This is embarrassing.
The expectations for the Atlanta Braves were not very high this season. Most fans thought they might be right under .500, especially after closer Craig Kimbrel was traded the day before Opening Day.
But no one could have expected this.
It’s one thing for the Braves to get demolished by the New York Yankees. They’re a pretty good team. But to have the team with the worst record in baseball when the series started (the Marlins) come into your home park and outscore you 11-1 in the first two games?
It’s just embarrassing.
The Braves are at 54-78 on the season with 30 games left. If they go 15-15 (and they won’t), they’ll finish with a 69-93 record. So this team is looking at a win total in the mid-60s. That’s far below the 79 wins the team got last season.
It is the worst season of Braves baseball since the 1990 season, when the Braves were 65-97. Since then, the Braves have finished below .500 only three times. They were four games under. 500 (79-83) last season, 18 games under .500 (72-90) in 2008 and then four games under .500 (79-83) in 2006.
It’s good to root for the draft pick. Sure, the worse the record is, the higher the draft pick next June. The Braves are in the fourth spot right now, which could net the organization a premium prospect. But it’s gone beyond that now. The Braves are lifeless. There is no energy on this team. They act like they don’t want to be there, and they can be assured the fans are sick of watching them.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has received much criticism in this space this season. However, when the Braves extended his contract at the All-Star Break, I at least understood the decision. I didn’t agree with it, but I understood it. The team had been around .500 for most of the first half of the season, which was good and Gonzalez deserved credit.
But since the extension was announced, the Braves have a 12-31 record. They had a 5-game losing streak going into the break, which means in the last 48 games the Braves are 12-36. That’s a .250 winning percentage. That’s awful. Just plain awful.
And it’s time for some accountability with this manager.
I realize the roster is not great. I know it is a rebuilding year. But this team should not be this bad. There’s no way the Braves should be this bad. What’s different in the second half? Jason Grilli was lost with his injury. Alex Wood was traded. Obviously, Freddie Freeman has missed significant time with injuries. But this bad? Is that the excuse for this team to be this bad?
Last year the excuse was the roster did not click. It was a dysfunctional unit prepared by former general manager Frank Wren. The Braves brought Gonzalez back anyway, putting all the blame on Wren. The new front office, urged by former manager Bobby Cox, wanted to give Gonzalez the chance without Wren breathing down his neck.
So Gonzalez got a reprieve. But was it deserved? The Braves won the division once in his first four years. In that season, there was controversy for what Gonzalez didn’t do (bring in his closer in the deciding game) in the series with the Dodgers. But in 2011 and 2012, the Braves had two massive collapses.
What has Gonzalez done to deserve being in the Atlanta dugout? Is he helping now, with the team full of young talent, needing to be nurtured?
For instance, when Christian Bethancourt was brought up a week ago, Gonzalez said the young catcher was going to play regularly. But last week he was on the bench, then again on Sunday and then again Tuesday night.
It’s great that A.J. Pierzynski has had a good season. But there is no way he should see the field for the rest of the season. Pierzynski shouldn’t even play in a day game after a night game. This franchise needs to test Bethancourt. They must see whether he can be the regular catcher moving forward. If not, they’re going to have to go get a new catcher this winter. But before they make another move, they must decide on Bethancourt.
How can that happen with Gonzalez benching him every other game? What value is it to have Pierzynski on the field now? This season is over. This is exactly when we need to see what Bethancourt can do for the rest of the season. He’s 24. Bethancourt can handle a full schedule.
Pierzynski drove in the only run for the Braves Tuesday night. I don’t care if he had been 4-4 with four grand slams. Pierzynski had no business in that game, and Bethancourt had no business being on the bench.
Gonzalez’s lineup construction and use of the bullpen has been questioned for four years. There have also been issues raised about how he’s taken up for his players (or hasn’t). And look at what has happened now once again in the second half of a season.
Last season the Braves were 52-43 at the All-Star Break. They went 27-40 the rest of the way. In 2011, the Braves were 54-38 at the Break, but were 35-35 in the second part of the season. Overall under Gonzalez, the Braves have a combined record of 164-160 (.506) after the All-Star Break but a record of 248-208 (.544) before the Break.
You have to wonder if the front office, specifically John Hart and John Coppolella, have at least wondered to themselves if they did the right thing in extending Gonzalez’s contract when they did. They did it to avoid the questions that would have come in the second half with Gonzalez’s contract expiring at the end of the season. But just think if they had not done it. Gonzalez would likely be on the way out right now with the way his team has played since the All-Star Break.
I just don’t think this team is this bad. And at some point, the manager should be held to a level of accountability. If it wasn’t his fault when they collapsed in 2011, and if it wasn’t his fault last season, how can Gonzalez explain this second half? His supporters will say, “Well, who could have won with this roster?” Well, that’s fair. But would other managers have allowed this to spiral out of control? And that’s exactly what has happened in the second part of the season.
The Braves could still fire Gonzalez. Coaches and managers are fired all the time after having their contracts extended. It’s unlikely, but you have to imagine the front office might consider it. If they don’t, and if Gonzalez remains going into next season, he will be at the top of the list for managers on the hot seat entering the 2016 season.
Remember, this franchise is moving into a fancy new stadium in 2017. The goal will likely be to go from a team that wins in the mid-60s this season to a team near .500 next year. But in 2017, they better expect to be competitive again with the fans paying out the wazoo to go watch the games at Sun Trust Park.
Is this the guy that will likely be running this team? After what’s happened since Gonzalez’s contract was extended in the second part of this season, that question is easy to answer.
Let me repeat that I am drinking the Kool-Aid on what the front office has done in this remodeling job this season. The farm system is in tremendous shape now compared to where it was 12 months ago. It’s not even close. They are stressing pitching, and that’s the right thing to do. This franchise is setup for the long-term. But right now, the short-term is what’s a concern.
Go ahead. Root for the draft pick. But this, what we’ve seen in the last 48 games, is embarrassing. And it’s time for Gonzalez to take some blame.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's time for accountability
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