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what-went-wrong-v15-2372 | June | 2008 Articles

2008 Archives

What Went Wrong?

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Update: I just checked the numbers, and the Braves have left 552 men on base through 68 games, while scoring 312 runs. That's an average of 4.6 runs per game and 8.1 LOB per game. That really, really sucks. I'm not quite giving up on this year, but we're a couple weeks shy of the season's halfway mark, and we're three games below .500 and in the throes of our annual June Swoon. (We're 3-8 so far this month. Last June, we were 13-15, and in 2006, we went 6-21 in June, our worst month as a team since April 1988, when we were 3-16.) Nothing is going right for us; when Jair Jurrjens sprained his ankle in a freak spill in the dugout, it was hard to be surprised. We didn't look so bad a couple weeks ago, on May 26, when we had a 28-23 record and were coming off a split with the D-Backs, a sweep of the Mets, and a series win against the A's. Now, we're at 32-35 and are coming off successive sweeps by the Phillies and Cubs, and it's hard to imagine that this team, as presently constituted, has anything like realistic playoff hopes. Even considering that the Marlins aren't this good, and considering that the Mets are, if anything, in an even worse place than we are, we're in a very bad way. It wasn't always thus. Entering the year, I said on a preseason podcast, "I think that this is actually a Braves team with fewer holes at the beginning of the season than we've had in a couple of years. ... [I expect us to contend] from day one. I think we're one of the best teams in the division, best teams in the league." If you asked me now, I'd say I'm almost afraid to watch to see what will happen over the next couple weeks. So what the hell went wrong? I've written a couple "Explaining Mediocrity" articles, but I'll be honest: I didn't expect us to be this resolutely mediocre, and my explanations weren't nearly far-reaching enough. I do believe that the psychological ramifications of losing John Smoltz for the season (and possibly seeing the end of his career) are probably further-reaching and more pervasive than can be adequately quantified; the team is 1-7 since his surgery press conference, which really seemed to catalyze our current June swoon. Broadly, injuries have had a lot to do with our lack of success. Keep in mind:
  1. The loss of Smoltz
  2. The loss of Peter Moylan
  3. The continued ill health of Rafael Soriano's arm
  4. The two DL stints for Tom Glavine
  5. the perpetual DL of Mike Hampton Anthony Lerew’s elbow surgery
  6. The injury to Jurrjens
  7. The possibly injury-related ineffectiveness of Chuck James
  8. The continued pushbacks to Mike Gonzalez's return
  9. Mark Kotsay's recurrent back injury
  10. Matt Diaz's injured knee
  11. Martin Prado's thumb injury
But injuries aren't completely to blame. I've been very critical of Bobby's performance this year in managing the bullpen, and I am extremely unhappy with the way he has used -- rather, failed to use -- relievers like Phil Stockman and Royce Ring, who have shown they can be effective. Offensively, I'm extremely unhappy with running out an outfield of Greg Norton, Gregor Blanco, and Jeff Francoeur, 3 men who really have no ability to hit like starting players. Because of his OBP, Blanco has probably been the best of the three, but over his last 16 games he's 8-54, and has really been an offensive zero, as Will predicted. Brandon Jones, who should be our help in the corner outfield, has had a terrible year in AAA, earning a promotion anyway; I'm not sanguine about his chances for turning it around while the rest of his teammates struggle. Mark Teixeira has picked up steadily since his horrific first three weeks, but his OPS is only .816, and I really wish Bobby would drop him to 5th in the order and let Brian McCann hit cleanup. We've grounded into 63 double plays through our first 67 games, good for second in the league behind only the hapless Nationals. The NL record is 166, set by the 1958 St. Louis Cardinals, who went 72-82 (.468). We still can't hit on the road (.244/.320/.394) and have no power against lefties (.271/.342/.379). Our outfield is collectively batting a comically anemic .259/.321 /.386, meaning that together with the pitcher we have 4 nearly automatic outs in our lineup. With all our pitching injuries, even with our superstars, that's not gonna do it on a day-to-day basis. At least Chipper Jones is still hitting over .400. (Nate Silver thinks he has a 12% chance of hitting .400 on the season. Tom Tango thinks Nate's numbers are wrong, and David Pinto thinks it's more like a .1% chance.) That's what I'm rooting for. That, and a winning streak, and a cold beer. I'd take two of three.

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