Braves Status Report

I haven’t written about the Braves lately because, well, I haven’t been able to follow them as much lately. In addition, what I have seen has not been good — they’ve been wracked with injuries, Dan Uggla’s still not hitting, and overall they just haven’t been playing all that great. As I’ve said before, I don’t trust myself to be impartial regarding the Braves whenever they’re on a bad streak, so I’ve been avoiding the subject.

When you step back and look at it, though, the Braves are still in good shape. They lost five in a row, but they followed it up with a four-of-five run. They’ve had some DL trips, but none of them look to be too serious, nothing on the level of Buster Posey’s season-ending injury. They haven’t been super-hot and they haven’t gotten super-lucky, but they’re still one of only six 30-win teams and are well in striking distance of both the division and the wild card.

That’s the danger with baseball fandom, really. The season is so long that what would be a significant chunk of the season in any other sport is an insignificant sample size in baseball. It’s easy and maybe natural, when your team isn’t winning, to mourn that you can’t remember the last time they won and you can’t imagine that they’ll win again, but in almost all cases this is an overreaction. If you don’t want to make a fool of yourself, you need to suppress the instinct to abandon ship the first time the waters get rough.

I do have a few legitimate worries, though. First is Dan Uggla — I didn’t expect an MVP-caliber season out of him, but I wasn’t anticipating total collapse either, and that’s what we’ve gotten. He’s been beyond useless, and it’s painful to watch him try and hit. It’s only been two months, so he’s still got time to turn it around, but… we’re getting dangerously close to the “real problem” part of the spectrum here. Worse yet, the $65 million extension the Braves signed him to before the season, iffy at the best of times, looks really awful now. The Braves don’t have any choice except to keep running him out there and hoping he turns it around. He’s been playing hard and clearly wants to succeed, so you can’t exactly hate him (he’s no Jeffy Francoeur or Jason Marquis), but you can’t help but groan whenever he comes up with men on the bases, either.

The other problem is Fredi Gonzalez’s managing. I have no idea how he is in the clubhouse, which I believe is the number-one most important quality of a manager, but his in-game tactics are hideously awful.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration… There’s been some chirping about his managing of the pitching staff, but that seems more like an available-talent issue. (Venters, Kimbrel, and O’Flaherty can’t pitch all the innings.) It might be more accurate to say that Gonzalez is not managing the team he has. Gonzalez seems to want to manage a running, athletic, small-ball team and has been calling lots of stolen bases, hit-and-run, and position player bunts… but that’s not the kind of team he’s got. The 2011 Braves are a slow, station-to-station, walks-and-homers team. That kind of offense is more push-button than the first kind — but the Braves are in the business of winning games, not massaging the manager’s ego, so be it. Gonzalez needs to stop trying to show off what a tactical mastermind he is and let the team hit. One of Bobby Cox’s unsung strengths was that he always managed the team he had rather than the team he wanted. Gonzalez needs to let go of his preconceptions of what a baseball team should be and deploy the players he’s got, and that means letting baserunners stay put until the ball is hit. It’s less exciting, but it’ll result in more runs in the long term.

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