept in Denver by the Colorado Rockies into the All-Star Break, losing Closer Jason Grilli in the process to a torn Achilles’. Not winning road games outside of Philadelphia for over a month. Whatever horror we want to classify August as. So much bad baseball.

I’ll give the players credit for playing hard, but the watching the Atlanta Braves in the second half of 2015 was beyond painful to endure. The daily losing and Manager Fredi Gonzalez’s continued endorsement by the front office was too much to rationalize.

I know there weren’t great expectations put on this team to begin with, but with the frequency and the manner of some of these losses, I couldn’t hardly stomach it. This wasn’t a young team. It had a roster full of veterans that were once All-Stars in the Majors. Our lone All-Star SP Shelby Miller went over four months without recording his 6th victory!

Rebuilds haven’t happened with the Atlanta Braves in 25 years. The club was able to put it off for an astonishingly long time. I even asked for fans to embrace the rebuild by familiarizing themselves with our highly touted prospects. Yet why do I find myself feeling so disillusioned with my hometown team?

There comes a point within organizations where management has to recognize the elephant in the room as a serious problem and has to honestly re-evaluate. The last fruitful harvest of the farm system came in 2012, with SS Andrelton Simmons as the cream of the crop. The Atlanta Braves Minor League system became arguably the most barren in all of baseball in 2013-14. The Braves Way has not won a playoff series/Wild Card Game since 2001. General Manager Frank Wren left, but everybody else stayed. The problems were only partially addressed, not what is necessary in an honest rebuild.

Essentially I feel that the distanced ownership group allowed the front office to continue operating as is without repercussions from making bad baseball decisions. Frank Wren may have orchestrated some of the most disastrous free agent deals of all time, but it’s unfair to label him as the lone scape goat in the Atlanta Braves’ downward spiral. The club is still trying to win in the same manner Atlanta did in the 1990’s. If that doesn’t epitomize living in the past, I don’t know what does.

Seeing Fredi Gonzalez return in 2015 after watching another Braves’ team give up on him in September the year before was concerning. Bobby Cox’s ringing endorsement of his protegé was alarming. The poorly timed contract extensions before the All-Star Break was unnerving. The month of August was absolute torture. So many botched bullpen blunders and other areas of mismanagement. The Atlanta Braves might have the worst manager in baseball entering 2016.

Bringing in a new manager won’t single-handedly solve all the issues at hand. The Braves Way of teaching seems to lack the necessary urgency to win when it counts. It’s as if the farm system doesn’t prepare players to recognize or seize the opportunities when the game is on the line. Down a run, runners on second and third, no outs. That runner from third has to score. The primal instinct to take control during the games’ biggest moments have not been appropriately cultivated for over a decade.

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The shame in it all is that the antiquated teachings of the Braves Way will continue, as the 2015 Kansas City Royals won the World Series Sunday night. KC draws influence from the “Team of the 90’s” Atlanta Braves. Both Manager Ned Yost and GM Dayton Moore have Atlanta Braves’ roots. So the Braves organization will think that if it can work in KC, why wouldn’t it work in Atlanta again?

However, Kansas City isn’t built in the way Atlanta is presently being constructed. KC has a lights-out bullpen, speed all over the diamond, and timely hitting. Atlanta stockpiles starting pitching assets.

While I hope that the 2017 Atlanta Braves are ready for contention from Day One at new SunTrust Park, there is still tremendous uncertainty that the organization will reach their goals of competitiveness in a year and a half.

Next: Freddie Freeman: Return to All-Star Form in 2016?

I hope that the organization can honestly assess what happened in 2015, so that 2016 won’t have to look or feel as painful. An improved bullpen and growth in the starting rotation would go a long way in bringing the joy back in covering Atlanta Braves baseball. Go Braves!