NL Wild Card: Atlanta Braves Playing Uninspired Under Fredi Gonzalez
A playoff spot that less than a month ago they thought was wrapped up and secured. That was when the Braves were flat out one of the best teams in baseball.
Now, Braves fans are left in shock and angered with every bad at-bat. Every hopeless inning pitched by their overpaid starter Derek Lowe has the Atlanta faithful pulling their hair out.
Braves fans would just like to know the answer to one question: What in the world happened?
Well, luckily, I have the answer to that question: Bobby Cox retired.
Sure, many fans thought some of his ways were outdated. Some even thought it was time for him to move on so the Braves could change things up a bit. Others thought things would just continue the way they were because Fredi Gonzalez was his protege.
What many fans didn't realize was that Cox was a one-of-a-kind type of manager. He was a player's manager. Even players that never got the chance to play for him said he was the one guy they always wanted to play under. There may not have been another manager in baseball that was more respected by players than Bobby Cox.
This collapse can't really be that much of a surprise. The truth is that last year this team won at the end of the year, despite hitting a similar wall, because they were motivated to win one for the skipper. Once the playoffs started, it was very clear that the Braves were outmatched.
Who will win the NL Wild Card?
Players came up big for the Braves at the end of last year with the sole purpose being to send Cox out as a winner. Nobody wanted to let him down. Even Lowe came on strong last September.
It's not that Gonzalez is a bad manager. It's just that he isn't Bobby Cox.
Actually, it may have a little to do with him not being a good manager.
Gonzalez took a big gamble by not taking a gamble. In the next to last game of the season, he went with Lowe on the mound in a game that was as close to a must-win as you will ever see. He refused to make any change to his rotation.
Maybe Gonzalez didn't want to go with a guy like Julio Teheren, the talented rookie who has had some really solid performances at the big league level, because he still wasn't proven. Maybe he wanted to go with the more proven pitcher in Lowe.
Lowe is definitely proven. He has proven that he can't win. Coming into Tuesday night's game in Atlanta, he was 0-4 in September with an ERA higher than Willie Nelson at Snoop Dogg's birthday party.
Who knows what the Braves would have gotten out of Teheren against the Phillies. But, we all knew exactly what we were going to get from Lowe. He gave the Braves another typical Derek Lowe performance of five runs in four innings with one wrong base thrown to.
Gonzalez had to have been blind not to see that coming.
Offense, or lack there of, has also been a problem. It's a problem that this Braves' team should not be facing. There are some really good hitters on this team.
When you have guys with names like Chipper, Uggla, Heyward, Prado, Freeman, McCann and Bourn, you should be putting up some pretty big numbers.
Shall we just say it's because of bad luck that these guys have all tanked at the same time? Is it just bad luck that on Tuesday night the middle of the lineup with Chipper, Uggla and Freeman went a combined 0 for 11?
This team has given up on its manager. This would not happen with Cox in the dugout. Not with this team. Not with this talent.
Cox would have had Jair Jurrjens or Tommy Hanson inspired enough to have made it back for the final week of the season. Instead, their sitting out for things like "soreness" and the flu. Surely their agent, Scott Boras, wouldn't have anything to do with that. Or, would he?
Even Jones, who is playing on one leg, has shown signs of displeasure towards Gonzalez. The veteran made it pretty clear he was not happy with batting in the two hole when he was swinging the bat so well and could have been batting further down the lineup card in a position to drive in runs.
Chipper may be the only guy that hasn't quit. He never quits. This is a guy that has restructured contracts to take less money so the Braves could bring in more talent. He's the ultimate team player. The rest of the lineup should have taken a page from Chipper's book.
Even Jones can't save this team, however. These Braves have clearly quit on their manager. That is something I never thought I would say about a Braves team.
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