Season Review: What went wrong

When things are going right, everyone is happy. But when things start to go wrong, everyone has a theory as to what exactly the problem is for their team. This season was an improvement for the Atlanta Braves, at 84-78, but not what one has come to expect from the team that won a record 14-consecutive division crowns. So, as we delve into the season that was, let’s stat with the bad news.

What went wrong:

It began early, when Mike Hampton was shut down with more elbow problems. Having not thrown a pitch in a Major League game since 2005, Hampton first injured his oblique while taking BP at mid-March at Lakeland. From there, it would only get worse. The veteran lefty was diagnosed with a torn tendon in his already surgically repaired pitching elbow. Just like that, Hampton was put on the shelf for another season.

We can go no further than the man who was supposed to replace Hampton and provide the Braves with some much needed innings toward the end of the rotation. Mark Redman was nothing short of a disaster area in five starts with Atlanta. His 10.64 ERA was an obvious bi-product of the 38 hits and 11 walks issued in just 21.2 innings of work. By late May, Redman found himself looking for work and the Braves odyssey of finding fourth and fifth starters continued.

Injuries and inconsistency continued to plague the Braves throughout the summer, as they called on pitcher after pitcher to fill the final two rotation spots. Righty Kyle Davies continued to be enigmatic, following each strong start with two poor ones before finding himself shipped to Kansas City.

Lance Cormier showed signs that he could bolster the rotation during a strong Grape Fruit League campaign, but spent considerable time on the DL before under-whelming the Braves with his performances (2-6, 7.09 ERA in nine starts). Anthony Lerew was not the answer, nor was lefty prospect Jo-Jo Reyes – who, to his credit, seemed to turn the corner in his final two starts of the season.

When you boil down this season to one problem area and wonder what one thing could have made a big difference for the Atlanta Braves, there is no doubt that the combined struggles of Redman, Davies, Cormier, Lerew and Reyes will be the most obvious. Combined, these starters went 8-22 with a 6.84 ERA in 44 starts. Looking even closer, in 215.2 IP these hurlers allowed 164 earned runs on 255 hits while issuing 114 free passes. That simply will not get the job done.

Andruw Jones. No where, were the Braves struggles and ineptitudes felt as mightily as in their stalwart center-fielder of 12 seasons. Combining to hit 92 homers and drive home 257 runs over the prior two seasons, which lead everyone to expect the same kind of big numbers as Jones headed into his free-agent season. Who could have predicted this monstrous slump.

Over the course of seemingly every season, there was always a point when Jones would catch fire and the homers, RBI’s and big hits would come in bunches. That never materialized in 2007. Jones limped into the last series of the season (where he sat out all three games) with a .222 average, 26 homers and 94 RBI. Even the defense, which shined at times, seems to have lost a little luster and a couple steps here and there.

Make no mistake, Andruw (who will be the subject of his own blog entry one of these days) will probably find a team that will want to make him very rich this off-season. But having the worst contract season in memory probably doesn’t make it easy for even Scott Boras to drum up the astronomical figures.

Then there was first base, which eventually became home to slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira. Craig Wilson earned his release in May, following a horrid run (.172, 1 HR, 2 RBI in 24 games) as the righty part of a platoon with lefty-swinging Scott Thorman. Everyday play seemed to be more than Thorman could handle, leading the Braves turn to the familiar face of 49-year old Mets cast-off Julio Franco in July. Franco started for the week prior to Teixeira’s arrival and may have provided the most stability Atlanta had seen to that point.

While the bullpen certainly enjoyed a much-improved season in 2007, there still problems late in the game for Atlanta. Lefty set-up man Mike Gonzalez went down with Tommy John prior to the All-star break. Closer Bob Wickman turned into a pumpkin in his first full season with Atlanta. The often surly reliever alienated teammates and management, leading to his release in late August.

Inter-league play was also not particularly kind to the Braves this season. Rated by the Elias Sports Bureau as having the toughest Inter-league match-ups this season in all of Major League Baseball, the Braves took it on the chin in Boston, Cleveland and Minnesota and getting Detroit and second dose of the Red Sox at Turner Field. The 4-11 record against American League squads certainly did not help the cause.

We’ll take a look at what went right for the Braves in the next entry. Bring the comments and keep them coming.

Till Next time,

G-Mc

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