You might want to go ahead forgive sports fans in Atlanta. Tuesday night they may not have their eyes set on the Braves game with the Seattle Mariners.
First, it's a game that starts at 10:10 pm ET, so that's going to kill a large portion of the audience already. Many people have to get to work early, especially with the horrible traffic in Atlanta.
Second, the Braves will face Felix Hernandez, who happens to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Braves have enough trouble with converted outfielders who become pitchers, much less one of the best true arms in the game.
And last, and seriously, sports fans in Georgia might be tuned into a different program. HBO will debut 'Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons' Tuesday night at 10:00, right when the Braves come on. With all the hoopla and build up to the show, people who do have HBO might be watching the Falcons instead.
The Braves are giving fans reasons to not watch with their awful play as of late. They have lost six in a row to start this road trip. With Washington's loss to Baltimore Monday, the Braves are now three games out of first place, but four games out in the loss column. Atlanta is also two games behind St. Louis for the second wild card spot in the National League. The Pirates are actually directly behind the Cardinals, only a half-game out, while the Giants lead St. Louis for the top wildcard position by one game.
The season started out so well for the Braves, as they got off to a 17-7 start. But since then, Atlanta is 41-47. They are 6-11 now since the All-Star Break.
What has been the problem? The offense. The Braves have scored only 13 runs on this six-game road trip, with two games to go. They've scored only 59 runs in the 17 games since the All-Star Break, which is an average of 3.47 runs per game.
Yet again, the main problem is at the top of the order. B.J. Upton was 0-13 in the series in San Diego. He's now hitting .211 on the season and .227 (with a .292 OBP) in 34 games as the lead off man.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez called Upton "his guy" when the Braves acquired true lead off man Emilio Bonifacio last week before the trade deadline. Reporters had the audacity to wonder if Bonifacio was better suited to play center and lead off to get the Atlanta offense going.
Bonifacio has been the lead off man in 299 games in the big leagues. He's hit .271 in that role with a .325 on base percentage. In Bonifacio's best season, 2011 with the Marlins, he hit .296 with a .360 on base percentage. In 97 games as the Marlins' lead off man that season, Bonifacio hit .310 with a .376 OBP and stole 36 bases.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez needs to shake something up - again. He needs to forget about how much money Upton makes. Who cares what the front office wants him to do? His job is going to be in jeopardy if the Braves do not stop this slide. Yes, if the Braves fail to make the playoffs after starting the season 17-7, Gonzalez's job may be on the line.
This offense is not working, and the main reason is the man making the most money on the team. Upton should be benched. Maybe it will shake him up. Maybe it will make him mad. Upton has been mad all season, as he does not think he's struck out one time if you go by his reaction to being struck out and his frequent discussions with umpires. Maybe a few days off will make him realize his mediocre hitting (and that's being kind) will not give him a free pass into the lineup.
Gonzalez does not believe in team meetings, but he might want to reconsider that philosophy. The Braves are in trouble, and putting the same unproductive lineup out there is not working. Maybe scaring the players into believing how serious this slide is can wake them up from this awful funk.
Or, maybe not. Maybe this team is just not built to be a serious contender. Something is wrong, and it's not getting any better. Can it get better against King Felix Tuesday night? Well, you tell me as I watch Hard Knocks on HBO.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.
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