The last time the Atlanta Braves won the NL East was 2005, which concluded their run of 14 straight division championships. Since then, the Braves have only managed to make the postseason twice, both times as wild card teams in 2010 and 2012. Atlanta fans are hungry for more pennants to be hung outside the 755 Club at Turner Field, but for that to happen, some changes will have to occur.
Since that 2005 season, the Braves have made a lot of changes. They’ve changed hitting coaches twice, third and first base coaches, bullpen coach, and bench coach all one or more times. A new position of assistant hitting coach was created. The big chairs of manager and general manager have seen a change in the last 8 seasons. Even the organist and PA announcer have changed.
The only two things that have remained constant since 2006 at Turner Field are loveable long-time VIP and owner’s box usher Walter Banks, and pitching coach Roger McDowell.
It’s doubtful that Walter Banks is doing much to change the success of the team on the field. Which leaves us with McDowell.
McDowell is the one person who has survived all other purges, and while it’s never polite to point fingers, perhaps it’s time to throw the book on manners out and try something new when it comes to the person responsible for developing and maintaining the lifeblood of the Braves franchise – pitching.
I could sit here and throw a lot of meaningless statistics out that show you how McDowell isn’t quite the pitching coach that Leo Mazzone was…but then again, few are. I could list off the names of hot young arms that were once touted as being the future of the Braves rotation, who are now either out of the game or floundering with other teams.
Not to mention McDowell was the famed “second spitter” that defiled Kramer and Newman in the Mets parking lot in 1987.
And while (most) all of those things are valid, and give merit to the argument that McDowell needs to be replaced, there is no bigger reason than the fact that the Braves successes changed when he came on board and have not returned since.
This isn’t to say that McDowell is a bad pitching coach, or has necessarily done a horrible job. It’s just that sometimes a coach isn’t the right fit for an organization, and after seven seasons and only two brief wild card appearances it’s safe to say that he’s the last crucial cog in the machine that hasn’t been replaced.
The Braves have some exciting young arms coming up in the minors, and some that have just begun their careers. Now would be the time to find another coach to bring them along, and turn them into the next great core of Atlanta starters.
Some would argue that Leo Mazzone had the advantage of having three sure-fire Hall of Famers–Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz–on his watch. But with the exception of Maddux, who was already an accomplished pitcher when the Braves signed him as a free agent, the other two were just young studs who were green and in need of coaching.
This team has the talent, especially on the pitching staff, to win the NL East and make a run for the World Series. The Braves need to just pull the trigger, and make this final change that has remained since they last sat atop a division at the end of a season.