Braves can't alter the plan despite struggles

The Braves continue to slump. Are the wheels coming off? Either way, they can't alter the plan.

The Braves have now lost five games in a row. It’s still late June, so there’s plenty of baseball left to play. But there is serious room for concern the wheels have come off.

This has been a rough week for the Braves. With Freddie Freeman injured and on the disabled list, the offense has sputtered. Atlanta has scored only 19 runs in the last nine games. The Braves swept the Mets last weekend by outscoring New York 9-5 in the three games, but Atlanta hasn’t won since.

It’s very difficult to score with the main and perhaps only real power threat gone. Freeman may be out until the All-Star Break. But the Braves, who start Sunday seven games out in the loss column behind the first-place Nationals, might be too far out by then to even think about a second-half race.

Since the Braves started the season 5-0, they’ve gone 30-40. The bullpen woes can be blamed, and the finger-pointing can reach into the dugout to the manager, as well. But this team was always unlikely to do anything special.

There were just too many holes, too many questions. It’s a fun team to watch, with players that are much more entertaining than last year’s bunch. But did you really ever think this was a championship-caliber roster?

Freeman’s absence has exposed the weakness of the lineup. It’s a good lineup, with very good hitters. But when the Braves get behind, not having many home run hitters makes it challenging.

If the Braves continue to falter, we’ll know what they will do before the trade deadline in late July. There are plenty of veterans on this team that could attract interest from other teams that will be in the pennant race. Those type deals might simply increase Atlanta’s talent level that has already been improved from the numerous trades by the front office.

But we might also be able to see more of Christian Bethancourt. He’s done well since the Braves sent him back to Triple-A Gwinnett. We need to see if this kid is the catcher of the future or not, and it’s unrealistic to believe A.J. Pierzynski can catch a full season at 38 years old.

We need to see more of the young pitchers. Manny Banuelos might get called up this week to start in place of Williams Perez, who was injured Friday night. We need to see Mike Foltynewicz back in Atlanta at some point. We might need to see some candidates for a future closer.

The Braves have a ton of decisions to make between now and next season’s opening day. While they won’t admit it, the process might be easier if they are out of the race and can simply concentrate on continuing what has been in place since the new front office took over last October.

Don’t alter the plan. That should be the premise moving forward. They might have been tempted to do that if the team had stayed competitive, but this week might have killed those chances. The organization has made too many positive strides to not continue the retooling and looking toward 2017.

Maybe the Braves get back on track here in the next few weeks, but it seems unlikely. The next step might be to see more trades, with more young pitchers coming back in return. No matter how this season turns out, it’ll still be better than last season. And with the eyes on 2017, the plan will still be in place.

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 email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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