Atlanta Braves' Offense Killing Playoff Hopes

Joel Barker@joelabarkerSenior Writer IJune 12, 2009

The Atlanta Braves needed a win today. They needed a win yesterday, too. They got neither.
 
After tying their season high win streak at three on Tuesday night, the Braves once again forgot how to hit.
 
The beneficiary Wednesday was pitcher Jeff Karstens (5.43 ERA), who, after getting the loss in the 15th inning on Monday night, threw 4.2 innings of brilliant baseball, only allowing one ER to the punchless Braves.
 
Today it was Paul Moholm (3.61 ERA) who shut the Braves down for seven innings.
 
These two latest losses come as the Braves were seemingly turning things around offensively, after being shutout in back-to-back games over the weekend by the Brewers.
 
Chipper Jones single-handedly kept the Braves in the game Sunday with two HRs and five RBI. Then on Monday night he picked right up where he left off with a HR and added a couple more hits before the game was over.

When Chipper returned to mere mortal on Wednesday and Thursday, going 0-for-8, the Braves scored a grand total of three runs.
 
I’m not blaming Chipper for these losses. There are eight other guys in that lineup who are making nice coin to play baseball.

We rejoiced when Nate McLouth joined the team last week. Yet one week into his Braves career he's shown more inconsistency, which is apparently the only consistent thing we Braves fans have seen all year. McLouth is hitting around .250 since joining the Braves.

He's had one HR, one double, and one RBI in a week's worth of games.

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Yunel Escobar had two game-winning hits this week, yet when it counted last night and today he popped up.

Those two set the table. They have to find some way, any way to get on base.

The loss of Casey Kotchman has hurt tremendously, but he's scheduled to be back early next week. Brian McCann has been his normal, consistent self since returning from his eye issues, and Martin Prado has played well above his capabilities in spot starts.

Matt Diaz and Garret Anderson have both swung well lately. Anderson finally seems comfortable and Diaz could soon replace the ever-struggling Jeff Francoeur on a daily basis.

Speaking of Francoeur, he has become the key to this Atlanta lineup. He played great today, but this entire season has been nothing but a continuation of his '08 struggles. 
 
How can this guy go from 29 HR, 103 RBI, and .260 average in '06 and 19 HR, 105 RBI, and .293 average in '07 to 11 HR, 71 RBI, and .239 average in '08 and on the same exact pace in '09, with 4 HR, 26 RBI, and .245 average?

Francoeur was once the anointed one to carry this Braves team into the future.

So what happened?

The same thing that has permeated this Braves lineup all season and has contributed to the overall decline of Atlanta's offense since 2006—Terry Pendleton.

Pendleton was great in 2002 when he joined Atlanta as the Hitting Coach. His arrival just happened to coincide with Gary Sheffield's, when Atlanta set numerous offensive records.

When Sheffield departed after the '03 season, J.D. Drew came to Atlanta via trade and had the best offensive season of his career in a free agent year.

In 2005, Pendleton had success with the Baby Braves—Francoeur, McCann, and Kelly Johnson. Many will point to his help with turning Andruw Jones stance and swing around. Andruw hit 51 HR that year, but after that season he dropped precipitously in every offensive stat category except for strikeouts.

The same thing happened to No. 1 prospect, Jeff Francoeur just two years later—a sharp, steady decline in every offensive stat category.

Kelly Johnson, who was another top 15 prospect for Atlanta, has been nothing but streaky under Pendleton's tutelage—hitting .241 in '05, .276 in '07, .287 in '08, and .239 so far this season. His HR numbers have dropped in that time period as well.

Not only have the promising young stars' numbers dropped dramatically, the team numbers have dropped as well. Since 2006, Atlanta's overall run totals have dropped from 849 in '06, to 810 in '07, to 753 in '08.

Braves home run totals have dropped from 222 in 2006 to 176 in '07, to 130 in '08.

Overall Batting Average numbers have not reached over .275 since 2003, when the Braves hit .284.

If you want more evidence of Pendleton's effect, or lack thereof, on this team look no further than the fact that Jeff Francoeur decided to work on his swing this past offseason with the Texas Rangers hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, rather than Pendleton.

By the way, Jaramillo has apparently done wonders for Andruw Jones so far this year. His averaged has improved 100 points from last season's disaster with the Dodgers, and he already has more HR's (5) and RBI's (15) in 29 games with the Rangers than he had in 75 with the Dodgers last season.

This Braves franchise is in transition. It's hard to shift the mindset of a proud organization from the wonderful triumphs of the past, to the lofty expectations of the future.

Frank Wren has the unenviable job of embracing the past while reaching forward to the future. The way to continue that is by firing Terry Pendleton and hiring someone who can come in with a new offensive mindset.

Once again, this will probably be a PR nightmare. TP, as he is affectionately known in the clubhouse, is yet another link to the great 90's playoff run.

However, in light of the fact that many believe Pendleton is being groomed to take over as manager when Bobby Cox retires, another tough decision must be made.