Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: Braves’ season not about winning

Atlanta Braves’ A.J. Pierzynski, left, high-fives Nick Markakis after both scored on base hit by Adonis Garcia during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Friday, April 15, 2016, in Miami. The Braves won 6-3.
Atlanta Braves’ A.J. Pierzynski, left, high-fives Nick Markakis after both scored on base hit by Adonis Garcia during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Friday, April 15, 2016, in Miami. The Braves won 6-3. AP

Embarrassing and unacceptable. Those were strong words coming from John Coppolella, the Atlanta Braves general manager in an interview with Braves.com writer Mark Bowman. Strong but accurate words.

Here’s another word to describe the Braves’ struggles:

Inevitable.

It was inevitable for the obvious reason that this is not a good team. They weren’t built to win this season.

But it’s also inevitable because it’s baseball. Even good teams will go through bad stretches. The Kansas City Royals won the World Series last year. They lost nine of 11 games in May and June, and lost eight of 10 in September. The New York Mets won the National League pennant. They lost seven straight in July. The St. Louis Cardinals won 100 games in the regular season. They lost eight of 10 in September.

This is not to suggest that the Braves will recover from their 0-9 start and make the playoffs. But it is to say we need to remember it’s still a long way to October.

Obviously, the Braves are not a good baseball team. But I still think they’re not gosh-awful either. They came within one loss of matching the 1988 Braves’ 0-10 start. Now THAT was an awful team.

I covered the Braves at home that season. Ken Griffey Sr. played on that team. As a former member of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, Griffey was accustomed to winning. After yet another loss, I approached Griffey thinking he might have something insightful to say as a veteran.

“What can I say? We played bad. We’re a bad team. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

That team lost 106 games. They finished 27 games out – of fifth place.

I’m still not convinced these Braves will lose 100 games. How’s that for giddy optimism?

If Freddie Freeman starts hitting, the offense will improve. And he will. He might not put up All-Star numbers like he did in 2013 and ’14. But he’s not going to keep hitting .080, his average through the first eight games.

Getting Ender Inciarte back from the disabled list will help offensively and defensively.

They might as well trade Erick Aybar, who looks like he’d rather be somewhere else rather than Atlanta. Daniel Castro has been impressive every time the Braves call him up from the minors. He reminds me of a younger Martin Prado in that regard. He doesn’t have a flashy skill set. He just plays to win. He played a big part in Friday night’s win over Miami.

The starting pitching and middle relief will continue to be problematic. But several teams – most, in fact – are in the same boat. It might be time to declare the Hector Olivera experiment over. His arrest on charges of domestic assault are troubling. If he’s guilty, they should be done with him.

Still, at the risk of sounding like Bobby Cox, that 0-9 start was the product of failing to get the big hit, failing to hold leads, failing to make one big defensive play to end the inning, or sometimes just rotten luck. They were one hit away from breaking open an inning or one pitch away from getting out of a jam or one defensive play away from ending the inning. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski has twice mishandled throws to the plate. One play, in the season opener, would have ended the game. Another would have ended the inning and preserved the lead.

This season has never been about winning. It’s about development and making progress. There’s still plenty of time for that. Nearly all of the minor league reports have been glowing. There is plenty of time for two or three of those prospects to work their way up to Atlanta this season.

A lot of fans want to pin this poor start on Fredi Gonzalez. But what manager could win with this roster? None of those first nine losses were the function of bad managing. Players are put in roles to perform. If they fail to produce, it’s on them, not the manager.

There’s still a lot of baseball to be played.

Guerry Clegg: sports@ledger-enquirer.com, @guerryclegg

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