|Posted by theprincipality on August 29, 2017 at 8:10 AM|
Someone should tell the Atlanta Braves that the season doesn't end at the All-Star break, because their miserable performances in the second half of the season is becoming a habit. Sure, 2016 was a positive second half, but in that case the team didn't show up until August. Now, here we are in 2017, barely a month out from having an even record, 14 games below 500. It is like they did the hard work getting back to parity, gave themselves a pat on the back and considered it a job well done - forgetting there were two months to go!
As embarrassing as it is accounting for 25% of Philadelphia's wins or having only one starter with an ERA of under 4 (and barely that), the worst part is that they have thrown away what was turning into a really promising season. Obviously they are still trying hard, but since my last blog there are very few areas of improvement and we will end the season with that well-known feeling of disappointment.
I can pinpoint where it started to go wrong. Having been swept by the Cubs, the Braves rolled into Los Angeles for a four-game set with the red-hot Dodgers. Unworried by the Chicago series, Atlanta took the first two games, much to everyone's surprise. The team then immediately traded Jaime Garcia to Minnesota and they haven't looked the same since.
I'm not saying Garcia was the difference in winning ballgames, nor was he the life and soul of the clubhouse, but having reached that point in the season having only used six starters, his trade left a rotational hole and disrupted the rhythm of the rest of the club. Management rightly used the opportunity to give some exposure to some young prospects, but so far Blair, Wisler and Sims have experienced inevitable growing pains, added to those being suffered by Sean Newcomb. With two spots in the rotation filled by struggling rookies and one by a faltering ace in Julio Teheran, this has put pressure on Mike Foltynewicz to win every start and it would appear the pressure has got to him as well. He has gone from rotational anchor to junk in just a few starts. Only the experienced RA Dickey has excelled during this time.
The failures of the rotation have added to the workload of the bullpen, thus causing more scoreboard woe. Jim Johnson, having been demoted from the closer's role, has let his ERA balloon in recent weeks. There is simply nobody in the bullpen taking a leadership role. Vizcaino and Ramirez maintain respectable ERAs but that's about it.
Offensively, the bats have collectively cooled from their electric first half. Freddie Freeman has hit more for average than power since his return from injury, but the lack of power threat has changed how oppositions pitch to our lineup. Most surprising of all, the most power recently has come from Kurt Suzuki, who has now reached 15 home runs for the year whilst basically being confined to a backup role. Dansby Swanson has yo-yoed back from Triple-A and bats alongside Ozzie Albies at the bottom of the lineup. Albies has looked good after a slow start to his Major League career, and Swanson has hit well since his return. Hopefully this bodes well for next year.
The biggest question mark in 2018 is what to do with third base. Currently occupied by Brandon Phillips, it is probably safe to say he won't return next year. Phillips reluctantly accepted third base duties, having played his entire career at second, but the fact he had to go away and think about it shows he doesn't have the team's best interests at heart. For me that just confirms rumours I'd heard about Phillips as a teammate over the course of the last decade. It is likely Johan Camargo will get another shot at the hot corner when he returns from injury, but it remains to be seen whether he can sustain the same level over the course of an entire year.
So the question remains how the Braves can turn this second half slump around and stop it becoming an annual event. Chances of getting back to 500 this season are pretty much done, so 2018 must have a fast start and some positive trade activity around the break, as effectively all we did was this season was sell. The rotation needs a reliable anchor from the get-go and this must be the offseason priority to stand any chance in 2018.