As noted, the Atlanta Braves stink on ice. They’ve lost six straight, 13 of 14 and 35 of 47. Statistically, they’ve been the worst team in baseball since the All-Star break. At the rate they’re falling, they’ll finish 67-95, which would be six games below the preseason over/under number of wins set by Vegas.
And now you’re asking: Given that this is the third time in five seasons the Braves have collapsed under Fredi Gonzalez, isn’t it high time the Braves fired Fredi Gonzalez?
And here’s where I say: Not happening.
The part about his team cratering three times in five seasons is true. His 2011 Braves went 9-18 in September and missed the playoffs in the 13th inning of the 162nd game. His 2014 team — only last year, we note — was a game and a half out of the second wild card spot on Aug. 31 but went 7-18 — even worse than in the Epic Collapse of 2011! — thereafter. If you’re looking for the greatest manager in months beginning with the letter “S”, Fredi G. is in the bottom 1 percentile.
But Gonzalez survived the Epic Collapse — to be fair, it did come in his first season as Braves manager — and survived last season’s fade, although Frank Wren, the general manager who hired him, did not. The new brain trust (Johns Hart and Coppolella) liked Fredi G. enough to keep him. As of the 2015 All-Star break, they liked him enough to grant him a contract extension through 2016.
Key point: The Two Johns didn’t just re-up Fredi G. through next season; they also gave extensions to every member of his coaching staff. Were upper management to change its corporate mind and fire him now, it would have to pay him and all of his coaches for not working next season. (Maybe Roger McDowell would keep his job, but his work with the Braves’ young pitching this season has inspired no great confidence.)
Another point: By offering such extensions to a manager and coaches of a team that was five games below .500 at the break, the Two Johns essentially said, “We’re about to gut this roster even more, and this is our way of saying nothing that happens will be held against you.”
Which is, you’d have to say, only fair. The Braves look lifeless — they managed three hits and zero runs against the lousy Marlins on Monday, when Chris Narveson, making his second start since 2012, was the opposing pitcher — but that’s what happens when you can’t hit.
(Remember how the Braves reinvented their offense, which ranked 29th in runs last season, to cut back on strikeouts? Well, they’ve whiffed fewer times than any National League club. They’ve also hit fewer home runs than any team in the majors. They’ve also gone from next-to-last in runs to absolute last.)
The offense is again awful, albeit in a different way. The pitching has been nearly as bad — the Braves are 26th in the majors in team ERA — and that’s scary, given that they’ve based everything on young pitching. And when you can’t hit and you can’t pitch, there’s not much a manager can do.
The Braves have been outscored by 140 runs. That’s the second-worst differential in the majors. (The Phillies are the worst; the Phillies have also closed within 2 1/2 games of the Braves.) Being 54-77 is bad, but if we go by the Pythagorean number — a reflection of run differential — the Braves should be 49-82. Yes, this team has outperformed!
The past 11 months have seen such upheaval that the Two Johns surely regard Fredi G. as a pillar of stability. And surely, having just added Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, who are slated to make $29 million between them next season but mightn’t even make the team, upper management isn’t eager to buy out a manager and a coaching staff, too. Back in July, the Two Johns gave Fredi G. a pass on the rest of the season. It would be shocking if they revoked it.
Then again, they did trade Craig Kimbrel. And Alex Wood. And Jose Peraza …