So, we bid farewell to another Braves season of incremental gain. Another season that must be judged by signs and omens, not by standings. Another season that must be translated into the imprecise language of potential.
(UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE)The Braves just announced that General Manger John Coppolella has resigned amidst a Major League Baseball investigation some alleged rules-breaking in dealing with international players.
I don't think Adidas was involved in these irregularities. Although if Rick Pitino somehow had something to do with it, I wouldn't be surprised.
Back to Sunday, the Braves season ended in a whimper, in an art deco fever dream of a South Florida ballpark, a final game in a final series that splatted almost unnoticed upon the windshield of Major League baseball as it zoomed on by. The Braves served as a sub-plot to the sub-plot that was Giancarlo Stanton’s failed search for a 60th home run, itself a production muted by the nagging guilts of the steroid era.
At least the Braves won the last one, breaking a six-game losing streak. No champagne was served afterward.
Finishing at 72-90, that was four more wins for the Braves from the year before (a 2.5 percent gain). Team ERA ticked up slightly from 2016. Team OPS, a number you actually want to increase, did the same. No, not exactly a growth stock. The rebuild has thus far produced all the thrills of a passbook savings account.
There was a brief flirtation with .500 – the Braves were 45-45 after sweeping Arizona in July, only to spend the next two-plus months seeking their level below the horizon. Below see-level if you will.
By season’s end, home attendance had predictably spiked, thanks more to the stage than the actors. Alas, when fans talk with excitement about the Braves’ Battery, it concerns pizza and craft beer, not Teheran and Flowers. As a real estate enterprise, the Braves were a hit this season. The baseball subsidiary was far less robust.
And viewing them from afar became highly discretionary. To the point that a new professional soccer outfit was commanding about the same television ratings as the baseball team that once owned the town.
At what level could this season be deemed memorable? Ender Inciarte was a joy to watch. Freddie Freeman showed that he had healing powers suitable for Marvel Comics. And we learned that Nick Markakis’ family – so entertaining in the stands as the kids counted down to his 2,000th career hit – deserves its own half-hour show in prime time. “My Big Fat Greek Milestone.”
The irritations with this team still outnumbered the pleasures, though. That’s going to happen when Bartolo Colon eats everything except innings, when no one can plant a flag atop the starting rotation and claim it as their own, when there has been as much conversation the last month about an unseen outfielder (Ronald Acuna) as any actually on the expanded roster. And when Matt Kemp grounding into a double play is so common that it could become a drinking game, that’s not a good thing, right?
Then there’s the impatience. The growing, gnawing impatience with everything about this rebuild. Man was not meant to survive for more than two years on the smell of something cooking in the minors rather than an actual big league turkey drumstick on which to chew. We need sustenance, not the suggestion of better days. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination on my part. I prefer to think of it as a lack of winning on their part.
And I want Andrelton Simmons back.
Haven’t we about reached the time for gains to be dramatic rather than slowly trending? Shouldn’t we demand 2018 to produce a season worth talking about in the present tense, not for what it might mean the following April? For at the current pace, competing for the division would take about another seven years.
We depart the season amid talk about the future of the manager. But, honestly, there is no point in debating the worth of the driver while the car is still up on blocks. These Braves have needs far more pressing – some consistency from its young pitchers, clarity in the bullpen, a dependable clean-up hitter with some corresponding power in a home park built for that, a reliable Dansby Swanson – than Brian Snitker’s relative savvy.
First the Braves have to get good enough for the managing to really matter.
And now we learn that the manager actually has outlasted the general manager. The faint odor of impropriety now rises above the other smells of this season. One more absurdity added to the pile.
There I’ve had my snit. I’ll stomp off now, and give myself four months to recharge.