Sunday, July 12, 2015

Going to the Dark Side: The Atlanta Braves All Star Break

Well fans it finally happened. I've given up on our chances to get into the playoffs this season. I know, I know, many of you thought I was nuts anyway, but I honestly liked the way this team was coming together until this series in Colorado. We still have a game left, but we've lost the first three games against a team that's in dead last of their division, on the heels of being unable to sweep two series against teams that were just as bad if not worse. At the very least I thought we should go 7-3 in this stretch. We're probably going to go 6-4 at best, and we lost our best reliever last night to a season ending Achilles injury. Yes, we're 5 games out of the Wild Card and about that out of the division, but at this stage of the year, that's a large gap.

So why have I gone to the dark side after staying so positive for half the season? Here's why:

  1. We lost our closer - Normally, this wouldn't matter if you had a great bullpen, because somebody else could step into the closer role and shut down games. However, this bullpen is awful, to the tune of 27th in the MLB. And those ERA's INCLUDED Jason Grilli with his 2.94 ERA on the year. The rest of the bullpen is averaging well over 4.30 on the year. There's no person in my mind who can step into the role, and that means I have no confidence in the Braves ability to hold leads.
  2. When is Freddie returning? - Better yet, when is he returning at even 80% of himself? Because all I've heard so far is that Freeman wouldn't be back before the All-Star break. But even worse, the team is just "optimistic" he'll be back before August. I'm not sure it will even matter by then if that's even true. I think he could be even longer before getting better and back to full strength.
  3. At best, we're still under .500 at the break - That's not good enough to be in the playoffs. Yes, some teams have been under .500 at the break and made the playoffs. However, since 2012 when the rules changed, only the Dodgers made the playoffs with a .500 record on this date in 2013. And they were actually at .500, they weren't below. The chances the Braves can turn this around to even get a wild card spot would be record setting at the very least.
  4. The schedule gets way rougher - The Braves start the second half with 12 games against the Cubs, Dodgers, Orioles, and Cardinals. All those teams are over .500 with the Orioles being the worst at only one game over. But the Cubs are 6 over, the Dodgers are 11 over, and the Cardinals are freaking 24 over. Going into the break, the Braves were playing teams in last place and barely making it out at a .500 record on the series. Now, they'll be playing first and second place teams with everything to play for.
  5. We can't afford to hold assets - The problems with this team is the youth and the pitching, but we do have assets that work in the field. A guy named Mallex Smith is a fast young outfielder that will coming up very soon, and we have a guy in Cameron Maybin who is really topping out his ceiling at the MLB level. There are teams that may want to buy Maybin at a reasonable price, and the Braves want to dump Chris Johnson's contract ASAP. Combining the two seems logical, and I think the Braves will pull the trigger on that trade if there are any biters during the break. And dumping CJ's contract opens up $17.5M in free agency money we can use for veterans on the staff.
  6. We're a below average team in important categories - Fangraphs ranks the Braves defensively at 18th in baseball, and while being slightly below average isn't normally a problem for teams that can hit and pitch, the Braves don't do either of those exceptionally well. To make the playoffs, a team has to do something well, be it pitching, hitting, or fielding. But the Braves are below average in runs scored, ERA, and now fielding. There's nothing they do well.
  7. We have a -30 run differential - No team makes the playoffs with a negative run differential over an entire season. That's just math. If you have way less runs scored than you gave up, you lost more games than you won.
  8. The stadium is more important than one season to the organization - We all know the Braves were planning on playing for 2017 and the new ballpark anyway. This slide will just confirm to the front office that we are sellers and don't need to worry about 2015 anymore.
  9. Injuries came at the wrong time - It's one thing to have injuries. It's another thing to have injuries to your highest paid and most productive players. No team can survive that for any real length of time.
  10. I think we all just feel it going wrong - It's not something I can quantify, but watching Grilli go down and watching that ball drop in the 9th inning against the Rockies just felt like the end. You can't usually point to one moment in the season when you realized it was over, but I think I can in 2015. And I think that was it.
So that's it for me shaking the pom-poms about this team having a shot at the playoffs. I'm always realistic and will alway adjust to the situation at hand. I'm not afraid to tell you I was wrong, or change my mind on a team like other analysts who will stick to their guns in the face of overwhelming facts. That's not me. But I will say that many of them will crow about how they were right, and that this Braves team never had a chance. That's garbage. They absolutely had a chance until they lost their best players, and the numbers were bearing that out.

We have to switch modes now, and start looking at how this team finishes the season and who has a job in 2016. I want to see some of these young guys get shots at the MLB level, as they do tryouts for who can produce. I want to see if the Braves are committed to Fredi Gonzalez, or if they are going to move in another direction going into the new stadium. I want to see if this team continues to have heart and play with passion even though the chips are likely cashed in.

We'll see. In the meantime, it won't stop me from watching. I'm just hoping it keeps from getting as frustrated now that my expectations have changed.


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