Can you overestimate a 0-9 team with absolutely no hope in sight? With this season’s Atlanta Braves, it’s more than possible. Despite an All-Star first baseman, emerging young talent, and a manager once considered the National League’s best, we thought they’d bumble their way to a few wins. Even this modest hope seems unfounded in the opening weeks of the season. The 2016 Braves club is worse than anyone imagined, coaching staff included.
Opponents have outscored Atlanta 55-24 through those nine games, giving the club the worst run differential (-31) in the game, and the ship is taking on water from all sides. Only the Mets and also-winless Twins have scored fewer runs than the Braves, though New York has only played eight games at press time. As a team, Atlanta is batting .196 with 3 HR and a hideous .560 OPS.
The early returns from the pitching staff are equally bad. Only the Colorado Rockies have a worse ERA (7.20) than Braves pitchers have posted (5.88), with the club’s train-wreck bullpen (7.01) doing the team the most harm. Julio Teheran, who took the ball on Opening Day, ended an April 14 bashing at the hands of Bryce Harper and the Nationals with a 6.35 ERA through three starts.
Freddie Freeman, a two-time All Star and MVP candidate two seasons ago, has not been the bright spot by any stretch of the imagination. At 2-25 (.080) with 2 RBI, Freeman has been a part of the problem. Manager Fredi Gonzalez actually dumped the star 1B on the bench for the series finale against Washington, making it an especially sad day in Bravesville. Indeed, Gonzalez has become another one of Atlanta’s issues.
Gonzalez has a case for resting Freeman in his free fall up against Stephen Strasburg. Other decisions are worthy of second guessing, beginning with the April 12 debacle against the Nats. Jhoulys Chacin had struck out eight and allowed just five baserunners through 6.0 IP (69 pitches) when Gonzalez yanked him for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh following a leadoff double.
The Braves skipper called on Jace Peterson — we’ll give you time to Google him now — to replace Chacin and the results were as bad as you would expect: a strikeout, no advance, and Atlanta didn’t score. In the bottom of the eighth, the Nationals scored two off the Braves ‘pen and it was chalked up as another loss. Instead of going with the hottest start he had to date and seeing what happened, Gonzalez pulled Chacin and watched helplessly as his offense wilted again.
Bad teams put pressure on everyone, including the manager, and Gonzalez is clearly rattled, as is Freeman. Luck isn’t going Atlanta’s way, either. Ender Inciarte, acquired from Arizona in the Shelby Miller trade, got shipped to the disabled list on April 10 following a hamstring strain.
For now, Gonzalez can only pencil in Adonis Garcia, Nick Markakis, and the error-prone Erick Aybar and hope for the best. The farm system looks years away from bearing fruit. Maybe the weekend in Miami will be just what the Braves need, but we can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for Atlanta. This club makes Minnesota seem worth the price of admission.
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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.