Lost in the excitement of the playoff race and the start of football season, some baseball teams entered the season with high hopes, yet find themselves far from influencing the "Hunt for October." While the Mariners have the worst record, the Braves are certainly the team which has fallen the farthest. Anyone remember the start of the season when ESPN was talking about the Braves winning the World Series? Jayson Stark and Peter Gammons both had them in the Fall Classic.
Some might argue that the Braves aren't that bad. Their run differential is better than the Astros, who are 14 games ahead of them in the loss column. Chipper Jones has had the best batting average in the NL pretty much all year, and Jair Jurrjens is probably the best rookie pitcher in the NL. They have a young All-Star catcher, and a bunch of young prospects in the outfield.
However, the Braves currently have the 4th worst record in the NL, and that doesn't even tell the full story. Jeff Francoeur led off a recent list of most disappointing seasons in the entire league, and could easily play himself out of a starting job next year with his .235 average and .352 slugging pct. Good thing he can take some walks, wait...
The Braves have lost the last 11 games started by Jo-Jo Reyes, and Charlie Morton's ERA has ballooned to 6.32 in 15 starts. Chuck James is clearly done as a starter in Atlanta, and Glavine and Hampton have both posted ERA's over 5.00 when they've been healthy. In other words, both the young and old members of the Braves rotation have really struggled this year. Tim Hudson won't pitch til the middle of next year at the earliest, and Smoltz's career may be over. Only Jurrjens and Campillo appear to be serviceable members of next year's rotation.
Bobby Cox appears convinced that overworking his better relievers is the path to success, such that Boyer, Bennett, and Ohman will all have more than 70 appearances, and Ohman and Boyer could finish 1-2 in appearances in all of MLB.
To make matters worse, the Braves do not appear to have acquired any players who can contribute soon in the trades for Teixeira and Kotsay. Casey Kotchman, acquired from the Angels to replace Tex, has hit a whopping .227 since his acquisition. The young outfielders have all looked promising at times, but none still has an average over .270. They could all develop, but Chipper will have retired by then. The Braves must decide whether to keep Prado and Kelly so that one of them can replace Chipper, or to trade one in an attempt to win sooner.
Regrettably, all that optimism at the start of this year was quite misplaced, and it may be a couple more years before the Braves are again competitive for the NL East title.