I forced myself to reflect on the season for four days. I forced myself to absorb the implications. I forced myself not to write a word until I could really wrap my head around exactly what happened in the month of September.
The Atlanta Braves have just completed one of the greatest meltdowns in the history of baseball. Losing 18 out of their final 26, squandering an 8.5-game lead with less than a month to go in the season, would be bad enough, but they lost in exactly the fashion in which they used to win. This wasn’t expected, nor was it in the modus operandi of traditional Atlanta teams.
They lost because they couldn’t get the big hit. They lost because they faltered in the late innings.
In the year most fondly remembered by Braves fans, Atlanta tallied 25 wins in its last at-bat—and mostly because of an inept offense that relied heavily on the long ball and possibly the best starting rotation in the history of the league. (Four days isn’t enough to reflect on the juggernaut in Philly, by the way. Let’s call it the best rotation to date.)
Now that we are all getting over the ridiculous talent in Philadelphia, we can address the fact that the 2011 Braves had exactly as many last at-bat wins as that weak-hitting squad that brought a championship to Hank Aaron Drive. Nothing could have been more appropriate than a 1-0 win in Game 6, cemented by a David Justice knock and Tom Glavine throwing the game of his life against a pretty (insert expletive here) good lineup. Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Robbie Alomar, and Jim Thome come to mind, not to mention some guy named Manny. In fact, Eddie Murray was also a part of that team, a Hall of Famer among future Hall of Famers, but I digress.
The point is this: Atlanta lost the wild card because it couldn’t hit a baseball. You can blame Roger McDowell and the pitching staff all you want, but they put up numbers baseball hasn’t seen. And save the "burned-out, overused bullpen" argument because when you get to September, you’re either an athlete or you’re not. For the first five months of the season, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrell were lights out.
September wasn’t so pretty, but sometimes the ball doesn’t roll so well. Kimbrell is 21 years old. If you are going to tell me he is tired in September, I will tell you I didn’t once feel tired at that age, but that may be a different story.
The bats went silent. Blame anyone you want, but the fault was shared. Michael Bourn didn’t get on base as advertised, but was still dangerous when he did. Martin Prado dropped off the offensive map, although I still like his approach to the game. Chipper Jones was Chipper, but I was thinking he would have one more I-am-putting-this-team-on-my-back Septembers. (Sorry late-'90s Mets fans.) Dan Uggla had one of the most bipolar seasons in history, but couldn’t carry his latter-polar streak into September. Brian McCann never recovered from his trip to the DL. In actuality he was out three weeks; in terms of the Atlanta nightmare, he never came back at all. The Jay-Hey Kid—he may run like Mays, but he hits like…
The point is, Larry Parrish is gone as the hitting coach of the Atlanta Braves for a reason. The pitching will be fine. Not exactly what I remember under the old rocking chair, Leo Mazzone, but McDowell has his guys in a good spot.
I forced myself to wait, so as not to bring too many emotions into a complete meltdown of a season. I forced myself to wait, so as not to rant. It is my opinion that I failed at both, and should probably wait another four days.
The greatest September collapse in baseball history is still up for debate, but the 2011 Atlanta Braves have made a pretty good case for themselves.
I still can’t wrap my head around it.