Dan's Dugout: Braves are Disaster of Epic Proportions • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Braves are Disaster of Epic Proportions


Had the Atlanta Braves lost their game at Fenway Park Thursday night, they would have become the first team in baseball history with two nine-game losing streaks in the first month of the season.

That includes the original New York Mets, the 1962 expansion team that went 40-120.

This year’s Braves may actually challenge that record.

Whatever could possibly go wrong has — both on and off the field.

Jason Grilli lost his closer job after stumbling through April

Jason Grilli lost his closer job after stumbling through April

Jason Grilli, a solid closer before tearing his Achilles last summer, regained his health but forgot how to throw strikes. He lost the opener, several other games, and his job.

Bud Norris, a bust with Baltimore last year, has shown repeatedly that the team blundered in offering him any kind of contract — let alone the No. 2 spot in the starting rotation. He was knocked out in the second inning at Fenway Wednesday night and may not start again.

Julio Teheran, the alleged ace of the staff, has pitched one strong game — a 1-0 loss because the pitcher has a penchant for throwing gopher balls at bad times.

Matt Wisler, picked up from San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel trade last year, has been erratic as the third starter, while Jhoulys Chacin, who came to spring training on a minor-league contract, has shown signs of regaining the form he once displayed with the Colorado Rockies.

The bullpen has already been overhauled several times, with only Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino providing any relief at all.

This is hardly the same pitching staff that produced 14 consecutive first-place finishes from 1991

That 14-year title streak is just a distant memory now

That 14-year title streak is just a distant memory now

to 2005. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

On the other hand, no team — even if it had good pitching — can win without offense or defense.

When the Braves started the season, they thought they were set in center field and left field. That lasted only a few days.

Ender Inciarte, a top-of-the-order talent and gifted centerfielder, pulled a hamstring in the third game and missed the rest of April. He may return this week.

Hector Olivera, a converted Cuban infielder acquired at steep cost from the Dodgers last summer, may not return at all. He’s been placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball while awaiting disposition of his assault charge. Unfortunately for the Braves, Olivera saved his biggest hit (allegedly) for the face of a female companion in the team’s Washington hotel.

None of the nine teams that pursued Olivera as a free agent want him now. He and erstwhile Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes, another who pulled his punches off the diamond, are persona non grata with everyone, including their own teams.

Frequent calls to the bullpen have been a Fredi Gonzalez trademark

Frequent calls to the bullpen have been a Fredi Gonzalez trademark

The other Cuban import in the Atlanta lineup, Adonis Garcia, has proven to be this year’s version of Dr. Strangeglove. He can hit, or so it seems, but his defense at third base is so abysmal that manager Fredi Gonzalez has been forced to lift him late in games.

The left side of the infield also leaks at shortstop, where Erick Aybar was supposed to hold down the spot for a year pending the arrival of blue-chip prospect Dansby Swanson, now honing his skills in Double-A.

Aybar, acquired from the Angels with two pitching prospects for gifted shortstop Andrelton Simmons, has failed to provide the promised upgrade to the offense. He has also compounded the felony by proving inept in the infield, where he’s on the verge of losing his job to Daniel Castro.

The rest of the infield reeks too. Gordon Beckham, a steady veteran signed as a free agent, was sidelined by injury early — leaving second base in the hands of Jace Peterson,  who played there most of last year, and Kelly Johnson, an over-the-hill veteran now in his third Atlanta tour. Castro and Aybar have played there too.

Although there should be a saving grace at first base, there isn’t. Freddie Freeman, bothered by recurring wrist problems last year, got off to a slower start than Ben Carson. He hit under .200 for most of April, with only a pair of home runs. But those were half of the team total.

Newly-acquired catcher Tyler Flowers, solid on offense and defense, has been trapped in a strict platoon with holdover A.J. Pierzynski, the oldest catcher in the major leagues. Although he hit .300 with some pop last summer, he joined the team-wide malaise this year — and looked awful on defense too. In Fenway Park a few days ago, he dropped a pop-up, failed to catch another that fell in foul ground between the catcher and third baseman, and made a 20-bounce “throw” trying to stop a Red Sox runner from stealing second.

Gonzalez hasn’t had much to smile about. He can count his plusses on one hand: Vizcaino, almost

The Braves are glad Jeff Francoeur is back

The Braves are glad Jeff Francoeur is back

perfect out of the pen; temporary leadoff man Nick Markakis, who leads the majors in doubles and provides a solid presence in right field; and veteran outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who won a bench spot in spring training but has since become the regular leftfielder.

Any day now, the manager could become Gone-zalez, with coaches Terry Pendleton and Eddie Perez — both long-time Braves heroes — rumored to be in the wings.

It’s really not his fault. The team doesn’t hit, pitch, or field. Andrew McCutchen, the Pittsburgh slugger, had as many home runs in a game against the Rockies last week as the Braves had for the year.

This Braves team, like the original Mets, will find a way to lose.

Atlanta must feel like Sherman is marching through it again. John Coppolella, the kid who supplanted Frank Wren as general manager, traded almost anyone making money — even studs

The Braves were not wise to trade shortstop Andrelton Simmons

The Braves were not wise to trade shortstop Andrelton Simmons

like Simmons, Kimbrel, and Evan Gattis, all of whom had years remaining on their contracts.

In return, he got a pile of prospects — including pitchers who can’t pitch (Max Fried, Paco Rodriguez, and others).

In this 25th anniversary of the 1991 Braves team that went from worst record to World Series overnight, the front office is trying to catch lightning in a bottle again.

It’s not going to happen.

What is going to happen is that fans will stay away — even when the new Sun Trust Park opens next year.

Fans don’t go to see ballparks. They go to see ballplayers.

And there’s not one member of the Atlanta Braves worth paying to see.


About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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