The Atlanta Braves clubhouse has long had a reputation as being a very laid back, even-keeled, business as usual kind of place. Never too far up or down, just taking things as they come day by day (except for when Deion Sanders was present). It was this kind of mature, no-nonsense attitude that carried the Braves through some rough times during their dominance of the 1990′s and early 2000′s. But those were different Braves.
This is the second time during the management tenure of Fredi Gonzalez that the Braves have had an extended losing streak, the first being September 2011′s mighty collapse. Fredi is handling things pretty much the way his predecessor, Bobby Cox, would. No panic, no finger-pointing, and no fiery press conferences. But maybe with this group of Braves, that’s not such a good thing.
Yes, there have been injuries and illnesses. But so what? Every team deals with them every year. It’s part of the game. The great teams are the ones that play through those injuries and don’t miss a beat. The Braves simply just don’t look like a great team right now.
Right now the Braves are functioning about as well as the three branches of the Federal Government. When the starting pitching is there, the hitting and/or bullpen fails. When bats perk up and they score a few runs, the bullpen suddenly implodes because of overwork due to short outings from the starters. And when you are on a bad streak like the Braves are on right now, even if all three of those things seem to be in sync, some bonehead makes a horrible defensive play to blow the whole thing up. It can get frustrating, even angering. The problem is, I don’t see any frustration or anger from anyone inside the Braves clubhouse.
Fredi Gonzalez’s press conferences are about as low-key and calm as you can get. The post-game interviews with pitchers who just got shelled are just as dry and unemotional as an insurance seminar. Jason Heyward sounds just as monotonous in a pre-game interview whether he’s on a 10-game hitting streak, or if he’s struck out swinging in his last 10 at-bats. Where’s the fire? Where’s the sense of urgency? Where’s the indignation to falling into last place in the division? All I heard thrown out there was “We’re still above .500″. So now the Braves are OK with just treading water?
There needs to be a change brought on throughout this organization, or losing streaks like this will drag the Braves right back into 1990. It doesn’t matter what’s been done for the past 20 years. These Braves obviously need some sort of catalyst. Where Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and David Justice could motivate themselves, it would seem that Mike Minor, Tommy Hanson, Randall Delgado, and Jason Heyward need someone to light a fire under their backsides. The aforementioned “someone” needs to be Fredi Gonzalez and/or Roger McDowell. And frankly, I’m not sure they are the men for the job.
Gonzalez and McDowell are two of a kind. Both non-confrontational guys, and easy spirits. When McDowell comes out to the mound to talk to a pitcher, the first thing he does is stick his hands in his back pockets to show a sense of relaxation. He doesn’t want the pitcher to feel like he’s out there to jump on his performance. Well Roger, maybe it’s time to do that. The same can be said for Gonzalez. His demeanor never changes in the dugout. You don’t see him coming out to argue bad calls (or at least not with foam coming from his mouth), and you don’t see him laying into a player for dogging it (and believe me, there has been some of that going on).
Fredi and Roger need to take this bull by the horns right now and wrestle it down. Let these kids know that this type of nonchalant attitude towards losing, and apathy about the standings are not going to be acceptable. This is a team of good players, and when they play up to their potential they are pretty hard to beat. But it’s up to the coaches to make sure that’s the type of play they are getting day in…day out… in every single game. Everybody on this team is expendable, and they need to know that. There are some hungry young guys playing 30 minutes up the road that will be happy to take their jobs if necessary.