Worst Braves team in quarter-century could lose (gulp) 100

  WASHINGTON – One hundred losses. Has a nasty ring to it, doesn't it?

A 100-loss season is the measure of truly awful performance by a major league team.

I never imagined last winter that it would be possible for these Braves. I didn’t even think a 90-loss season was a realistic possibility. Even after they traded Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis.

Because they still had the likes of Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran Alex Wood and Mike Minor, and they had added a few good pieces including Nick Markakis, Shelby Miller and Jason Grilli, and they had some good young talent we expected might make an impact as the season wore on.

Well, Minor didn’t make it to the first game of spring training before getting hurt again, Kimbrel was traded on the eve of opening day, Grilli blew out his Achilles before the All-Star break, Freeman had two DL stints in the second half, the Braves stopped scoring runs when Miller pitched, Wood and Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan were traded, as were Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe and, well, you know the rest.  It’s been something resembling a disaster.

It’s all crumbling now. The Braves, after a 42-42 start to their season, have lost 38 of 50 games and have 80 losses with 28 games to go before Friday night’s second game of a four-game series against the Nationals.

Not only is a 90-loss season now seemingly inevitable, but a 100-loss season is also a distinct possibility. The Braves have to do better than 8-20 the rest of the way to avoid a 100-loss season.

This is a team that is 1-16 with a 7.70 ERA and 44 runs scored in its past 17 games. A team that got blown away 15-1 on Thursday at Nationals Park to extend its losing streak to nine games, during which the Braves had an 8.55 ERA and had been outscored 82-20.

That's remarkably bad, and afterward, Gonzalez's mounting frustrations, which he had kept private previously, boiled over in his postgame session with reporters.

Asked if perhaps the on-the-job training, aka thrown into the fire, that these young pitchers are getting might be overwhelming some of them, Gonzalez replied: “You know what? They better get used  to it. It’s one of those things, there’s no more help. If we feel that they’re our guys and we want them to be our guys, then they’ve got to get over it. They’ve got to go out there and get the big outs, get the  big innings, have the big outings. Sooner or later we’ve got to do that. We’ve got to keep running them out there, and they’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

Then he continued, regarding the recent atrocious pitching by the Braves.

“The stuff that we’ve been seeing, it’s really unacceptable,” Gonzalez said. “Guys are professional. Major leaguers. Some of these guys have a lot of years playing in the minor leagues. And for them to get hit around like that, it’s not really acceptable. And you go back and look at the tape – and we will in the morning – it’s a lot of 1-2 pitches over the plate, 0-2, ahead in the count, just not very good pitches. And I know for sure that a lot of the pitching coaches and managers that they’ve gone through in the minor leagues (have taught them a better two-strike approach than that). It’s not good. It hurts. Especially, there’s a way to lose, and today wasn’t one of those days. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”

When I asked  him as a follow-up whether possibly fatigue with some of the young pitchers is a factor in all the struggles with two outs and/or with two strikes, Gonzalez said, “I don’t know what it is, but if it’s fatigue, just suck it up. If we want to go in there and start bringing up every pitcher in the minor leagues. I’m sure there’s people out there that would like to take an opportunity at it. If it’s fatigue, work a little extra. Really, there’s no… You try to be calm and try to be patient, but sometimes there’s no excuses for that. Whether it’s fatigue or not. It’s not fatigue when you get two strikes. So I don’t buy that.”

The Nationals’ 15 runs broke their single-game record for runs in a home game at Nationals Park, and the 14-run margin of victory was the largest in the Nationals’ 11-year history since the Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals.

The Braves have not won a road game in more than month. They have a 10-game road skid entering Friday, and they are 2-23 on the road going back to July 8, the fateful day when Luis Avilan coughed up a 5-3 eighth-inning lead when he gave up a three-run homer to Carlos Gomez, and even if Brian McCann had been there to stop Gomez from crossing home plate, it probably wouldn’t have stopped the avalanche of losing that has ensued.

Beginning that day in Milwaukee, the Braves are 12-38 with a 5.63 ERA overall and 2-23 with a 6.25 ERA on the road.

And so, unless they go 9-19 or better the rest of the season, they are going to lose 100 games. This just two seasons after Fredi Gonzalez’s third Braves team won 96 games and the NL East title in 2013.

I’m firmly convinced that top Braves officials knew, when they gave Fredi Gonzalez and his coaches contract extensions on July 17 that run through 2016 with options for 2017, that they were about to trade away any remaining veterans with significant trade value and some younger guys, too. So they gave them the extensions then, because there was no way they’d be able to do it now, with the season figuratively swirling in the toilet bowl.

But I really don’t think those Braves officials believed it could get this bad. Surely not. If they did, they wouldn’t have traded away so many guys and left the team running on fumes, overmatched and unable to even keep their heads above water. Young players, some of them good and full of potential, are getting their heads bashed in now on a nightly basis. This is not good.

The bed is made, however. The Braves will twist and turn in it for the remainder of the season.

And the only compelling question until the offseason – since no, I don’t believe the brass can fire Gonzalez or Roger McDowell after stripping the team of so much talent – is whether or not the Braves can avoid losing 100.

The Braves have a 21-48 road record entering Friday, and have lost all seven games at Nationals Park this season, with three to go. The Phillies (23-46) are the only other major league team with more than 42 road losses, and the Braves travel to Philly on  Monday for a three-game series.

The Braves have a majors-worst run differential of -164, while the Cardinals are +142 and Blue Jays are +197.

So yes, it’s bad and getting worse by the day. The Braves, if they keep up their recent blinding pace of losses, will finish as the worst Braves team in more than a quarter-century. The worst since the 1988 team, which was really, really bad.

How bad?  Glad you asked.

The 106-loss Braves in 1988 finished 28-55 on the road. That team went 24-52 after the All-Star break. (The current team will do worse than both of those marks.)

That ’88 team was the last Braves team to lose 100 games, and no Braves team has even lost more than 90 games since the 1989 and 1990 Braves had 97 losses in consecutive seasons. The last 90-loss Braves team was the 2008 Braves (72-90), which was also the only Braves team to finish 20 games out of first place since the 1990 team finished 26 games back. (The current Braves entered Friday 20 ½ games out of first place.)

The 1988 Braves’ leading hitters were 32-year-old Dale Murphy, Ron Gant and Gerald Perry.

Murph hit .226 with team-highs of 35 doubles, 24 homers and 77 RBIs, with a .313 OBP and .734 OPS.

Gant hit .259 with 19 homers, 19 stolen bases, 60 RBIs, a .317 OBP and team-high .755 OPS.

Perry hit .300 – the only Brave with an average as high as .280 -- with a .338 OBP and 29 stolen bases.

Andres Thomas (13 homers) was the only other Brave with double-digit homers in 1988.

No Braves starting pitcher had a winning record, and starters Rick Mahler (9-16, 3.69 ERA), Tom Glavine (7-17, 4.56), Pete Smith (7-15, 3.69) and Zane Smith (5-10, 4.30) were a combined 28-58 in 105 games (100 starts). Closer Bruce Sutter had 14 saves and a 4.76 ERA in 38 appearances and gave up more than a hit per inning.

They lost 106 games. This Braves team would have to lose 26 of its final 28 games to have that many losses. Despite the last couple of weeks, surely the Braves can’t keep losing at such a stunning rate as to lose 106.

But 100 losses? I never would’ve thought it possible last winter, or this spring, or even a month ago. Now, I do.

It’s possible.

• Let's close with this beauty from the great Mr. Petty, off his classic Damn The Torpedoes album.

"EVEN THE LOSERS" by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


Well, it was nearly all summer we sat on your roof

Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon

And I'd show you stars you never could see

Baby, it couldn't have been that easy to forget about me

Baby, time meant nothing, anything seemed real

Yeah, you could kiss like fire and you made me feel

Like every word you said was meant to be

No, it couldn't have been that easy to forget about me

Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers keep a little bit of pride

They get lucky sometimes

Two cars parked on the overpass,

Rocks hit the water like broken glass

I should have known right then it was too good to last

God, it's such a drag when you're livin' in the past

Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers keep a little bit of pride

They get lucky sometimes

Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers keep a little bit of pride

Yeah, they get lucky sometimes

Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers get lucky sometimes

Even the losers get lucky sometimes