Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bravos: No cause for applause

If I were to pressed to name my second favorite baseball team, you'd find me calling out, "The Atlanta Braves." It goes back to that 1991 Braves team, who I rooted for hard as they captured my eleven-year-old imagination with their historic turnaround. As a youngster, it's not hard to keep rooting for a team as they embark upon a 15 year sting of divisional domination marked with playoff appearances every year. They managed to retain a few major faces of the franchise for large chunks of that time, like Chipper, Smoltz, Glavine, and Andruw. For the most part, they did it the right way with a strong farm system producing talent like Glavine, Andruw, Chipper, David Justice, Rafael Furcal, etc. With a few exceptions (the acquisition of Greg Maddux comes to mind, but I was wracking my brain to try to come up with another such signing and almost everyone I could think of was obtained via trade), they didn't feel like they were the team who went out and bought talent like the Yankees and Red Sox and Mets are today.

All that being said, I've been watching portions of the last couple Braves games, and there should be no confusion as to why they've been so bad this season.

They are a team in utter disarray.

They are abysmal on the road, currently finding themselves tied for second-to-last in road wins.

They have struggled to score runs (their number inflated by their runs scored in their two losses to Philly over the weekend), despite having someone who was hitting within ten points of .400 until July 4th. They have usually sound baserunners like Mark Kotsay finding himself out of place on the basepaths and getting caught up in two run-downs during one time on base (getting bailed out the first time by an errant throw to third base only to get nabbed in between third and home). Their 19 runs scored on Saturday and Sunday were more than offset by the fact that they've now allowed eight runs or more in four straight losses.

Their bullpen has managed a mere 15 saves all season. Read that again. 15 saves. All season. How can a team make it to August having only recorded 15 saves? That is preposterous. Needless to say, they are dead last in team saves. They have blown 40% of their save opportunities. 10 blown saves to 15 successfully saved games. Can that even be real?

John Smoltz is out for the season, and his Hall of Fame career may be over, too. Chipper made his way to the DL for the shocking first time this season. Tim Hudson was put there the same day. And without Hudson or Smoltz, there's not a whole lot of depth in their rotation. 25-year old Francoeur was so playing so poorly that he got sent to the minors to get his head straight only to be called up three days later because they had to place Omar Infante, Jeff Bennett and Manny Acosta on the DL simultaneously.

They are playing some horrible defense. Not just in ways that show up in the box score either. Sure Norton threw away that bunt Aaron Miles laid down, but their shoddy defense is far more pervasive than that. They are not executing anything well. Double play balls are being mishandled. Throws from the outfield to home plate are being airmailed or--at the very least--leaving All-Star catcher Brian McCann open to concussion-inducing collisions at the plate. They are throwing to the wrong base from the outfield, allowing runners to advance to second when there is no reason they should not be on first base. Quite simply, they are playing fundamentally deficient defense.

And if you've got a team that can't play on the road, can't consistently score runs, can't close out a ballgame, can't remain healthy, can't perform to reasonable expectations, and can't play defense at a major league level, you're looking at a team that can't win ballgames.

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