Tifton Gazette


July 14, 2014

Column: To watch Atlanta, you have to brave the Braves

TIFTON — Thoughts keep me up at night.

They keep everybody up, so we probably have that in common. We also probably share the subject of these thoughts and if not at midnight, most nights at about 9 p.m.

What are we going to do about the Braves?

We're at the All-Star break and sometimes they're good and sometimes they're bad. Justin Upton can hit bombs. Justin Upton can strike out with amazing regularity. Ervin Santana has a good start. Ervin Santana has a bad start. Craig Kimbrel sets them down 1-2-3. Craig Kimbrel will walk a man with a one-run lead and go deep into the count on the rest of them and make you want to tear your eyes out. And the rest of the lot finds some way to you frustrate you.

It's a daily struggle.

Sunday afternoon, the news came in that Dan Uggla had been suspended for a game and Phil Gosselin had been brought up to occupy his spot. There was great anticipation that this was leading to the end. I bet everybody in the state of Georgia is holding their breath for the outcome (Uggla possibly excluded), hoping, praying that that he's dumped.

An MLB.com article said Uggla was owed about 20 million for the duration of his Atlanta contract. After his performance over the past few seasons and current .162 average and 10 runs batted in, if money is keeping him on the roster, I'm willing to think Braves Country would take up a collection.

Of course, Uggla's not the only one underperforming.

Jordan Schafer has never been an outstanding hitter, but last year's .247 average, .331 on base percentage and 22 steals seemed to indicate he had finally figured it out.

Sunday, I watched Schafer pinch hit a fly to the warning track.

The only time Schafer, batted balls and warning track should be in the same sentence is if they bounce there. Steals are about the same as they were at this point last season, but his on base percentage has plummeted to .250, not to mention his average, which would make Mario Mendoza point and laugh. Ramiro Pena is not much better, but is a hitting machine compared to the combo of Uggla and Schafer.

We shouldn't be mad at the Bravos. At 52-43, they are currently tied for the top in the National League East with the Washington Nationals.

The rotation that Fredi Gonzalez wanted to trot out for us daily is instead at the knackers. Sure, sure Kris Medlen is young and Gavin Floyd's injury was a freak occurrence, but for most of the injured pitchers, this is not their first rodeo. Brandon Beachy has made 18 starts in the last three seasons. Jonny Venters has not been on a Major League hill since 2012.

Instead, your current starters are Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang. Only the first three were even under contract to the team in February. The percentage would be even lower had Floyd not broken his elbow.

I can't fault Gonzalez for anything. I can't fault Frank Wren or the Braves' pursestrings. From my totally qualified managerial and general manager perch behind this computer screen, I cannot see anything they are doing wrong. Atlanta spent big bucks landing Uggla, signing a bevy of free agent starters over the spring. The Uptons are being paid well for their troubles.

It's just that nothing is bothering to work out. It reminds me plenty of the Nick Esasky experience.

I bet some of you, especially you whippersnappers, are wondering Nick who?

He was a first baseman, one Atlanta signed from the Reds for the 1990 season. According to Baseball Reference, they gave him the then exorbitant contract of 1.35 million for that year, with over two million for each of the next two years.

After hitting .277 in 1989, Esasky's regular season contributions with the Braves amounted to nine games and 35 at bats before he was felled by vertigo. It never abated enough for him to play again in the bigs and the team finally released him in 1992.

At least he was not taking up a roster spot.

It's impossible to predict what a healthy Esasky would have done. In his stead, David Justice played a good bit of first in 1990, splitting time with outfield and won the Rookie of the Year on an abysmal team. Atlanta signed another proper first baseman in the offseason, one Sid Bream.

With Bream (and a host of others), the team won the National League pennant, came within a hair of a World Series ring and and the team had many good times after that.

Maybe we're around the corner from the magic again. Of course, around the other corner is imminent disaster. The second half is generally when Atlanta shines.

I just am not sure I want to go through the struggle to find out.

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