It seems that the Braves traded not only Mark Teixeira last Monday, but also their collective will to compete. Since the much anticipated swap, the Braves are 2-6, getting outscored 48-26 in the process. Nine of the runs the Braves scored came in one game. They were shut out twice. Not since Michael Vick broke his ankle has a team gone in the tank so quickly. This seems like a ship without a rudder, or more adroitly, a captain. Seems to me that when the times are at their toughest, the manager becomes the source of stability needed to eke out some wins.
This team has been decimated by injuries, no question, but even with all that has gone against them, the Braves still managed to have the second best team ERA in the NL. They had given up the fewest runs in the league for a bulk of the season. And most surprisingly of all, they had the 3rd highest on base percentage.
So why is it that the team is looking in from the outside for the 3rd straight year? Why is it that Atlanta was forced to be a seller, albeit a wise one, for the first time since 1990? Because the team is as unclutch as is possible. They can’t win close games. They can’t win on the road, or lately anywhere. As the GM for the Orlando Magic once put it, ”We can’t win at home. We can’t win on the road. As general manager, I just can’t figure out where else to play.” They can’t hit with runners on, particularly late in games or with two outs or both. Has there ever been a team that filled you with less confidence with the bases loaded and no or one out(s) than this Braves one? How many times have we seen this team get one run out of that scenario and that coming when someone (Frenchy) hit into a double play? Aren’t these signs of something amiss in the clubhouse? Aren’t these signs that the Braves have to deeply rethink where they are headed as an organization? Isn’t it past time for the Braves to start taking the business of baseball seriously again? Isn’t it time for Bobby Cox to go? Sense here is that this is not a team on the cusp of a return to greatness. This is a team with deep and plausible flaws that only an exorcism will cure.
p.s. Expect to see Mike Hampton pitching for the Braves next season, taking Hudson’s slot in the rotation, with the team doing little to address SP needs beyond praying that Smoltz has one more year in him.