Thoughts on Braves’ first half, including Gonzalez, Bethancourt

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried everybody in relief, except possibly himself. (AP photo)

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried everybody in relief, except possibly himself. (AP photo)

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has tried everybody in relief, except possibly himself. (AP photo)

The Braves are 42-47 at the All-Star break. It’s the first time they are below .500 at the All-Star break since 2009 (43-45) and represents their worst won-lost percentage in the first half (.472) since 2006 (40-49, .449).

This should not come as a surprise, given the team’s moves during the winter, punctuated by the trade of closer Craig Kimbrel on the eve of the season, which left the bullpen thin and exposed. At their current pace, the Braves would finish 76-86. Their preseason over/under win projection in Las Vegas was 73.5. The recent injury to closer to Jason Grilli (torn Achilles) and the likelihood of the Braves being sellers at the trade deadline could make 73 wins a challenge.

Here are five hot-button issues on the team and my thoughts on each:

1. Question: Is the team’s record Fredi Gonzalez’s fault?

Answer: No. If you wanted Gonzalez fired before this season because you believed he was the cause of the team falling short of expectations in the past, we can have that debate. But to blame him for anything about this season is absurd. The Braves are 42-47 because they’re a 42-47 level of a team. An argument can be made that they’ve actually overachieved, given the roster in general and the pitching staff in particular. No. 1 starter Julio Teheran has an ERA of 4.56 (ballooned from 2.89 last year). Shelby Miller is the only starter who has pitched up to expectations, and even he hasn’t won in his last 10 starts (though partly from lack of run support). The bullpen’s ERA is 4.40 (second worst in the majors) and has blown 15 saves (tied for the most in the majors). Gonzalez has used 60 defensive lineups, 79 batting orders and 24 pitchers in relief. It’s not because he’s has the 64 Crayola box and can’t decide which one to use. It’s because the crayons keep breaking. There isn’t one manager in baseball would have this team with a winning record right now. Not one.

2. Question: Will the Braves be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

Answer: Sellers.

Grilli’s injury doesn’t change anything, other than the fact his injury removes a significant asset from the table. President of baseball operations John Hart was going to be a seller at the deadline, anyway, and Grilli was a potential trade piece. The primary objective never has been about winning this season, it was about reloading the minor-league system with young pitching, shedding big salaries and dealing players looking at free agency after this season. Other potential trade pieces include four veterans who can help a potential postseason team — reliever Jim Johnson (2-3, 2.09), catcher A.J. Pierzynski (.283), outfielder Cameron Maybin (.289) and infielder Juan Uribe (.290).

3. Question: What was the organization’s biggest miscalculation of the first half?

Answer: Christian Bethancourt.

The Braves have a lot invested in Bethancourt. He was billed as the catcher of the future. The belief was: He’s ready to make the jump now. That played a minor role in the decision to not re-sign Brian McCann two years ago and a significant role to deal Evan Gattis to Houston this winter. But Bethancourt was sent to Gwinnett (AAA) in June, less because of his anemic batting average (.198) than his weaknesses in defense and handling a pitching staff. It’s unknown if this is a case of a young player simply needing to grow up or whether he ever will be fully committed to improving. Regardless, Pierzynski wasn’t supposed to play this many games (60). Gattis, primarily a designated hitter in Houston, leads the Astros in RBIs (54) and ranks second in home runs (15).

4. Question: Will the Braves make the playoffs?

Answer: No.

Washington will run away with the National League East and the Braves don’t have the players to make a second-half run for a wild card berth and beat out any combination of Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Arizona and San Diego. The contending teams also are likely to strengthen themselves at the deadline.

5. Question: So why go to the games?

Answer: Because for all of their problems, the Braves play hard and compete, similar to where the Hawks were two seasons ago. I realize that doesn’t count for much in the competitive world of sports — but, hey, given low expectations and the sales’ department’s need to fill seats, there’s a chance quite a few games will be discounted.

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MyAJC: Hawks just weren’t ready for this

 

 

Reader Comments 0

125 comments
Falcons63
Falcons63

Agree they will be sellers at the trade deadline.  I do hope they keep Maybin.  He's young enough and he's under contract for a couple more years.  However, that's based upon this season's production, not prior seasons.  With the Braves luck he would turn out to be a one year wonder and return to his previous form next season. 

I do think Bethancourt did play a role in letting Gattis go.  However,  I don't believe he was a factor in the decision to let McCann walk. In reality, Freddie Freeman played a far greater role in the McCann situation than Bethancourt.  No NL team was going to pay a 30 something Brian McCann the kind of money he was going to command to play Catcher.   With no EH in the NL the natural move for McCann in a year or so would have been to first base.  Unfortunately for fans of Brian the team already has an All Star 1st baseman. 

Going into this year I think we all knew what kind of season it would be.  It's a shame that the Bullpen has been such a disaster.  With the Nat's underperforming the Braves could well be in the division lead.  The 15 blown saves is huge.  Never mind the seemingly countless number of close games the pen let get out of hand.  Hoping for better things in the future.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@Falcons63


"With the Nat's underperforming the Braves could well be in the division lead."


Get a grip, sucka.

Biff_Pocoroba
Biff_Pocoroba

I support the organization and expected a subpar season. I fully supported the changes made during the offseason, starting with replacing Wren. I figured the new people would blow the whole thing up, and I have no choice but to give them time to rebuild. What they were doing before this years wasn't working, nor was it going to work. This year's team may not have the talent of teams of previous seasons, but they seem to try and to enjoy playing the game.

Clint_Reno
Clint_Reno

The main problem I have with Gonzalez is how he changes the lineup from game to game. If he would let the same eight guys play and get some chemistry going, I think the offense would click and take away some of the stress our starters have.

HotDawg
HotDawg

FredI has done an admirable job, with a makeshift roster, this year.

I don't remember seeing a worse bullpen, in many years.

The Braves would actually have a huge lead in this division, if it weren't for the bullpen.

They lost an unbelievable amount of games, the first half of season, due to the bullpen.

It's most likely going to get worse the second half.

At least they've been able to score a couple runs this year, in some games

Last year was brutal to watch them try to score one run.

GWJ0525
GWJ0525

Not a bad first half for a team expected to be about where the Phillies are, however, that 4 game sweep by a last place Colorado team was ugly, and if that is an indication of things to come it could be a long second half. The Braves have not been a good after the break team in recent years anyway. Hopefully, they can still scratch their way to about 75-80 wins and hold onto 3rd place. I only expected about 70 wins and no better than a 4th place finish when the season started, but I have been impressed by the team's fight and hustle, and they can be a fun team to watch except for all the breath holding when the bullpen is pitching.

Hammerman
Hammerman

Final thought,no real star power.Young superstars all over baseball,and this team has ZERO!Good luck filling the new yard with Freeman,Simmons,Markakis et al.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@Hammerman That's good, though! Start w an empty new ballpark, and keep it empty! There'll be a curiosity surge at first, of course, but I'm hoping that dies down quickly and the new field sounds like a law library during games. Drive the profit margin down to approach zero, force these owners out, and get new owners and management dedicated to putting hard charging winners on the field, only then will progress begin.

Termigator
Termigator

The record does not matter at this point; if they are truly building for the future, fire Freddy and hire someone who will succeed when they have the talent. They should have got Joe Maddon when he was available; the Cubbies are 7 games over .500 with arguably the same talent as the Braves.

nashvillewill
nashvillewill

Until the Rockies series the Braves were in contention in the East. That, in spite of all the problems, lineups, pitchers, injuries, etc., etc. So I cannot agree with the views of this article. The division is down, but with right management, the Braves could make a decent run. I still maintain Gonzales has lost this team (witness the lack of hustle plays and the lack of consequences for such). There is no excuse for shelling out millions and expecting anything less than all-out play from the players. Enough with excuses and strategies. Play the game the right way with the best players available and see what happens. Unloading your best players at this point is a recipe for giving up. 

Nashville Jeff
Nashville Jeff

@Wilbo @nashvillewill  Funny comment from he who has never made any post that doesn't attack FG, Liberty Media, or the sports media that doesn't spit forth the anger that you need to hear.  If you hate the Braves, Liberty Media, Fredi Gonzalez, and Atlanta based media so much, you might consider ways to eliminate the source of so much anger, pain and misery from your awful life.  Do you know the theme song from the movie MASH?  The title offers a possible solution for your despair.  Taking that route would provide welcome relief for those who wish to discuss baseball on this site.  Have you considered taking your comments to a political site?  You may fit perfectly there as it seems that your need is to vent on those differing opinions that you hate to hear voiced.

Wilbo
Wilbo

Oh, I'm so sorry, Nashville, sweetheart! I just thought I recognized your fine, well written and I must say very interesting post from earlier in another place. No offense intended, whatsoever! And thank you so much for enjoying my posts!


Sorry, don't know MASH. I was Vietnam era, so I don't pay much attn to Korean War topics. Incredibly brave group of men, though, I will say that to go over there w outdated weaponry and insufficient training and take on the NK's & ChiComs. My heart goes out to them all.


I despise the Braves and their excusers, yes, I do! Wish I had in my checking act right this minute all the cash money I spent on Braves tickets in the 36 years I spent watching them. I know for sure, it would cover a very nice vehicle!


The specifics, about whether to keep Cameron Maybin, for example, that stuff makes little to no difference in the long run. As long as Liberty Media owns the team, as long as the losing stench oozing up off Cox and Shurholtz and Fredi permeate the organization, the team is going to vacillate between sucking a lot and sucking a little.


Those aren't good options. Be in it to win it or bear the brunt of fan anger, that's how it should be! Maybe it isn't quite that way in Atlanta, yet, because Atlanta fans are inured to failure and impotence. It doesn't have to be that way....

Wilbo
Wilbo

@Nashville Jeff Wait, that's not fair. Sometimes I just talk about how I hate these 2 dimwit bloggers, especially this one.


But, really if you had been present and spent BIG cash money on tickets - and a freakin gob on playoff tickets - to see this damn organization turn opportunities for greatness into pure-T doggie dung for as long as I have, you'd be pissed off, too. This last 3-4-5-6-7 years where this young so & so and that young so & so was gonna mature into a great player and anchor a future championship run and didn't pan out to squat. You may think that's new, but it's not! Not new at all! That's been going on since they got swept in the 1969 NLCS. 1982 same same.


Then from 93-94 on the Atlanta Braves had a lifetime chance at DYNASTY, and that freaking doofus Cox blew it like a barfing dog! Then here come the Yankees out of nowhere, get down to the Braves 0-2 in the 1996 World Series and look totally overmatched, then man up (Braves ain't got the necessary nardlets to do that) and stomp the Braves eight consecutive World Series games and they - the Yankees - become the dynasty of the 1990's. Not the Braves because they got that choking fool Cox in the dugout, but they hold on to him like he has a golden dong or something.


All this crap about when are they going to turn it around? They aren't! Not until this ownership and management is gone.

Wilbo
Wilbo

What are Fredi and the Bravos saying during the break?


"Oh, can't wait 'til Friday, so we can get back out there on the field and not suck quite as bad as everybody thought we would. Yawn. That won't take too much effort, will it?"


Or, "Oh , no puedo esperar 'hasta viernes, así que podemos volver por ahí en el campo y no aspirar tan malo como todo el mundo pensaba que lo haría. Bostezo... Eso no va a tomar mucho esfuerzo, ¿verdad?"

Truth5678
Truth5678

Sad that the Atlanta media (paper, sports talk radio) doesn't have the stones to ask if Fredi G should be the manager based on the full body of his work. And we wonder why we're awash is mediocrity. 

Wilbo
Wilbo

Paying ANY amount of money to go watch the Atlanta Braves and/or buying Braves merchandise of any kind including jerseys or caps for your kids or grandkids is doing nothing but supporting and prolonging the miserable ineptitude Liberty and the Atlanta Braves have been foisting on the city of Atlanta for way too long.


Please do not give them even 1 dime of your money.

Nashville Jeff
Nashville Jeff

@Wilbo  Since it's none of your business how folks spend their sports dollars and it's obvious that you're promoting your own "I hate Liberty Media" agenda, maybe you should goosestep in your living room to your little tin drum.  Don't spend your money , if that's what your agenda demands----I'll continue to spend mine as I please.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@Nashville Jeff


Ah, that's where you're wrong, Little Nashville Jeffy! It's my business and all other Atlanta fans if you pay money to support these losers!


The more tickets you buy, the more caps and T-shirts you buy, the more money you pour into the coffers of the Atlanta Braves, the longer the rest of us fans - who aren't satisfied w the disgusting mediocrity that you are - have to put up with the crappy product these people have been putting out on the diamond all these many years.


I mean, yes, you can still do it, obviously it's your money and you can spend it however you want, just please be aware that by spending any of it on the Atlanta Braves, you are prolonging the misery of those of us who hate seeing worthless arse losers wearing Atlanta unis and embarrassing the city....

GirlieGurley
GirlieGurley

Gonzalez has done a great job and the Braves have over achieved. Case closed.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@GirlieGurley Good morning, Mrs. Gonzalez! I hope all is well?


But seriously, only in Atlanta and specifically only in this paper is it considered a great accomplishment to be able to say, "YAY, our team sucked just a little bit less than we thought they would!"


That should be emblazoned in huge red letters on the Liberty Media Building and on the Atlanta Braves front offices, "We are trying to suck just a little bit less! (if that doesn't take too much money or effort)"

Rettoh
Rettoh

Please don't trade Mayben he's the only spark in this team.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

The Braves trade away players that could help them win.

This is an owner player personnel problem. Looks as if

they need people who know about baseball involved

in their team

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

@LOGS1973 

What did they win with Uggla, the Upton brothers, Kimbrel and Heyward ? A lot of money spent but no results where it counts.

SeanLB
SeanLB

@SaveAmericaFromItself @LOGS1973 The delusion seen with our fans regarding Jason Heyward's tenure in Atlanta is hilarious.  That guy is going to get WAY overpaid by someone, and I was thrilled to see that John Hart wasn't taking the bait.


That's when I knew Hart could turn this around.  It'll just take some time.  

LegalBeagle3
LegalBeagle3

As for the Markakis haters, I too wish we got a little more power out of RF, BUT you should think of him more as an on-base, Ichiro (732 PA, 43 RBI in 2010), Grissom (606 PA and 42 RBI in 1995), or Lofton (48 RBI in 564 PA in 1997)  type of hitter--one who you wouldn't really expect a ton of RBI or homeruns.  He should be batting leadoff or 2nd where his on-base/singles/walks skills would be more useful.  Only Freddi would have this guy hitting cleanup, so don't hold that against Markakis.

LegalBeagle3
LegalBeagle3

How can you keep making excuses for this boob?! If you watched the games, you know they have been in position to be easily several games above .500 right now.  His mismanagement of games, and failure to properly prepare/motivate/inspire the club has cost us many games that were very winnable.  It doesn't matter what you expected on paper--the reality on the field is that they SHOULD be better than this!!  And regardless, why do you give him a pass on previous seasons?  Why does he get so many chances?  He has been awful here! 

Wilbo
Wilbo

@CarrollSanders


Don't you understand? The job of the AJC bloggers is to make excuses for boobs. That is their entire reason for being.

DarianFisher
DarianFisher

why would I want to pay an exorbitant amount of money to go watch this team lose?  Tickets are already 10 times higher than they should be and I don't see how anyone would waste their hard earned money to watch a bunch of overpriced players who can't even compete.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@DarianFisher Paying ANY amount of money to go watch the Atlanta Braves and/or buying Braves merchandise of any kind including jerseys or caps for your kids or grandkids is doing nothing but supporting and prolonging the miserable ineptitude Liberty and the Atlanta Braves have been foisting on the city of Atlanta for way, way too long.

SOB
SOB

I don't understand this so called team at all. You completely gut the entire team, basically fielding a double A team in the major leagues, have an utter fool for a manager, I have to wonder what Freddie Freeman is thinking? Or is he on vacation? I quit watching the Braves when they gutted the team. The new stadium will most likely be a disaster as is this so called team. 

SeanLB
SeanLB

@SOB This year's team is performing just like last year's team.  What's your point?


You were happy with last season's squad?  If so, I think we've pinpointed your problem.  

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Despite the marketing rhetoric the Braves Management literally threw in the towel on this season to exorcise themselves of some very bad contracts and players. You don't get accolades for throwing in the towel, warranted or not, and fans do not buy tickets to watch Baseball America rank prospects.


It's way too early to weigh the pros and cons of  most of the moves the Braves made. Early reads on some are positive (getting rid of BJ at any cost), others appear outright idiotic (huge "told you so" on Bethancourt and Gattis), the vast majority appear to simply be moves of and for players of little overall or lasting impact. Nice job remaking the bullpen ("not").


The Braves really do not have a choice, they must look ahead and sell what they can. This current bunch doesn't need one player or two to get over the hump, they need a bullpen, a cleanup hitter, another catcher, a healthy first baseman, maturity in the starting rotation, and generally better players at several positions. 

Wilbo
Wilbo

@DawgDadII You forgot to add these needs: competent ownership, a competent management, and a competent manager.

SunDropMan
SunDropMan

I was really surprised when I read this article.  I think Mr. Schultz had a ghostwriter write this for him while he is on vacation(I know, I know, he STAYS on vacation).  There's no way someone with the intelligence, common sense and logic of Schultzie could have written such "silliness".  The only other thing I can think of is that FG has pictures of him.  That might explain it.

Wilbo
Wilbo

@FarTrain Schultz - intelligence, logic, common sense?


Now, that's a freaking joke!!!


Mutley
Mutley

Stop all this crying about Fredi. This team is about exactly where Liberty Media wants it, around .500. Things will never improve until owners who really want to win buy the team. Until then it's just business as usual.

SunDropMan
SunDropMan

@Mutley Agree!  It's a success if they attain mediocrity or thereabouts.

Fun and Gun
Fun and Gun

Keep Maybin- good production and a great contract. Showcase Jim Johnson and trade high you may be able to get rid of Chris Johnson too. Heck trade AJ, KJ, Gomes and Uribe if you can, they all have good value, hustle and veteran presence. 


I would love AJ to be resigned for next year to help coach this pitching staff better yet fire Fredi and have AJ as a player coach.


patriotdog
patriotdog

First, the '11 collapse would've happened regardless if the manager had been Joe Torre. Five starters and three starting pitchers missing huge stretches of time in the second half of the season can't be overcome.

HOWEVER, I've not seen a manager overuse his bullpen like FG. As one of the posters said, changing pitchers repeatedly after the sixth inning to get left/righty matchups wears a bullpen down quickly ( see O'Flaherty, Venters,

Moylan, etc..).

I don't think they trade AJ, as he was not acquired for his catching skills as much as his clubhouse presence, something this team will need. The fact that he has lots more in the tank than previously thought is a bonus.

I imagine Maybin and Jim Johnson will be gone, and it wouldn't kill me to see Tehran leave, although a few seasons back when we had Hudson, Beachy, Hanson, Jurjens and Medlen all get hurt should teach us that you need lots of starting pitchers.. Maybe a Maybin/Chris Johnson package can finally relieve us of CJ, the bum that doesn't hustle.

Markakis wasn't brought in to hit HRs, he was brought in to hit. And he has, in spades.

Finally, I think Uribe will be a trade deadline casualty, as well, although not as certain as Maybin and J Johnson.

The second half will suck, Maybe Peralta can play third and Ciriaco can take his speed to CF...or vice versa.

And no, Fredi isn't the guy to take this team to titles......I don't think Pendleton is, either, but I'd like to see TP get his shot. I'll bet his team's would hustle...or he'd kick their arse.

DrTruth
DrTruth

@patriotdog "the '11 collapse would've happened regardless if the manager had been Joe Torre."  This statement makes no sense.  First, it's obviously not provable.  Second, you're effectively saying that the manager doesn't matter in a pennant race.  That's just silly.


All MLB managers are obviously not interchangeable.  Fredi gets out-managed in nearly every series the Braves play.  And when it's not the other manager doing the out-managing, Fredi simply does it to himself.....A form of "masturmanagation".

HUDDYS1FAN
HUDDYS1FAN

Love or Hate Fredi Gonzalez there is one factoid which will directly impact his future as Braves manager.


A second consecutive losing record, which I think can't be survived regardless of player personnel. Fredi G. has to keep this team at .500 or better, else he can can start updating his resume.

BravesFanInNashville
BravesFanInNashville

One thing I disagree with is that not ONE manager in all of baseball would have this team with a winning record right now.  Paul Molitor in his first year as a manager has the Twins turned around and winning more games than they are losing.  This team had very little roster turnover from last year and they lost a lot of games last year under Gardenhire. 


Ervin Santana was the big free agent they signed and he was suspended almost the entire first half.  Torre Hunter the big bat they signed to a 1year deal is hitting .257 their leading hitter Joe Mauer is hitting .273.


Molitor had some of the best instincts on the field as a player and he has a very cerebral approach to the game that is balanced with passion to play with heart.  I can promise you Molitor is not going to let his pitchers get beat by the best player on the opposing teams time after time like Fredi does. 


There is no question to me either that Bruce Bochy does NOT pitch to Harper a run up in the ninth against Washington with a base open when Harper had hit 5 HR in the previous 3 games.  Fredi had his pitcher pitch to him and a few seconds later Harper hit a walk off HR.  


There were several of those situations this year that the Braves should have at least been put in the best situation to win and instead Fredi let the moment go by and the Braves paid for it almost every time. 


I'm not a Fredi hater.  I think he's a nice man and seemed to do a good job as the 3B coach.   If he at least learned from his mistakes and handled things differently I'd say he's improving but he seems to make the same choices again and again in spite of the previous outcomes.  


Just three more wins and this team is a game over .500 instead of 5 games under.  I believe a better manager accounts for at least three wins and probably more like 5 or 6 by this point in the season.


I agree that no matter who the manager is this team is not built to win a WS because there are much better teams out there, but when this team does have the players to win I don't believe Fredi is the right man to take them to the top..



LarvellBlanks
LarvellBlanks

@BravesFanInNashville  "There is no question to me either that Bruce Bochy does NOT pitch to Harper a run up in the ninth against Washington with a base open when Harper had hit 5 HR in the previous 3 games."


If I recall correctly, the runner was on first, so there was no "base open" (at least not as that phrase is generally used -- as Leo Mazzone says, there's always a base open if you include home).  And there is no manager in baseball who would walk the tying run into scoring position in that situation.