In which we discuss Braves collapsing, firing, hiring, etc.

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Hart, Schuerholz and Cox will be in charge of finding and hiring the next Braves GM.

 

  Before we get into a few perhaps telling comments and leftovers from yesterday’s Frank Wren firing and the search for a new Braves GM, let’s quickly rehash the latest chapter in a September collapse, shall we? A meltdown in which the Braves have actually played — or rather, hit — far worse than they did during the one in September 2011 collapse.

(The big difference is, they actually led the wild-card race by 8 ½ games on the morning of Sept. 6, 2011. This year they were tied with Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot by that point, and were six games behind NL East leader Washington.)

Hart, Schuerholz and Cox will be in charge of finding and hiring the next Braves GM.

John Hart, John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox will be in charge of finding and hiring the next Braves GM.

The Braves are 4-15 with a .199 batting average in September, and have 15 runs in their past 10 games including nine losses.

So last night, the Braves lost 1-0 to the Pirates, the staggering sixth time they’ve been shut out in 19 September games. They again provided nothing in the way of offensive support of Aaron Harang, who turned in another strong performance in a season when the journeyman has surpassed all expectations the Braves had upon signing him off the scrap heap in the last week of spring training.

Harang allowed one run, four hits and two walks in seven innings, the Braves’ majors-leading 108th quality start of six innings or more with three or fewer earned runs allowed. He is just 1-2 in his past three starts despite a 1.29 ERA, .192 opponents’ average and 24 strikeouts in 21 innings in the span. The Braves were beaten 3-0 by the Nats and 1-0 by the Pirates in those two losses.

Harang is 1-5 with a 4.04 ERA in his past six starts, and the Braves failed to score while he was in five of those six games. Yes, zero run support while he was in the game in five of his past six starts.

“I’m starting to feel bad,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said after last night’s loss. “He makes  one mistake and loses 1-nothing. He deserves a win. He’s been unbelievable all season long, and he’s got one more start, so hopefully we can redeem ourselves and get him a win in his last start.”

The Braves have scored one or no runs while Harang’s been in the game in 14 of his 32 starts this season, and two runs while he was in five other games.

Not that he’s alone in the lack of run support for Braves pitchers. Not at all. The Braves haven’t scored many runs for any of their pitchers this season, and particularly not during a September that has been, without exaggeration, the worst month of offense I’ve seen from any team I’ve covered in 20 years as a beat writer. That includes the 108-loss Marlins team I covered in 1998.

The Braves are 4-15 with a 4.17 ERA, .199 batting average, 40 runs and six homers in 19 September games.

In their collapse of September 2011, they went 9-18 with a 4.20 ERA, .235 BA, 87 runs and 22 homers in 27 games.

The Braves have scored 40 runs this month, while the Brewers (53) and Reds (57) are the only other major league teams that have scored fewer than 64. Atlanta’s .199 average this month is 20 points lower than the next-worst in the NL.

The Braves’ .267 slugging percentage this month is 43 points below the next-worst in the majors, the skidding Athletics’ .310.

Atlanta has a .528 team OPS in September, while no other team is lower than .607. Their .261 OBP is also the majors’ worst.

Not that the Braves’ struggles only began this month. Not hardly.

Since their 17-7 start this season, the Braves are 59-73 with a 3.62 ERA, .240 batting average and 465 runs in their past 132 games. In that same stretch going back to April 28, the Nats are 77-52, the Mets are 62-69 (and now tied with the Braves for second place), the Marlins are 63-67, and the Phillies are 58-73.

Breaking down the breakdown: Out of 341 major leaguers with 25 or more plate appearances in September, the Braves have seven of the bottom 70, including six of the worst 46. And here’s the thing: B.J. Upton isn’t even one of the seven! (He’s No. 224 with a .625 OPS in 43 at-bats for the month.)

The bottow-dwellers in OPS and where they rank among the 341 hitters with 25 or more PAs in September:  271. Phil Gosselin .550 OPS in 58 at-bats; 296. Christian Bethancourt .494 in 46 at-bats; 301. Andrelton Simmons .489 in 69 at-bats; 313. Emilio Bonifacio .450 in 35 at-bats; 322. Justin Upton .419 in 64 at-bats; 323. Chris Johnson .411 in 53 at-bats; 331. Tommy La Stella .387 in 26 at-bats.

Freeeman (.281) is the only Braves lineup regular batting above .241 in September, and B.J. Upton is the only Brave with more than one homer this month. He’s hit two.

Justin Upton has a majors-worst .125 average (8-for-64) in September, and in his past 20 games he’s hit .139 with one homer, six RBIs, a .205 OBP and .222 slugging percentage. He has four walks and 27 strikeouts in 72 at-bats over that 20-game stretch.

In Johnson’s past 27 games, he’s 18-for-95 (.189) with one extra-base hit (double), three RBIs, eight walks, 25 strikeouts, five double plays grounded into, and a .252 OBP and .200 slugging percentage.

Minor in September: Speaking of September blues, the month has not been kind to Mike Minor the past couple of years. The left-hander is 0-4 with a 5.21 ERA in four September starts this season, after going 0-4 with a 3.94 ERA in five September starts in 2013. The Braves still haven’t said if Minor will pitch again this season after leaving his last start with a sore shoulder, but I’d be surprised if he makes what would have been his next scheduled turn Thursday.

Minor’s September woes of the past two seasons came after he went 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in five September starts in 2012, his best month in the majors.

• A few quotes to consider: John Hart was a little bit coy about the Braves GM opening when asked if he was a candidate during the formal portion of the Braves press conference. Seated next to John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, the other two members of the Braves GM search committee, Hart responded:

“No. I’m not seeking the job. John (Schuerholz) and I have talked a lot about my potential role. Certainly, it’s been discussed. But at this particular stage with what we are

Aaron Harang has received zero run support in five of his past six starts, including Monday's 1-0 loss to the Pirates

Aaron Harang has received zero run support in five of his past six starts, including Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Pirates

looking to do, we are going to talk to a lot of people, potential general managers from top to bottom throughout the organization. I defer to John with his age and experience that it has not been ruled out but it’s not something that I have been knocking on the door looking to jump back in the general manager’s job.”

In other words, Schuerholz wants him to take the job, but he doesn’t want it and would have to be talked into it.

A little later in the presser, I asked Hart to clarify, to let me know if it was accurate to say the former Indians and Rangers GM had ruled out returning to a GM role with the Braves. (He was hired as a Braves senior advisor in November and continues to work as an MLB Network studio analyst.)

 “Certainly, I’ve looked at it,” Hart said of the GM job. “My recommendation to John is we go out and examine the baseball universe for the next John Schuerholz. I want to be a part of that. I’m excited to be a part of that process, whether it’s a veteran guy, whether it’s a young guy, development, scouting, there’s a variety of ways you can go. Certainly I think my years of experience, certainly for an interim position, you need somebody to be there in an interim position. I think that the calendar of baseball carries on. So I will fulfil that and be a part of the transition time to help find the next guy. Obviously, I’m going to remain with the organization for the forseeable future.”

At that point, Schuerholz chimed in: “We are most blessed to have someone of his caliber and his experience and his excellence as a part of our organization. He’s one of the best general managers in the game over the past 15, 20 years. Tough to compete against always. He didn’t say that with his answer but it’s not a completely closed or open door is what he meant to say.” (Schuerholz smiled.)

A couple of minutes later, asked about it one more time, Hart said, “No. I’m not seeking the job. John and I have talked a lot about my potential role. Certainly, it’s been discussed. But at this particular stage with what we are looking to do, we are going to talk to a lot of people, potential general managers from top to bottom throughout the organization. I defer to John with his age and experience that it has not been ruled out but it’s not something that I have been knocking on the door looking to jump back in the general manager’s job.”

So afterward, when Hart chatted a while longer with us writers, with the TV cameras off, here’s what he said when asked yet again to clarify whether he’s a Braves GM candidate. (Folks, he is, and they hope he’ll take it.)

“I’ve certainly had some opportunities here over the last X number of years, to jump back in it. I’m very comfortable right now with the way things are going. I’ve got a nice situation up there with the (MLB) Network. I love being part of the (Braves) club. I was with the Rangers for a number of years after I stepped down as GM, and I’ve had some opportunities. This one’s a little tougher (to not consider) because of John and my relationship with John, the fact that I’m from the South, I live in Orlando, spring training’s right in my backyard.

“But I think overall — and John and I have talked about this – I’m more comfortable being a part of this transition team, going out there and really combing what I think is a chance to be a really good group of potential candidates. There’s a nice, thick body of guys that have done this before, that I think have talent, ability, personality, makeup. And there’s a good group of young guys out there as well, guys that haven’t had an opportunity, that I think are certainly going to be included in this process. I’m happy right now to be a part of it, and as I said, having done this for X number of years and having such a quality team that we do have in place – (Braves assistant GM) John Coppolella is a very talented guy that will be able to take care of the calendar stuff that goes along with baseball that we’ll have to do until we find the next leader.

“If you’ve got a quality young guy, just because he hasn’t sat there and made a couple of mistakes  — which all GMs are going to do – because he hasn’t sat there and missed a deadline of some such, experience is very important….there’s also some very talented, bright young guys that are out within this industry that I’ll be excited to talk to.”

As for Coppolella, he’ll be Hart’s assistant until a new GM is hired, and “Coppy” figures to be the only in-house candidate for the position. The Braves want to have a new GM hired before the general managers meetings in early November.

“He’s going to step into the No. 2 guy for me,” Hart said. “He’ll be the guy that I go to, the right-hand guy. I’ve spent a lot of time with John (Coppolella). Certainly with Bruce stepping down, John is the assistant general manager. Very bright, articulate. We’re not going to miss  anything. Things that maybe as I shake the cobwebs out a little bit, John’s not going to let me miss anything. So he’ll certainly be a part of it. He runs our pro scouting as well. That’s going to be I think the next piece, certainly in the next three or four weeks as we start to evaluate our system and the players  and free agents, and potential trades, etc. So John is certainly going to be a part of it.”

Hart was then asked what he would look for in the next GM: “For me, you’re looking for the next John Schuerholz. You’re looking for the next young or veteran general manager, a guy that’s done it before, that I think possesses the qualities that John and Terry and the Braves want to have. I think what my role is is to help find the guy that is going to lead this organization.”

Does he consider Coppy a candidate?

“We’re not giving the list away,” Hart said. “Certainly Coppy is going to be discussed, as far as what we do with that list. There are a lot of young … again, you sort of break them down in different categories according to what their background and experience has been. John Coppolella obviously is a guy that’s been a 2. If you’re looking at young guys, you’re going to look maybe at the guys who’ve been quality No. 2s. Certainly he’s deserving (of consideration).”

“This list still isn’t formulated. I mean, we probably still have 20-25 names. We’re just getting started. It’s the first time we’ve sat down (and discussed)

• Dayton Moore discussion: The most predictable name to emerge for the Braves GM opening is, of course, Dayton Moore, another of Schuerholz’s former assistant GMs who left to become Royals general manager in 2006, a year before Schuerholz left the GM job for the Braves president’s position. That’s when Wren got the Braves job.

Moore, highly regarded for being a personable leader in the mold of Schuerholz, has built a moribund Royals organization into a playoff contender again, a slow process that’s finally come to fruition this season with them battling for a postseason berth and also with plenty of talent in their minor league system. He has two years left on his contract with the Royals and he and his family have established roots in Kansas City now, so it remains to be seen whether Moore could be persuaded to return to Atlanta.

For what it’s worth, the Royals owner has said he would not block Moore from being interviewed by the Braves, and Moore declined through a Royals spokesman to comment on the Braves opening yesterday.

Royals GM Dayton Moore, a highly regarded former Braves assistant GM, has predictably emerged as a potential candidate to replace fired Atlanta GM Frank Wren. (AP photo)

Royals GM Dayton Moore, a highly regarded former Braves assistant GM, has predictably emerged as a potential candidate to replace fired Atlanta GM Frank Wren. (AP photo)

Here’s the story from today’s Kansas City Star:

CLEVELAND — General manager Dayton Moore plans to join the Royals on the road at Progressive Field either today or Wednesday. In the interim, Moore has no interest in distracting from what could be Kansas City’s first playoff run since 1985, even as owner David Glass told The Star he would allow Moore to interview elsewhere.

With a shake-up happening in his former professional home, Moore declined comment Monday through a team spokesman on the general-manager opening in Atlanta, where his name has been floated as a candidate to replace Frank Wren.

Glass indicated Monday that he was not worried about Moore leaving. He stressed the close ties between himself, his son — team president Dan Glass — and Moore. In that vein, Glass explained he “would firmly believe” Moore lacks interest in running the baseball operations department of another franchise.

“We’re all in this together,” Glass said. “It’s not like employer-employee relationships, or anything. It’s more like Dayton’s a part of the family. We’re all working together to get to the World Series. He’s got that commitment out there. I’m not concerned about that.”

Two years remain on Moore’s contract with the Royals, and he has shown no inclination toward departing. Team officials framed Moore’s silence Monday stemmed from a preference to keep the spotlight focused on his players during this critical week. Moore has not broached the topic with Glass, the owner stressed.

“We’ve never discussed it,” Glass said. “What we discuss is how to win more games.”

The Braves dismissed Wren on Monday morning after their second second-half collapse in four seasons, and formed a search committee to find his replacement. The committee includes Braves president John Schuerholz, Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox and interim GM John Hart.

Schuerholz hired Moore in 1994. Moore spent more than a decade in Atlanta and appeared to be groomed to replace Schuerholz, who was then the general manager. Moore accepted the Royals’ job in the summer of 2006. Schuerholz accepted a promotion out of the GM role the next year.

For Moore to depart at this moment, after spending eight seasons building toward playoff contention, would surprise Glass. He respects Atlanta as an organization, and considers himself close with Schuerholz and team CEO Terry McGuirk.

 “I know they have very high regard for Dayton,” Glass said. “And were pleased that he got the opportunity for the Royals, and were pleased for him. And I think that they wish him all the success in the world with the Royals. My guess is that they understand that he’s well-positioned here.

“I don’t know what they’ll do as far as where they will look. I don’t know whether they’d reach out to Dayton or not. I haven’t had that discussion.”

Tonight’s matchup: As bad as Harang’s run support has been for much of the season, Alex Wood’s has been consistently worse. Wood (11-10, 2.78) faces Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole (10-5, 3.85) tonight.

The Braves have scored 3.16 runs per nine innings that Wood has pitched this season, the fifth-lowest run support in the majors.

The second-year lefty is 6-4 with a 2.41 ERA and .216 opponents’ average in 16 starts since returning to the rotation on a full-time basis in late June, including 4-2 with a 1.84 ERA in his past 10 starts. Wood has 70 strikeouts with 19 walks in 68 1/3 innings over those past 10 starts, and the Braves scored two or fewer runs while he was in seven of those games.

Wood has no decisions and a 3.00 ERA in two games (one start) against the Pirates. He faced them once this season, an Aug. 20 Braves loss at Pittsburgh when he allowed just four hits and two runs with one walk in seven innings.

Contrast Wood’s run support with that enjoyed recently by Cole, who is 4-1 with a 3.53 ERA  in his past seven starts and has averaged 6.2 runs from his offense for every nine innings pitched in that span.

Cole has only faced the Braves once, in that Aug. 20 game against Wood at Pittsburgh. Cole allowed two runs, five hits and four walks in seven innings and got no decision in the Pirates’ 3-2 win. They scored three runs in the last two innings to win after the Braves had taken a 2-0 lead.

No current Brave has more than three official at-bats or more than one hit against Cole.

OK, here’s a great one from Waylon’s terrific Honky Tonk Heroes album, almost all of which was written by Billy Joe Shaver including this tune.

 “LOW DOWN FREEDOM” by Waylon Jennings (B. Shaver)

Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings

Long haired young girl here beside me
Fit my body, warm my mind
Sleeping quiet never knowin’
By tomorrow she’ll be one more thing
I’m gonna leave behind.Like them big wheels I’ll be rollin’
Like them rivers gonna flow to sea
‘Cause I’d rather leave here knowin’
That I’d made the fool of love
Before it made the fool of me.

Low down freedom, you done cost me
Everything I’ll ever lose Lord
You’re as empty as my pockets
From the top of where you start
Down to the bottom of my shoes.

Open highway, lonesome wind blows
Tell me something I don’t know
Wrapped in woman arms around me
Tell me why I’m gonna leave
And I don’t really wanna go.

Low down freedom, you done cost me
Everything I’ll ever lose Lord
You’re as empty as my pockets
From the top of where you start
Down to the bottom of my shoes.

Low down freedom, you done cost me
Everything I’ll ever lose Lord
You’re as empty as my pockets
From the top of where you start
Down to the bottom of my shoes…


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