So it’s been a while since I’ve written about baseball, but my Braves were eliminated early from the playoffs last night, in what has become an all-too-familiar pattern.
I was saddened by last night’s events, but not surprised by them—Braves fans are conditioned to generally expect heartbreak in the postseason, and I was specifically convinced that this Braves team was not assembled in such a way as to contend for a championship (more on that below).
So what do the Braves need in 2014 to be better (And by “better,” I don’t just mean win more games—the Braves won 96 games in the regular season, so that isn’t the problem. I mean win games when it counts.)? Here are a few things:
(1) Get a legitimate ace. The Braves have several good pitchers, but it’s been quite a while that we had a legitimate ace who we could trot out in game one of a postseason series and feel confident that a win was coming. I love Tim Hudson, but he will turn 39 next year. Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Julio Teheran are all good, promising young pitchers. Maybe one of them will develop into an ace, but for now, we have a bunch of pretty good pitchers who, over the course of a season produce a lot of wins, but are overmatched in the playoffs.
(2) Get a better manager. I don’t think there’s any way that Fredi Gonzalez gets fired, which is too bad, because he’s not very good at his job. I don’t dislike him, and think he would make a great bench coach or first base coach, but his decision making is questionable—a lot. In Game 3, he left Teheran out too long when he was clearly off, and then did the same thing with Wood. In Game 4, he let Carpenter blow the game in the 8th inning while Craig Kimbrel, who has arguably put up the best three year stretch of any closer in history, sat on the bench and watched. Stuff like this happens frequently, and in my opinion, it happens because Fredi isn’t very good at his job.
(3) Get some guys who know how to field. It is so frustrating to watch Braves players bungle plays, either by making outright errors, or by making poor decisions in the field that turn singles into doubles and short innings into big rallies. By my reckoning, of the eight standard (non-pitcher) positions, the Braves have two excellent fielders, about two more who are above average, two who are mediocre, and two who are train wrecks. When it comes to playoff time, this does not work. You cannot have clueless outfielders at the corners and hope that somehow it won’t hurt you. It will, time and time again as this series against the Dodgers showed.
(4) Figure out something—anything—to do with Dan Uggla and BJ Upton. These are two of the biggest free agent busts in history (maybe it’s too early to say that about Upton, but with Uggla, it is more than clear by now). So much of Atlanta’s money is tied up in these two, and they get almost no return on the investment. I don’t know what the solution is, but we can’t keep trotting out .180 hitters all season, or the alternative, which is to basically bench two guys who are collectively making over $27 million a year.
Okay, my rant is over. Here is hoping to a more successful 2014!