Monday, April 26, 2010

The Symptoms Of The Braves Run Deep

  • Mets 1-Braves 0 (5+ innings):

There was endless debate and questions (mostly directed at Ken Davidoff) on Twitter about whether Mike Pelfrey was going to be credited with a complete game and *asterisk* marked shutout because of the Mets' rain shortened 1-0 win.

Regarding baseball's longstanding rules for governing weather-shortened games, it's time to suspend such shortened games rather than declare them over and in the books after they're official. It's unfair to the losing team to possibly be deprived of a chance for a playoff spot because of circumstances and rules over which they have no control. It wouldn't hurt anyone to finish the games at a later date and it would be more fair.

As to the game itself, the Braves are slumping terribly; despite all that great starting pitching they have, there are numerous issues that have to be addressed if they want to be legitimate contenders----something they would've been had they done the one thing they needed to do in the winter and gotten a legitimate basher for the middle of the lineup.

Because of financial constraints, the Braves rushed to make the Javier Vazquez trade for Melky Cabrera with an eye on getting a serviceable outfielder for the present (Cabrera), and a golden arm for the future (Arodys Vizcaino, 19 and currently struggling a bit at class A Rome in the Sally League). Time will tell with Vizcaino; but Cabrera has been a train wreck----looking too comfortable in his position; slow; fat and, most glaringly and disturbing, lazy.

Troy Glaus is moving with the speed of the walking undead and appears surprised when he manages to range far enough to his right or left at first base to snare anything in his general vicinity; and his bat has been slow and weak. Worse yet for Glaus is his own lack of hustle. He's not even making the pretense of running hard----in fact, when running the bases, he's moving slower than the aforementioned walking undead and with less determination; at least zombies avidly pursue their goals of eating brains or infecting the general population with the rage virus and/or killing them completely.

Glaus looks like he doesn't even care.

Short of benching (or if it goes on for another month, outright releasing him), I don't know what you can do with Glaus.

Cabrera is another matter.

Going back to 2008, Cabrera----who was considered a 4th outfielder at best when he broke in----let success get to his head and forgot what it was that got him to the big leagues and allowed his emergence as a semi-regular player, clutch hitter and Yankee-fan favorite in 2006-2007. He maximized his abilities back then, but got too comfortable in his status and let it get to his head; this culminated in a profound lack of aggressiveness and commitment in 2008 and a trip back to the minor leagues.

In 2009, Cabrera had a fine season with numerous big hits; he was an integral part of the Yankees championship. Traded to the Braves as part of the Vazquez deal and making big money for the first time ($3.1 million), he's again let it get to his head.

Psychologically, Cabrera appears to be a player who becomes ensconced in a belief that his spot in the lineup----and the big leagues----is guaranteed and it's shown in his play. He's lost his fear of demotion and is clearly a player who needs to be teetering on the precipice of losing his job to maximize his talents. It's one thing to slump, but if said slump (both offensively and defensively) is a direct result of being out of shape and disinterested, something has to be done. First, I'd bench Cabrera; better yet, I might even send him to the minors for a drastic wake-up call.

It reflects poorly on the player that each and every time he feels as though his roster spot is assured, he drops into comfortable mediocrity and worse. Cabrera needs a slap figuratively and maybe even literally; but do the Braves have a Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada or Joe Girardi to provide the tough love?

It's one thing to be slow afoot and to have declining quickness of reflexes as has happened with Glaus; but to run at 3/4 speed on a ground ball double play is an egregious act that is a reflection of the player and tantamount to spitting in the face of the Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox. Cabrera's been awful in every respect.

This behavior is a malignant growth that must be excised, but the question is whether there's anyone in the Braves clubhouse to do it. Chipper Jones is the leader of the team along with Brian McCann and Tim Hudson; but it's hard to confront a veteran in Glaus. To compound matters, this attitude can permeate to the youngsters----Tommy Hanson and Jason Heyward----and cause an even greater mess.

Thus exacerbates the drastic error the Braves have made in declaring that 2010 is Bobby Cox's last year as manager. Jones, McCann and Hudson are going to listen to Cox----they're not going to challenge nor embarrass their longtime manager out of loyalty; but Glaus and Cabrera don't have similar allegiance and they're acting as if they're playing for their grandpa as he screams at them to get out of the shed; it's, "yeah, whatever old man" with a half-assed trot to first base replacing the dismissive wave and continuation of bad behavior.

They should never have openly said that this was Cox's last season. He's under contract as a consultant for an extended period; all they had to do was give him a managerial contract for 2011 with it silently stated between the parties that this was going to be his last season on the field and he was going to step aside.

Farewell tours work for players, not for managers.

The Braves were a self-sustaining unit during the glory years of the 90s and early 2000s where a lack of effort would've been dealt with by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Fred McGriff, Jones, et al. Now is not the case as divergent personalities are poisoning the clubhouse. It doesn't help that the solid relationship Cox had with team president John Schuerholz when Schuerholz as GM has been replaced with the clumsily hidden contempt between Cox and GM Frank Wren.

The rift is well-known and part of it had to do with the GM's treatment of Jeff Francoeur as Francoeur's star faded in Atlanta and resulted in a stupid trade with a division rival (the Mets) for a non-entity who's no longer with the team and was benched by Cox (Ryan Church). It goes even further than that and is a large factor in Cox's decision to step down even if they refuse to admit it. I don't think Cox wants to retire as manager; by the third week of spring training next season, Cox will already be tired of "consulting" and won't know what to do with himself.

The fundamental mistakes are a symptom. I can't give Yunel Escobar too hard a time for his mental mistakes; that's the type of player he is----strangleworthy with MVP talent. Nor can I be an after-the-fact hypocrite and rip the non-tendering of Kelly Johnson because Johnson's gotten off to a hot start (7 homers) with the Diamondbacks. Johnson was awful last year. Not re-signing Adam LaRoche in favor of Glaus and making the desperation trade of Vazquez are the major gaffes that fall squarely at the feet of Frank Wren.

The personnel mistakes should be the focus.

Unless this is dealt with, it's going to get bad in Atlanta.

If Jones and McCann aren't providing the veteran leadership the club needs, don't forget that Billy Wagner is in that clubhouse. Wagner's not shy about voicing his opinion and calling out teammates; a few more days of this and he's going to pop off.

Once the in-fighting starts, things could spiral and explode. Fast.

Then we get to the Mets.

Is this a legitimate hot streak for a team that was playing far beneath its capabilities? Are they self-correcting to their talent level? Or is it nothing more than a string of good play as they exhibited in late August 2005 to briefly vault them into playoff contention before fading as quickly as they rose?

It was an extraordinary bit of luck that struck the Mets like lightning during those heady few weeks of 2005. Non-prospect Mike Jacobs turned a pinch hit cameo into a big league career; they hammered the Diamondbacks in a 4-game sweep; came within inches of acquiring Manny Ramirez in a blockbuster trade (a trade that was so close to completion that Yankees GM Brian Cashman reportedly called his Mets counterpart Omar Minaya to thank him for getting Manny out of Boston); and crawled within 4 games of first place Atlanta, setting off a flurry of optimism before falling to earth in September.

They weren't that good then.

What are they now?

The Mets pitching has been terrific from top-to-bottom; the lineup has cut a wide swath of streakiness and underachievement----specifically David Wright, who looks lost----but they've taken advantage of the staggering Cubs and Braves on this homestand. A clearer indication of what the Mets are will be seen over the next seven days as they play the Dodgers at Citi Field and then travel to Philadelphia to face the wounded Phillies.

A week from now, will they be viewed in the increasingly positive (or less hate/agenda-fueled) light of today? Or will it return to the savage attacks that weren't fair last season; and were conveniently aimed at a wounded animal in the last six months?

  • The blazing Rays:

It's not their own lack of success with the conscious decision to shy away from power; nor is it the growing panic in their fan base that should be concerning the Red Sox. The Yankees are so much better and deeper than the Red Sox that anyone other than the stat zombies and Theo Epstein-worshippers could see what was coming; but it's the Rays blazing start that should be causing the greater consternation in the Red Sox front office; in fact, as we speak, they may be preparing to call in the nuclear codes and do something drastic to wake their slumbering, slumping and desperate club.

They know they were lucky to get out of the Rangers and Orioles series with 2 wins, let alone 4; and what should be most worrisome is the Rays.

It's not the Yankees that have to be striking fear into the Red Sox, but the Rays are a club that should be fostering the fear of "we don't have an answer for these guys" in Boston.

The Rays starting pitching has been superlative in their 14-5 start. Matt Garza and David Price have been devastating. Their bullpen is a question mark----I still don't trust Rafael Soriano; but the lineup has hit when it's counted and what should be the most terrifying aspect about them is that they've amassed that record with Dioner Navarro batting .136; and almost no contribution whatsoever from the DH spot.

If and when the Red Sox hit the panic button, it won't be because of the Yankees; it'll be because of the Rays.

I'm kicking at the door; and it's coming down sooner rather than later. Join the w It's unavoidable.

Paul Lebowitz's 2010 Baseball Guide is available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.


She-Fan said...

You're so right about the Rays. They are to be feared right now. I wish I should ship them to another division.

Jeff said...

I love your description of the Rays and how their play is making Boston piss itself. I love it! The Rays are so fun to watch. Garza, Shields and Niemann have been wonderfully entertaining thus far.

And... is there really a "Sally League"? My buddies and I call each other "Sally" when we miss "gimmee" putts on the green, so I couldn't help but chuckle.

Gabriel said...

You're right about the Rays being the first concern of the Red Sox, but I think the Blue Jays had their chance against Tampa. The bullpen just blew the games.

As for the Braves, I doubt they will change their ways. They look as if they don't care, and that's going to have a negative impact on Jason Heyward.