There are two main clubhouses at Turner Field: The one that houses the Braves and the one with the red velvet rope out front because that’s where the champagne is usually opened.
Atlanta has become celebration central for opponents since the 1990s. So the fact the Washington Nationals clinched the National League East Tuesday night with a 3-0 win at Turner Field and did the dance of life with bottles of Moet merely makes them the latest members of the club.
The Braves have lost 10 postseason series on their home field since 1992. This wasn't the playoffs, but Washington's impending title serves as the unofficial gong ending the Braves' season. Atlanta die-hards cling only to prayer and mathematics in the wild card race. If it's not over, it's one Delta House sabotage of the Faber College homecoming parade from being over.
There will be fallout. There has to be fallout.
The Braves are 58-69 since a 17-7 start. They’re under .500 for the first time since losing their season opener. They have lost five straight and 11 of 14 in September. They went 2-7 on a recent road trip, including getting swept by the majors’ bottom-feeder in Texas. Post-All-Star break mediocrity effectively rendered the two September series against the Nationals meaningless.
We’ve addressed ad nauseam the ripple effect of general manager Frank Wren’s mistakes in high-profile personnel decisions and building a team devoid of balance and chemistry. The feeling here is that’s what is getting the most attention in the organization’s executive suite, led by CEO Terry McGuirk and three people who have his ear: John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox and John Hart.
But how much responsibility does manager Fredi Gonzalez share in this unraveling?
Even if you believe Gonzalez was dealt somewhat of a losing hand because of lineup limitations — too many high-strikeout, low-percentage hitters with no obvious leadoff candidate, as well as a sinkhole in center field — it doesn’t excuse the mounting losses and uninspired play.
Gonzalez isn’t on the field. He doesn’t hit or pitch. A manager can only fill in the lineup card and make some in-game decisions. But his overriding responsibility is to get the most out of the talent given to him, and the losses indicated Gonzalez isn’t doing that right now.
How much responsibility does he feel?
“That’s an easy question,” Gonzalez said Tuesday. “I’m the face of the team. I’m the face of the organization. I’m not on billboards or anything like that but I’m the one on a microphone every single day answering the questions. So I take a lot of responsibility in that, whether it’s fair or not fair. It’s my team. It’s my 25 guys. I take full responsibility.
“I don’t think you can answer that question any other way. If any coach in any sport answers that in a different way, that’s not the guy you want leading your team.”
Players came to Gonzalez’s defense Tuesday, which was to be expected.
“I can’t blame the manager for not (driving in) a guy with a runner on third and two outs,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “That’s us. We’re the players. We take the blame for our performance.”
Freddie Freeman echoed: “We’re the ones out on the field. Fredi puts the names in the lineup but we’re the ones who have to go out and perform. It’s the 25 guys on this team. We have a really good team and we just haven’t performed up to our capabilities. It’s not Fredi’s fault. It’s not (hitting coach Greg) Walker’s fault. It’s not (first base coach Terry Pendleton’s) fault. It’s not (bench coach Carlos Tosca’s) fault. It’s not our coaching staff’s fault. It’s the guys who play between the lines. We have to take the responsibility.”
In the end, Simmons and Freeman and the rest of them are right. They need to perform. This is a team that ranks 29th in the majors in runs, 23rd in batting average, 22nd in on-base percentage, 25th in batting with runners in scoring position and fourth in strikeouts. Gonzalez isn’t the one holding the bat during a called third strike.
The Braves haven’t won a playoff series in Wren’s seven-year tenure. It’s logical that he’s catching the most heat. But the Braves are underachieving and if Gonzalez hopes to make a strong case for his future employment, he needs to figure out something to stop his team from circling the drain.
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