The 2012 Atlanta Braves have done an excellent job of quieting fans' fears of a repeat collapse in September. They are closing in on a playoff spot and hope to do damage in October. An improved offense, a stabilized rotation, and a lights-out bullpen have helped them erase the memory of a dismal finish to 2011.
The season has been full of ups and downs, so before we see the Braves enjoy the success of a playoff spot, let's take a look at some of the disappointments and hurdles they have faced.
Brian McCann is the lone remaining member of the heralded "Baby Braves" that carried the team in the mid 2000s. He has always served as a leader, bridging the gap between the veterans and the rookies in the Atlanta clubhouse.
Unfortunately he hasn't been able to contribute as much with his bat this year. Mac, a stalwart near the top of the offensive catcher rankings, has battled another lingering injury (shoulder) and was moved down in the order earlier this year. His batting average (.228), OBP, and WAR are way down from 2011, a year in which he won the Silver Slugger.
The Braves will have some tough financial decisions to make concerning McCann in the near future.
At the beginning of the season, the Braves decided that they were going to give the starting shortstop job to young Tyler Pastornicky, acquired in the Yunel Escobar trade from the Blue Jays. They only needed him to be decent offensively and defensively. While his offense hasn't received too many complaints, his defense was literally costing the Braves runs.
He had a poor fielding percentage of .948, and his range was even worse. Since the Braves staff has many pitchers that rely on good defense and putting the ball in play, Pastornicky was a strong detriment to them.
He was soon replaced by Andrelton Simmons, who has made Pastornicky look even worse by providing some of the best defense in the league at short.
There are still plenty of positives on Pastornicky, though. He has found a new role with the team, coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter, often in bunting situations.
While I don't consider Tommy Hanson to be the biggest bust of 2012, most fans would agree that he is certainly the most frustrating player on the Braves' team right now.
Hanson's season started on a scary note when he got into a car accident during spring training. He lost control of his car and suffered a concussion. Braves fans were already cautious about how Hanson would recover from a shoulder injury near the end of 2011.
A drop in velocity has done him no favors. His walks and home runs allowed have gone up.
He still has struggled with holding runners, and often his games have been derailed by one bad inning.
With Derek Lowe gone, Braves fans are now biting their nails whenever Hanson takes the mound. They have been forced to lower their expectations of a player who, a few years ago, was considered a future ace.
After acquiring Dan Uggla from the Marlins at the end of 2010, Atlanta signed him to a five-year extension, envisioning him as the prime right-handed hitter in their lineup. Instead, they have seen him struggle. While the Braves have improved against left-handed pitching, it is still a weakness. Part of this is due to Uggla's hitting.
Uggla's average has been hovering around the Mendoza Line all season. He has struggled to find consistency and is near the top of the league in strikeouts.
Not all his hitting stats are down, however. His walks are way up from career norms, and he currently leads the NL in that category.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez even benched Uggla at one point, replacing him with Paul Janish and Martin Prado. The Braves offense cannot reach its full potential until Uggla gets hot.
During the 2011 off season, the Braves considered trading Jair Jurrjens. While we will never know for sure what was offered or how close a deal came to happening, whatever the return would have been seems better than what the Braves could get for JJ now.
Jurrjens is the biggest bust for the Braves this season because of how far he has fallen. He was considered a prime candidate to start the All Star Game last year, now he isn't even in the Braves' rotation. His ERA has more than doubled since 2011.
He was always known as the Houdini of the Braves' staff, working out of jams with a distinct fastball that wasn't so much quick but was always placed well. He had a knack for being able to tear up the outside corner. In 2012, he was unable to establish that corner, and thus the jams that he worked into he could not get out of.
JJ pitched so poorly that he was sent down to the minors to work out his issues. At one point this year, he was in the bullpen, and now he seems destined to be non-tendered by Atlanta at the end of the season.