The fall of the Nats gives the Braves a different benchmark

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper is congratulated after scoring against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in San Francisco. Harper scored on a double by Nationals' Yunel Escobar. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper is congratulated after scoring against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in San Francisco. Harper scored on a double by Nationals’ Yunel Escobar. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper is congratulated after scoring against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in San Francisco. Harper scored on a double by Nationals' Yunel Escobar. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

He’ll be the National League MVP, but his ballyhooed team is nothing special. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The Atlanta Braves, who have spent the past 10 1/2 months trying to get good in the not-so-distant future, are five games behind the Washington Nationals, who were supposed to rule the National League East and all of baseball in the here and now. The Braves are 11 games under .500; the Nats, who’ve lost six in a row and were outscored 28-12 over four games in San Francisco, are 58-59.

We mention this not just as another way to the tweak the swaggering owners of #Natitude, though that’s always fun, but to make this observation. One of the reasons the Braves could commit to a tear-down — or a “reset,” to invoke John Hart’s word — was that they looked at the Nationals and thought, “They’ve got Scherzer and Harper and Rendon and Werth and Span and Zimmerman and Zimmermann and Strasburg and Fister and Desmond; there’s no way we can match that.”

It wasn’t just the Braves who thought as much. Almost everyone who watches baseball felt the same. The Nats have been picked to win the World Series for so long that it has become a kneejerk response. Trouble is, the Nats haven’t yet won the Series — haven’t won a playoff series — and the odds of them qualifying for postseason this year have dwindled to 31.0 percent, according to FanGraphs. They are fast becoming The Great Team That Never Was.

Because the Braves reside in the same division, they have to pay attention to the Nats, same as they did the Phillies. But the Nationals have sunk $210 million into a pitcher who just turned 31, and even though Max Scherzer has been excellent, we can’t say he has made a difference in the standings — and his massive contract runs through 2021. They owe $42 million over the next two seasons to a 36-year-old who’s hitting .184 (Jayson Werth) and $60 million over the next three to a 30-year-old who’s hitting .219 (Ryan Zimmerman).

Those are the sort of massive outlays that ultimately undid the Phils. Yes, Washington has a cornerstone in Bryce Harper, who’s 22, and the 25-year-old Anthony Rendon, assuming he gets healthy, is superb. But Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond and Doug Fister (who has been banished to the bullpen) are eligible for free agency, and nobody knows what to make of Stephen Strasburg, whose ERA is higher than Julio Teheran’s.

Meaning: The benchmark in the NL East is itself being reset. The Mets have younger and better starting pitchers than the Nats, but the Mets can’t score. (The three hitters they acquired before the deadline — Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson — are two-to-three-month rentals.) They were just swept by Pittsburgh, losing twice in bonus cantos and mustering six runs over 33 innings. But they still lead the East by 4 1/2 games.

The Braves have been amassing young pitching themselves, and they have Freddie Freeman. It will be a while before we can put a Braves rotation on the same high shelf as DeGrom-Harvey-Syndergaard-Niese (with Steven Matz set to assume Bartolo Colon’s spot soon), but the expanse between the local club and the top of this division mightn’t be as wide as once believed. The Mets’ pitching is scary good; the rest of their roster is not.

Reader Comments 0

85 comments
DamonH
DamonH

"The Mets have younger and better starting pitchers than the Nats, but the Mets can’t score"

after tonight the Braves will dead last in runs scored, not just in the NL but at the Major league leave too. I hope those young pitchers being groomed are prepared to throw daily shutouts (either that or they're planning on making some HUGE offensive upgrades next year)

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

Let's say you have a pretty good MLB team - a team with above average talent and pretty good pitching overall.  A team that would certainly be good enough to get you the NLCS, and then who knows how far after that?  But then let's say - because of grievous executive error - there are a couple of players who are starters on that team who are holding it back from a good shot at post season in two ways. 


First - by their continued failure to perform - not at even just an average level, or below average level.  It is worse than that. that. The fact is that they both stink, and they stink badly. And everyone on the team, in management, in the executive office, in the media, and in the stands and watching at home, and listening on the radio knows it. The entire MLB knows it. The entire world knows it. But like Mr. Magoo, the team drives on, seemingly oblivious to the obviouls problem. And, day in and day out, they play. And each play for one reason and one reason only -- they make enormous salaries which came their way due to the grievous executive error noted above -- and in hopes of saving face, in saving themselves from total disgrace, or worse, the top suits demand that they continue to play in hopes of a a miracle turn around may occur.  


Not only does this create the practical problem of losing a lot of games that should not be lost - by starting two players out of nine (two out of eight if you don't count the pitcher) who stink it up day in and day out. but who still play. But  more importantly, it creates a severe negative impact on the team's morale, attitude, comraderie, and chemistry. It creates an atmosphere of resentment which is poison and which prevents the creation  of a winning culture or attitude (assuming you have a manager who is capable of creating such a thing) in any sport at any level you would like to name.


Second - The Braves did not have a manager capable of dealing the the issue. He did what he did, and he is still here. He really did not know what to do. A manager with a winning attitude would have marched upstairs and said something like. This is killing us. I am benching them both. Any thing we do is better than letting them play and stink it up day in and day out while making more money than any one out on the field. A team cannot win with some thing like this going on. So, either let me run this team in a way that I can win ball games and get us into the NLCS, or --- I quit. Find yourselves another chump. I am not your guy. But, we all know that did not happen, and it will never happen. They don't have the right guy to lead them into a winning  post season even if the Braves suddenly started winning. He has already proved that he is a lap dog, the suits' lap dog, and lap dogs don't win the NLCS or the WS. 


They could have gotten rid of Gonzalez, BJ Upton, and Uggla and fixed their team. They could have missed two September swoons, and played in the post season. They could be leading the East right now. But as they say in baseball. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. 



SeATLite
SeATLite

"Bonus cantos."  Heh.  Nice one, Mark.  I bet you could count on one hand the number of readers who have any idea what that means.  But I'm one.  :-)

boxcarlarrybravesfan
boxcarlarrybravesfan

Did anybody read Marks article or are you just typing to see yourself write. The NATS payroll is 3 to 4 times ours and we are only 5 games behind them.  WE weren't expected to win but the NATS were supposed to win it all.  They are just like the Phillies and if they don't win it this year (NOT) or next their DONE.  Then compare  Scherzer 25mill vs Cliff Lee 20mill.  Zimmerman  18mill vs Howard 25mill. Get the picture.  The Padres  bought up everybody and mortgaged the future.  They don't win it this year (NOT) or next their DONE.   All these bad contracts and frustrations.  Put up with it this year (Or don't watch).  WE are trying to get back to winning baseball for many years not just one or two.   Yes it's ugly, but I was around when I was happy when we couldn't lose a 100 games (the 1970's).  One or two bad years is better than decades of misery.  Give John Hart a chance and I think we'll like the results.  If you are a Chicken Little and the sky is falling go find another team to follow. 

klsfriend
klsfriend

This is a silly column. The Nats have never been as good as talking heads suggested. And they have never been the "model" of an organization. St. Louis and San Francisco are the current model organizations. The Mets - we'll see if their young pitching lasts more than a year or two before the surgeries come.

Ersatz
Ersatz

What separates the barves from the Nationals is a mountain of tater skins at the 27-story Applebee's in barvesworld.  Not to mention all the unlimited brewskis, Buffalo wings, and babyback ribs that barves front office hogs and cobb political fat cats are scarfing down by the plate-full, all paid in full by cobb taxpayers.  When the Nationals or Mets win the division, the billionaires will just keep stuffing their faces, sliding glasses of scotch down the bar, and lighting $500 cigars with $100 bills, while sliding suitcases full of cobb taxpayer cash under the table, just like every other day when they enjoy another barves shutout loss.

MackJones66
MackJones66

You need to watch what you say about Freddy Freeman.

neutral site
neutral site

"Nats" haven't sunk ANY MONEY.


Every poor soul who buys a beer, car, sneaks, pays a cable bill and so on is paying the gargantuan salaries of sports stars.

Jetiredo
Jetiredo

I would trade Freddie Freeman for Paul Goldschmidt

DrTruth
DrTruth

OK.....Getting tired of Hart & his shenanigans.  Keep hearing about his Grand Plan, but all I see is the shell game on steroids.   Take a gander at this page and keep hitting View More Transactions: 


http://www.spotrac.com/mlb/transactions/atlanta-braves/


I'm interested in hearing from anyone exactly what this individual is trying to accomplish.  In my entire life I have never seen a GM of a professional sports franchise sign and then flush so many pro players in less than a single year.  To me, this looks like the footprint of a man who has absolutely NO IDEA what he is doing.  One month a player is good enough to sign to a 1-yr contract, the next month he's cut?  Over and over again?


Shotgun, reload.....Shotgun, reload.....Shotgun, reload....


HarMul
HarMul

@DrTruth 

It looks like a footprint of a man who is weeding out the crap. The Grand plan is not supposed to come to fruition the same year it began.

DrTruth
DrTruth

@HarMul  So what's the timeline?  When do the results start showing on the field?  It doesn't bother you that most of the crap Hart is weeding out he actually signed within the past year?

Fun and Gun
Fun and Gun

Not to sound like a  blind homer but we are 2 power hitters and a bullpen away. If we sign a player like Cespedes and Olivera pans out we should be fine for a few years and have the opportunity to close out the Ted in style.

reckingball
reckingball

There are a whole lot of teams that would like to have Freeman.

What is soft about Freddy Freeman? He is the cornerstone of this team.

Hammerman
Hammerman

The fact that Wash is collapsing under the weight of high expectations,again is nice.That doesn't make this Brave team any easier to swallow.Freeman is a good player who is soft and not a cornerstone by any means.

ChefTimDix
ChefTimDix

@Hammerman He's already the best defensive first baseman in club history, certainly top two defensively in MLB today. He's a wall denting raker, will be an all star many times over. Far from soft.

oldmaninatlanta
oldmaninatlanta

as long as Fredi is mgr,it won't matter which players r here.He has NO CLUE what he is doing

Rickster_
Rickster_

First Bradley tells us to root for the Mets... then complains when the Nats tank? 

'sup w dat?

ShovelPlease
ShovelPlease

Nice article until you mentioned Freddie Freeman, as if he's some sort of cornerstone.  He's not. 

hipdawg
hipdawg

@ShovelPlease In my opinion he is the only top shelf, world series caliber position player we have.Why do you think he isn't a cornerstone player?

Chop_Chop
Chop_Chop

I have the feeling that the Braves' teardown is going to result in years of truly mediocre baseball. The club is way overdue for it. Pitching is great, but Schuerholz and Hart and Cox are chasing The Big Three and they won't catch that lightning twice.

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

@Chop_Chop 

The Braves have not been relevant in MLB for several years. They play in the typically weak NL East, and have "won" the division title once since the 2005 season. No WS appearance since 1999. 

dawgfacedboy
dawgfacedboy

Shelby Miller has given up 2 runs or fewer in 19 of his 24 starts. He is 6-9 on the year and hasn't won since May. Get some freaking hitters in here to help out. This organization has made a name for itself with pitching. However, how many WS rings did they win with all of that HOF pitching??? Check the stats, it wasn't because Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz didn't perform.


Get some hitters in here.

ChefTimDix
ChefTimDix

See if you can catch them sleeping Hart. Harper for Simba ALL DAY LONG.

BocaBaby
BocaBaby

A new benchmark.  The New York Mets?

reckingball
reckingball

I hate the Mets, but I hate the Nationals a whole lot more. I hope that the Nats just keep on sinking, and that the Braves will have the honor of beating them, in the game that officially eliminates the Nots from the playoffs in 2015..

reckingball
reckingball

To finish this season at .500, the Braves will have to go 25 & 20 the rest of the way.

FarTrain
FarTrain

@reckingball The Braves have only had one winning month so far and that was May, and it was just barely.  Of course if the Braves do get lucky and finish at .500 FG will consider it a success. Mediocrity is always his goal.

reckingball
reckingball

@FarTrain @reckingball The way it looks now, the Braves would be extremely lucky to finish at .500.

But when Freeman returns, and IF Olivera pans out, and IF the bullpen was to tighten up, and IF all of the starting pitching could get right and last 7 to 8 innings, and IF the umpires don't go against them, and IF Fredi G makes all of the right decisions, the Braves could catch on fire and contend for the division.

Oh yeah, I forgot to include, and IF the Notionals continue to slide and the Metropolitans collapse . 

Everything will be okay then.

htech14
htech14

@reckingball they have to finish the season at 28-17.  25-20 would make them 78-84 on the season.

Jerry916
Jerry916

How many millions are owed to Bourn and Swisher....32 and 34 respectively?  Why is that not apart of your column?

Jerry916
Jerry916

And the Braves owe how many mill to a 30 year old (Olivera) that has yet to even play in the majors?

freezboy
freezboy

Still in it people....and Fredi going to be here next year...so get use to it....WOOF

HarMul
HarMul

Braves FO broke everything down NOT because the Nats looked scary good. They did so because even after making it to the postseason a few times over the last few years, we never looked like the team capable of making it any further than the NLDS. 

The team with McCann and Hudson has some veteran presence and did pretty good but looked clueless against the Dodgers. Once the veterans left, the young team lost its identity last year. They all started playing for themselves (strikeouts galore) and had no motivation.

The team this year is far short on talent as compared to the Nats or the Mets. But they try and play hard. Talent will always beat them this year but John Hart is not yet done. 

The hard part of the rebuild comes now. Which pitcher to keep and which one to let go? What FA or farm hitter to target? Who and what positions to draft in 2016? 

I am sure all the Braves fan who support this rebuild are as tense and excited as I am to see where this takes us.

Go Braves!!!

freezboy
freezboy

@HarMul To many letters and to much about players not on the roster.....respectfully

HarMul
HarMul

@freezboy 

A real fan not a fair weather one......respectfully

freezboy
freezboy

@HarMul..tehran, miller, wisler and perez stay...oliveria playing 3rd...where does garcia go...