Where Did it All Go Wrong?

~JB- Atlanta, GA

Come see my new blog The Launching Pad

My friend Steve over at House of Braves Talk likes to cite the Kelly Johnson dropped pop up in the Phillies series of where it all began to fall apart.

Just to bring you back for a moment. It was 2-1 in the ninth. We
were about to move to with 2 1/2 games out of first. Then the ball
fell. And just as Roy Hobbs’ hot shotted triple was finally gathered up
in a stringy mess, the Braves season too was unraveling.

Another favorite would be the blowing of a 6 run lead after the All
Star Break. This one was also against the Phillies in Citizen Bank
Park. I remember that game well. Right after Tex hit a 2 run homer off
Cole Hamels to give us 9 runs in the inning, I believed we had reached
our turning point and the season could be salvaged. We had won the
night before and were sniffing around first place looking to make a
move. What followed was nothing short of an utter disaster. That then
lead to another blown lead the next day and in many minds, officially
took the Braves out of contention for 2008.

But as we search for one defining moment that turned 2008 sour, it’s
best to look at the whole scope of what made this season what it is
today.

It’s hard to spot one instance or even to predict what could’ve been
done to make the year go right but let’s look at what did happen and
why the Braves could never get their act together as they falter to an
inconceivable 14 games out after another loss to the Mets.

Aging Starting Staff

It’s hard not to point directly at this aspect of the Braves game
from the beginning. I don’t want to belabor the point too much because
we’ve been around this merry go round a few times. But this was the
staff the Braves office put together to get us there and it had too
many veterans (even if every one of them could be considered a former
ace) and not enough young blood.

You’ve got Jair at 22 who’s proven this year he belongs and has been
a fantastic rookie pitcher let alone the only Opening Day staffer to
have seen this season all the way through without time on the DL.
Beyond that you’ve got the second youngest pitcher in Tim Hudson at 33.

Now one quick note on Hudson. He pitched very well this year. He
didn’t get much run support and had some bad starts from time to time.
But when he was on he was on. Yet at 33 and the second youngest member
of the staff, injuries are a risk any veteran pitcher will face. But
building the staff around Smoltz, Glavine, Hampton and Hudson is not
necessarily a bad decision, after all they each have the
potential of winning 10-15 games for you. It’s just a risky one. To go
with almost all seasoned veterans rather than young studs in their
prime is asking for trouble. But who would’ve guessed Jorge Campilo
would be a good choice?

Frenchy

What was wrong with Frenchy all year long? Yes Mr. Francoeur has
been a topic in 2008 because of his season long slump that has mired
the Braves. It’s not all on Jeff’s shoulders but the guy who was
providing us with a good number of RBI’s one year turned into a guy who
couldn’t bring guys home with fancy calligraphic invitations. Why? Did
he just stop trying? Does he just stink as bad as Mac Thomason believes?

My own theory hinges primarily on one thing. Scouting in the big
leagues is good and Frenchy hasn’t learned to adjust yet. Every hitter
has weakness and strengths and major league pitchers this year learned
very well how to exploit Francoeur’s weaknesses. Thus the many GIDP’s
c/o Frenchy and the struggles he’s faced all year long. I do not
believe this means Jeff is destined to never regain his swing. He’s a
hard worker and his heart is in his game. If he can take the time
(hopefully this offseason) to learn from ’08 and make some adjustments,
we could see a comeback. But the role Jeff plays on this team just
makes his tough year a major factor though not the one to blame.

Hurt Braves

Moylan, Soriano, Diaz, Gonzalez, Hampton, Hudson, Smoltz, Glavine, Chipper, Infante, Prado, Kotsay, McCann, Acosta.

Did I leave anyone out?

Looks like a war memorial doesn’t it?

Winning the “Must Wins”

We all know about the Braves record in one run games, road games,
and one run games on the road. But as I mentioned earlier, there were
plenty of games that were lead in (Monday night for example) and were
dropped like an oiled swine. You see, it’s not just a record that could
be organized into split categories like how did they play in the day
time on grass vs indoors on the road. This year’s Braves couldn’t get
wins that just really mattered. Which translates into, they couldn’t
get runs when they really mattered. When the hurt was pouring on and
the Braves were winning by large margins, every body hit. But it was
feast or famine for the lineup and lack of moral victories, even for
professionals, leaves your team a slight bit gutless. And when you
can’t gut out wins with clutch performances you won’t get far. How many
walk off wins do you remember the Braves racking up this year? How many
inspiring come from behind victories did we grab?

If you’re like me… you’re about to go Google it.

But I think I’ve made my point. No need.

Moving On

We could go over many items that lead to this very forgettable year
for the Braves. Yes there were some milestones along the way. Smoltz
getting 3,000 K’s. A four game sweep of the Mets at home. Chipper’s
.400 start carrying into a league leading BA in late August. McCann’s
breakthrough All Star season (and his third selection in three years).
The pleasant surprises of Jurrjens and Campillo. Hampton’s hard work
that finally paid off and even though I’ve had some fun over his
struggles, he came back and pitched for a team that had already
forfeited it’s play off hopes.

And if we talked long enough on this topic we could spot plenty of
stats and situational numbers that would pinpoint where it did all go
wrong. However, if you’ve spent any amount of time around The Launching
Pad, you’ll know I’m not one to throw around too many numbers and I
always believe in the power of the intangible. Which could, I suppose,
allow many to theorize about the Cow cursing us since we in baseball
like to have “curses” to blame our poor performances on.

Of course I like the theory Bud Ellis at Braves.Today.com
hinted at in one of his comments recently. Things go in cycles. Some
cycles last longer than others but it goes around and comes around.
It’s the same in economics, life, and especially baseball. Look at the
Orioles, Royals, Athletics, and even the Braves. All had “dynasties” in
their own rite from time to time. But now look at the Rays of this year
side by side with the Yankees.

We’ll be back. Question is: How long will it take?

Where do you think it all went wrong? Leave your theories in the comments and as always…

Keep Choppin’

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