Let’s look on the bright side. Six National League teams figured to be terrible this season, and the Atlanta Braves have already surged ahead of — or fallen behind, depending on your perspective — the five others in the race for the No. 1 draft pick in 2018. There’s still the matter of the Minnesota Twins, who are 0-6 to the Braves’ 0-5. But Rome wasn’t rebuilt in a day.
Not to say I told you so, but I kind of did. Forget any false chatter emanating from spring training. (And there wasn’t much of that. The Braves were 6-26 in exhibition games, the worst mark in either the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues.) They were always going to be awful, and their front-loaded schedule — 15 of their first 22 games against teams that finished 2015 above .500 — stood to make the early going doubly dire. Ergo, 0-5.
Here we note that the Braves started last season 5-0 and still lost 95 games. This 0-fer opening week would seem to give them a flying start on 100 losses, which is harder to do than it sounds: No team has lost 100 games since the Marlins and Astros of 2013, and the latter club serves as one of the Braves’ role models. The franchise that lost 324 games from 2011 through 2013 is now seen as a World Series favorite.
Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs both projected the 2016 Braves to finish 68-94, or one game better than last season. I got wildly optimistic and picked them to go 71-91. My thinking, such as it was: The team would be wretched early — as opposed to last season, when it was wretched late — but would improve once the first real wave of prospects hit. Having already re-calibrated, FanGraphs now tabs the Braves to go 66-96, or one game worse than last year. BP lists the Braves’ playoff odds at 1.5 percent, the lowest among the 30 big-league teams.
We can list all the reasons the Braves are 0-5 — A.J. Pierzynski, a catcher by trade, cannot catch the ball; Freddie Freeman, the only real hitter, is hitting .125; the “E” in Erick Aybar’s first name can also stand for E-6; the retooled bullpen has blown three saves and has the second-worst ERA in the majors — but the chilling part is this: The rotation hasn’t taken a full turn.
Last season began with Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Alex Wood taking regular turns, the retreads Eric Stults and Trevor Cahill being Nos. 4 and 5 (though not for long). With Miller and Wood gone, this year’s No. 2 starter is Bud Norris, himself a retread. No. 3 is Matt Wisler, who’s still learning. No. 4 is Williams Perez, who might be the 15th-most-promising pitcher in the organization. No. 5 is Jhoulys Chacin, who was released by Colorado and signed a minor-league contract with the Braves.
The bullpen has started badly, but the rotation figures to be worse. The Braves, who finished last in baseball in runs last season, aren’t apt to outhit anybody. (They’re second-worst in batting average, third-worst in slugging percentage. Cardinals pinch-hitters hoisted as many home runs in three innings Friday as the Braves as a team have this season.) The five-plus months remaining won’t be pretty.
To bash these Braves for being lousy, however, misses the point. We won’t be seeing this team for long, and hooray for that. Aybar and Pierzynski (again) and the Johnsons (Kelly and Jim, both again) could be traded for more pieces by Aug. 1. So could Ender Inciarte and Jason Grilli. This is yet another disposable roster, a place-holder for one filled with younger and presumably better Braves.
That roster, alas, is still a ways away, and 157 games remain. I wish I had something more to say than “Trust the process,” but I don’t. This, see, is the hardest part about tanking-to-rebuild. In the effort to please its fans down the road, a team risks losing those fans forever. Winning is supposed to cure all ills, but right now the Braves don’t seem capable of winning much of anything. Even one lousy game.