Tonight, I’ll be attending the Braves home season finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Just three weeks ago, I eyed this series as a must see. I just knew the Braves would be making a final push for a playoff berth. 14 losses later, it’s just another game and an end to a disappointing season.
2014 has been a tough year to be a Braves fan. Watching this year’s iteration of the Braves has been tougher than any year I can remember. Tougher than watching the 2006 squad sputter to a 79-83, ending the run of 14 consecutive division titles and I’d say seeing this year’s Braves was worse than the 2011 collapse. I thought this team would be different from those squads. The former consisted of an under-performing pitching staff and a few inconsistent bats, and the latter, well…I’d like to forget about that.
Despite last season’s poor play in the NLDS, I entered 2014 with optimism. BJ Upton’s 2nd year (new glasses!), the possibility of Dan Uggla breaking out of his slump, and a $14 million pitcher in Ervin Santana (Braves broke the bank?) had me hoping for another NL East title and a deep playoff run.
After a strong 17-9 start in April, optimism faded fast and it became evident if the Braves got down 2 or 3 runs, the bats would never be able to provide the run support needed to mount a comeback. Issues from 2013 reared their ugly heads again as Dan Uggla and BJ Upton’s poor plate discipline created two automatic outs in the lineup. For some odd reason, Fredi Gonzalez decided to keep BJ Upton at the top of the lineup despite his struggles and Uggla in the lineup for the first two months until he was supplanted by a platoon. The Braves gave up on Uggla and designated him for assignment in late July.
Similar to Bobby Cox, Fredi Gonzalez sticks with his guys through thick and thin. It’s admirable in some cases, but with BJ, Uggla, and at times this year Chris Johnson, moving a struggling piece to the bench would have benefited the team more than assuaging a struggling slugger’s ego. That trait, is one factor that has doomed this season.
As always, the pitching has been the steadying part of the team. The starting rotation boasts a major league leading 109 quality starts and is 5th in team ERA. Unfortunately, the ML leading QS has led to 30 losses. Win only HALF of those and the Braves would currently sit with a 92-66 record and firmly in the lead of the division.
In the end it all comes back to hitting. Despite being healthy throughout the entire season and an All-Star, Freddie Freeman has had a couple noticeable slumps. As for bright spots on the offensive side, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis provided power hitting when needed. Overall, the Braves rank in the bottom 4th in hitting in most statistical categories.
I hope to see big changes made in the offseason. Firing GM Frank Wren was a start, but I believe the issues lie on the field/clubhouse as well, namely Fredi Gonzalez, and hitting coaches Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher. Head-scratching lineups and poor hitting doomed the Braves the entire season. Possibly retooling the lineup from top to bottom, adding a true leadoff hitter, and a trade or two could turn things around in 2015.
Here’s to 2015 and hoping a new GM will signal a new start and a return to playoff success.