At the beginning of September, I wrote a story about why the Braves would win the World Series. At the time, the Braves were fighting to win the National League East and were eight and half games ahead of the Cardinals in the Wild Card. Basically, the Braves were guaranteed a spot in the postseason.
The Braves instead went 9-18 in the month of September, losing the Wild Card on the last day of the regular season to the Cardinals, in what is being called the worst collapse in National League history. First off, I would like to apologize for jinxing the Braves on what would otherwise have been a postseason birth. But all jokes aside, there are some major changes that must be made to this organization.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez has to get a large amount of the blame for the Braves collapse. His laid-back approach was successful for five months, but Gonzalez needed to find a way to motivate his players while still keeping them loose and fresh. Gonzalez not only lost control of the clubhouse but it seems that he also has lost support from the front office.
A day after saying that all of the Braves coaches would be returning for the 2012 season, Braves hitting coach Larry Parrish was fired. It does not bode well for Gonzalez and his future with the team if he is not being informed on personnel decisions within the team. Gonzalez looks like a lame duck and could easily be replaced in the coming weeks.
The Braves also must find a replacement at shortstop because the play of Alex Gonzalez was horrendous. Gonzalez is known for his glove but the way he hit this year was unacceptable. Gonzalez’ batting average of .241 was the lowest for any starting shortstop in baseball this season.
The Braves need a shortstop that will drive in runs, while continuing to do an admirable job on defense. The club may be inclined to bring up prospect Tyler Pastornicky to start at shortstop next season, but the Braves would probably be better off bringing in a veteran for a season to bridge the gap to the young prospect.
The Braves also must address what to do with phenom Jason Heyward. The former top prospect in baseball struggled in his sophomore campaign, hitting only .227 with 14 homeruns and 42 RBI’s. Some of this could be attributed to ailing injuries that forced Heyward to miss close to a third of the season, but the Braves right fielder never looked comfortable at the plate this season.
There have also been rumors that the Braves may be open to trading Heyward this offseason. General Manager Frank Wren has already said that Heyward’s starting right fielder job is not guaranteed for next season. Every team in baseball would be interested in acquiring Heyward, but at only 22-years old, the Braves have to stick with him. Guys like Heyward with his physical tools simply do not come around often.
A guy the Braves would do anything to get rid of would be pitcher Derek Lowe and his ridiculous contract. The former ace had a horrible season going 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA. Lowe deserves plenty of the blame for the Braves’ collapse, since he went 0-5 during the month of September when the Braves needed Lowe to step up.
To make matters worst, Lowe is scheduled to make $15 million next season. Wren has already said that Lowe is not projected to be in the starting rotation for 2012, so the Braves now have a $15 million reliever. Fortunately for the Braves, the club has enough quality arms in the minors to easily find a replacement for Lowe in the rotation, but it will be difficult for the Braves to find a team that would be willing to take on Lowe and his hefty contract.
Words can’t describe how disappointing the Braves’ collapse was for everybody. The players, coaches and die-hard fans alike all seemed stunned as to how poorly the team was playing under pressure. Wren has quite a job ahead of himself.
The Braves not only need a few new players, they need a whole new personality and approach to the game. It’s going to be a long winter for these Braves, but hopefully the team will make the necessary adjustments to return to the postseason next year.