Braves vs. Nats, Phillies: Sure not what it was

Freddie Freeman
View Caption Hide Caption
Freddie Freeman hit two homers in the three-game series at Toronto, including this two-run shot Saturday. (The Canadian Press via AP)

 

WASHINGTON — Not long ago, the Braves facing the Nationals in September was the NL East’s marquee matchup, with a good chance that much would ride on the outcome. And not too long before that, Braves vs. Phillies was the division’s glamor matchup, when those two dominated the division.

This, clearly, is another time entirely.

Smoltz (left) joins Maddux (center) and Glavine (right) in the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, as the Braves' Big Three are reunited in Cooperstown.

When I started as a major league beat writer covering the Marlins in 1995, these guys — Smoltz, Maddux, Glavine — pitched for the Braves and it was impossible to imagine the team would ever been in the rebuilding state it’s currently in. (AJC file photo)

When the Braves face the Nationals and then the Phillies during this seven-game trip, there won’t be anything riding on the outcome except last place in the NL East, now that the free-falling, fourth-place Braves are just 1 ½ games ahead of the fifth-place Phillies entering the opener of Atlanta’s four-game series against Washington tonight at Nationals Park.

The Braves just got swept at home by the Marlins, after being swept at home by the Yankees. They lose the last eight games of a debacle of a homestand, and now they have four games against a Nationals team fighting desperately to avoid falling any further behind the surging, division-leading Mets.

If the Braves don’t play a lot better than they did during their homestand, they’ll get swept at Nationals Park, too, and could to go Philly already in last place.

This season pretty much went down the toilet for the Braves in a brutal August. They are outmanned – pitching and hitting – basically every night, no matter whom they are facing. They traded away so many players, they’re left with a few veterans still in their prime years trying to keep together a team full of rookies, prospects, has-beens and never-weres.

Surely, they’ve fallen farther than even the Braves’ front office could have imagined when they set out upon this tear-it-down-to-build-it-up venture. I say surely because I can’t envision Braves officials sitting around during the All-Star break, when deciding who’d be available to trade, and discussing among themselves the possibility that this team could b the worst team in baseball by the end of August, setting records for futility including the most runs allowed — 38, all of them earned – during a three-game series since the team moved to Atlanta.

The Yankees did that  to the Braves. At home. A Yankees team that had struggled mightily to score runs in the days leading up to their utter domination of the Braves, which including a 20-6 rout.

When I became a major league baseball beat writer in 1995, I covered the Marlins. The Braves at that time were the best organization in the National League, the most consistent team, in the midst of their remarkable run of 14 consecutive division titles.  Everybody else in the NL looked up to the Braves.

Even when the Marlins spent a lot of money on free agents and manager Jim Leyland a couple of years later and won the 1997 World Series – beating the Braves in the NLCS along the way – no one in either city who knew baseball would’ve put the Marlins on the level of the Braves. For that year, certainly, but not going forward.

By late in that ’97 World Series season, there were already rumblings in South Florida that owner Wayne Huizenga was going to blow up the team because attendance hadn’t met expectations. And he did blow it up. And the Marlins went from winning the World Series in ’97 to losing 108 games in ’98 with a team that, by midseason, was stripped down to just a few standout young players or veterans and the rest unproven prospects and rookies, many of whom had been rushed to the majors by necessity before they were ready.

 

freddie freeman

Freddie Freeman is one of the few in-their-prime standouts left on the Braves, and he’s struggled in the second half of the season between two stints on the disabled list. (Canadian Press photo via AP)

Folks, this Braves team, right now, is every bit as bad or even worse than that 108-loss Marlins team was at the same point in each season.

I would’ve never imagined I’d say that about a Braves team in my lifetime. I just never thought they’d see the need to strip it down this far in a rebuilding effort.

But they did,  and they have.

For the sake of the brass that made the decision, I hope it works. Because right now, it’s a bigger gamble than I would’ve had the stomach for if I’d been in their shoes.

I would’ve traded away guys in the last year or two of contracts, players that the team didn’t think it could afford to re-sign. And would’ve traded away some other bad contracts, like Chris Johnson and particularly Melvin  Upton Jr., though I don’t know that I would’ve had the brass ones that this front office had to trade Craig Kimbrel on the eve of opening day to make Upton go away.

But they did. They did that and so much more, down to trading away a young, left-handed starter pitcher, Alex Wood, and a highly regarded prospect, Jose Peraza, as part of a four-player package to get 30-year-old Hector Olivera.

I know I would not have had the guts or the daring or whatever you want to call it, to do that deal. Particularly not trade a young starter with the mental makeup of Wood.

These were bold, decisive moves the Braves made. Very bold.

If most of them pay off, the team could be really good as soon as 2017, and respectable as soon as next season.

But if they don’t? If some of these deals, including the Olivera blockbuster, don’t turn out the way the front office envisions?

Well, these are the kind of moves that aren’t forgotten. One way or another.

This tune from the great Tom Waits seems appropriate.

“BOTTOM OF THE WORLD” by Tom Waits

Tom Waits

Tom Waits

My daddy told me, lookin’ back
The best friend you’ll have is a railroad track
So when I was 13 said, I’m rollin’ my own,
And I’m leavin’ Missouri and I’m never comin’ homeAnd I’m lost, and I’m lost
I’m lost at the bottom of the world
I’m handcuffed to the bishop and the barbershop liar
I’m lost at the bottom of the worldSatchel Puddin’ and Lord God Mose
Sitting by the fire with a busted nose
That fresh egg yeller is too damn rare
But the white part is perfect for slickin’ down your hairAnd I’m lost, and I’m lost
I’m lost at the bottom of the world
I’m handcuffed to the bishop and the barbershop liar
I’m lost at the bottom of the worldBlackjack Ruby and Nimrod Cain
The moon’s the color of a coffee stain
Jesse Frank and Birdy Joe Hoaks
But who is the king of all these folks?And I’m lost, and I’m lost
I’m lost at the bottom of the world
I’m handcuffed to the bishop and the barbershop liar
I’m lost at the bottom of the world

Well I dined last night with Scarface Ron
On telapia fish cakes and fried black swan
Razorweed onion and peacock squirell
And I dreamed all night about a beautiful girl

And I’m lost, and I’m lost
I’m lost at the bottom of the world
I’m handcuffed to the bishop and the barbershop liar
I’m lost at the bottom of the world

Well, god’s green hair is where I slept last
He balanced a diamond on a blade of grass
Now I woke me up with a cardinal bird
And when I wanna talk he hangs on every word

And I’m lost, and I’m lost
I’m lost at the bottom of the world
I’m handcuffed to the bishop and the barbershop liar
I’m lost at the bottom of the world

 

 


View Comments 0