Watching things come full circle is a part of life and naturally when one door closes the next one opens. We make decisions and judgements that we feel are best at the time and sometimes down the road we look back and second guess our decisions or maybe even regret them all together. However at the end of the day some decisions can be quickly reversed, others take time to correct and others are permanent and mold our lives forever.
Baseball in a sense is no different. Although baseball doesn’t necessarily have the ramifications of life, the comparisons are similar enough that you can see the point I’m trying to make. Trades, free agent signings and in game management decisions can shape a franchise for the short term, the long term and somewhere in between.
When things come full circle we are sometimes angry with the result, other times we’re thrilled with it and then there’s times when we’re just flat out confused by what has happened. Last night Juan Uribe ended the Braves season with one swing of the bat. Everything from the winter meeting moves of bringing in the Upton brothers, getting off to a red hot stat in April, to over coming horrific injuries, came down to one swing of the bat. The Braves season of 162 games of battling it out each and every night for 6 full months will be summed up by a hanging slider by David Carpenter that was crushed over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 4-3 advantage in the 8th inning of game 4.
But what will get lost in this translation is that the Atlanta Braves over came many obstacles this season and over all had a season to be very proud of. If you’re someone who believes that it’s World Series or bust each season or as Billy Beane would say “If you don’t win the last game of the season then no one gives a crap”, that’s fine but you will end up disappointed a great majority of the time if not every time in the case of some fan bases who have had entire generations come and go since their teams have won the World Series ( Chicago Cubs )
There is something to be said about the Braves winning the N.L East because most people didn’t expect them to. I think when you suffer a loss like the one the Braves experienced last night the fan base begins to forget everything else that happened over the course of 162 games. During Spring Training there was a lot of hype surrounding this team and their newly rebuilt outfield but no one was certain that the Braves would win the division as Washington was still the favorite amongst many baseball experts.
Not only did the Braves prove that prediction wrong but they were actually in 1st place for every single day of the season except for one, April 4th.
This was not an easy road traveled either. The Braves suffered so many injuries and set backs this season that I think a lot of us almost forget about the ones that happened earlier on in the year. Johnny Venters never even threw a regular season pitch this year and he has been our premiere set up man. Eric O’Flaherty threw his last pitch somewhere around the middle of May against this very Dodger team at Turner Field. At this point many of us Braves fans began to panic and wonder how Fredi Gonzalez would get the ball to arguably the best closer in all of baseball Craig Kimbrel. What happened after that? The Braves would still go on to post the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball and on top of that set a franchise record for the same mark.
Jason Heyward missed significant time as did Brian McCann. Freddie Freeman spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list and still drove in over 100 runs on the season. BJ Upton and Dan Uggla struggled throughout most of the 2013 season and BJ was one of the players expected to make a huge impact when he signed with the Braves this winter and it just never happened. Other players stepped up and young players assumed roles that were well beyond the original expectations of them in 2013. No one panicked and no one quit and as a fan I am appreciative of the heart and effort this team always put forth.
When I look at the 2013 Division Series I am still glad that we were able to get a chance to play the best of 5. The Dodgers beat us 3 times and I can say they deserved to advance where as in 2012 I was unsure if the Cardinals really were the better team after that one game playoff. But at the same time some frustration does set in because at the end of the day this series went 4 games and from my perspective part of the problem was that in the post season you have to put yourself in a position to win, in a position where someone can make a big play, get a big hit or make a big pitch to help your team win that particular game.
During this series Games 1 and 3 were won by the scores of 6-1 and 13-6. The Braves were not even relevant in either of those contests which would end up amounting to 50% of the series, easy wins for the Dodgers where Atlanta was just dominated. Games 2 and 4 however were a 2-1 victory for the Braves and then of course last nights 4-3 defeat. But even in Game 4 the Braves were competitive and gave themselves a shot to win a ball game. If games 1 and 3 had played out in a similar manner there’s a good chance that 1 run ball games can be very split in terms of results and there’s a very good chance that the Braves could have been in a position to go back to Atlanta for game 5 or maybe they could be advancing to the N.L.C.S themselves.
Fredi Gonzalez has already been questioned and will continue to be questioned about his decision to leave Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen and use David Carpenter for the 8th inning. Now I’m fully aware that perception is 9/10th’s of everything that goes on in this world and how things seem are just as important if not more important then what they actually are. And what did fans see last night? They saw arguably the best closer in all of baseball standing in the bullpen as Juan Uribe hammered a hanging slider from David Carpenter in the bottom of the 8th inning of a do or die game.
The fans wanted to see Kimbrel pitch 2 innings to close the game and from what I’ve heard Kimbrel wanted to give it a shot as well. Now I love that Kimbrel wanted to get in there and close this game out and get all 6 outs but would he have been able to? Kimbrel has never had a 6 out save in his career and in game 2 he struggled a little bit getting that 4 out save to preserve that game and was greatly benefited by a close call on a steal attempt at 2nd base.
What if Fredi brought in Craig Kimbrel for a 6 out save and he blew the game in the 8th or even the 9th because he ran out of gas? Would people then question Fredi’s decision to put him out there in a crucial game to do something that he’s never even attempted before? I think there are arguments to both sides but because the outcome was undesirable we will continue to second guess the decision. If David Carpenter goes out there and strikes out the side then no one has an issue with the move.
Now the big question that looms over the Braves organization is where do they go from here? We just witnessed the Reds fire Dusty Baker after he had a very competitive season with the Reds and made a playoff run with his team. But it wasn’t to the satisfaction of the front office. They had hire hopes for this years Reds team and they believe they could find a better fit for dugout leadership to make a deeper run and accomplish the ultimate goal of winning the World Series.
Leadership is important in sports. Managers in baseball can’t play the game but they put their players in the best positions to be successful and they can certainly have an impact on the outcome of games and this is especially hitting home to anyone who truly believes that Fredi Gonzalez is the reason the Braves are heading home as we speak.
Whether you believe that Fredi Gonzalez is personally responsible for last nights loss or not you can’t ignore the significance of the front office’s support or lack of support for Gonzalez. And the reason for this in my opinion is because much of the Braves roster is set for next year. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson, Jason Heyward, Just Upton will all surely be back and in the starting line up on Opening Day come 2014. There’s a very good chance that BJ Upton will get another chance to prove himself and try to secure himself a starting spot in Spring Training as he’ll only be in year 2 of his 5 year 75million dollar deal.
The rotation will set up in a similar fashion as well, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran will anchor the top 3 spots with the bottom 2 up for grabs I’d imagine. Many familiar faces will be in the bullpen as well; Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, David Carpenter, Eric O’Flaherty will be back in business and try to continue and improve upon the dominance of the 2013 Braves bullpen.
My point is I’m not sure there will be any significant roster changes for 2014. Frank Wren has done everything he could and spent a good deal of money to put this team together and he can’t stretch the dollar too far for the future because eventually guys like Freddie Freeman will need long term deals and there’s no way that the Braves front office will want him to walk away.
The most significant change may come in the form of a beloved Braves player hitting the road and possibly heading to the American League. Brian McCann didn’t sound to confident in the fact that he’d be returning next year and they’re saying the Rangers, Blue Jays and Yankees are likely to emerge as front runners for his services.
So is new leadership the drastic change that Frank Wren will produce in this off season? Is Fredi Gonzalez too soft spoken? Does he not possess the urgency that’s needed to win big games and snap his team back on track after a brief losing streak? Are his in game managerial decisions not up to Frank Wren’s standards? All of these questions will be answered shortly I’m sure.
The biggest strength of this Braves team may be the combination of talent and youth. The Braves sport the 2nd youngest roster in all of baseball and still managed to have one of the best records in all of Major League Baseball. So there is a very good possibility that this team does improve not by adding different players but continuing to grow and develop the ones that they already have.
During the 1940’s the Brooklyn Dodgers coined the saying “Wait Til Next Year!” and that’s exactly what Braves fans have to look forward to at this point. The promise and hope of 2014 will begin to take over the hurt and disappointment of 2013 and that’s what will bring us all back together during Spring Training as we try to root this team to a World Series and finally win the final game of season.
By: Bob McVinua