Going into the 2014 season, many baseball writers were predicting that the Braves would win somewhere around the neighborhood of 70-75 games. However, the team got off to a nice start and exceeded any types of expectations anyone had for the team. The Braves hovered around .500 for the first half of the season, and appeared that they could potentially be a dark horse for the NL East. They remained at .500 until their record was 42-42. At the very least, they were respected competition. Oh, how things have changed. Since then? They are 19-39. Honestly, it feels like it’s been worse.
Attendance was already down, but that was expected when new GM John Hart shipped away some fan favorites over the winter. However, people still came to the Ted to cheer on their team. Turner Field now looks like a ghost town as the team has blundered to a 61-91 record.
The Braves have young talent in their farm system, but relied on crafty veterans to get the job done early in the season. Everything seemingly fell apart when Jason Grilli got injured and Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were shipped to the Bronx. I’m on record thinking it’s a good trade for the future of the team, but it undoubtedly caused a domino effect. Once Fredi Gonzalez got his extension, it all went downhill from there. The Braves went from a slightly below average team to the second worst in baseball.
I attribute a lot of the struggles to lack of leadership in the clubhouse. I think another factor is the 60 different players that have been apart of the Braves’ 25-Man Roster this season. Not only has their been a lot of turnover, a lot of these guys are young rookies. It’s hard when you’re Roger McDowell and you’re working with 8 rookies and 12 guys you’ve never worked with before. He has surely had a lot on his plate. The young pitching looked good to start the season, but has collectively diminished. Matt Wisler, Williams Perez, and Mike Foltynewicz have had second halves to forget this season. While we have seen flashes of brilliance from these three guys as well as Ryan Weber, when you’re oldest member in your rotation is 24, you’re not likely going to have a ton of consistency. With reports that Mike Minor may be rejoining the rotation next season, Weber, Wisler, Folty, ManBan, Williams Perez and likely Tyrell Jenkins will be competing for two rotation spots. It’s great that we have options, but it’s unfortunate that none of these guys have stepped up in their rookie seasons.
In addition, the bullpen has been absolutely atrocious. The unit has a 4.73 ERA, worst in baseball. That is absolutely unacceptable. On top of that, we have one of the worst bullpen managers in the league in Fredi Gonzalez. Luckily for the Braves, the bullpen looks promising for next season when they will get back Jason Grilli, Paco Rodriguez, and Chris Withrow. Daniel Winkler also looked good in his MLB debut. Guys such as Sugar Ray Marimon, Ryan Kelly, Ross Detwiler and Matt Marksberry have been the latest ineffective options used out of the bullpen. They have not been able to hold leads that have been scarce to come by, making it seemingly impossible for the Braves to win games in the season’s second half.
Guess what? They can’t score runs either. Prior to the All-Star break, the team was below average in runs scored, but not bottom last. The team ranks 30th in runs scored for the second half as well as the season as a whole.
The Braves have struggled in every facet of the game in this rebuild season, and I’m still amazed they held it together for so long. The team is 37-38 at home despite the collapse, and playing on the road is a whole different animal for these young guys. I think with the bullpen help and another year of experience for our starters, the pitching staff should actually be fine. However, the offense is a different story. Freddie Freeman, Cameron Maybin, Nick Markakis and Hector Olivera are the only four productive offensive players we have under contract for next season. I also have a suspicion that with the emergence of Mallex Smith, Maybin could be the next Brave to go. Apparently the team has $25-30 million to spend this offseason, and I hope they go after Matt Wieters and Howie Kendrick. It’s not hitting coach Kevin Seitzer’s fault, it’s the lack of bats in the clubhouse.
Much like the Astros this season, I think the Braves could have a quick turn around in store. However, they need to invest in some bats and can their pinhead manager (which won’t happen). Look, I know the Braves lost Wood, Johnson, and Uribe but that doesn’t make a .500 team turn into the worst team in baseball overnight. I keep looking for justification for the Braves’ second half collapse, and it’s as simple as this: the Braves don’t have the talent or experience right now. They don’t have the manager right now. Most of these young guys haven’t played a season this long in their whole lives. It’s an adjustment period, but that’s the reality of the team right now as they look to continue rebuilding in 2016, albeit with a better record and hopefully more pieces in place.