On May 17, the Atlanta Braves were 9-28 and made the difficult decision to fire manager Fredi Gonzalez. It wasn’t necessarily his fault that the season had started on such a poor note, but someone had to take the blame.
Since the team was handed to interim manager Brian Snitker, the Braves have actually been respectable. Posting a 7-8 record in those 15 games may not seem like much, but .500 baseball – or something relatively close – would be delightful if the Braves can keep that going for the rest of the season.
Think about this: at the time of Gonzalez’s firing, the Braves were on pace to post a 34-128 record for the season, or something in that historically bad neighborhood. When you consider that even the worst team in modern history (the 1962 New York Mets) managed to win 40 games, that’s really, really bad.
After this 15-game stretch of just-plain-mediocrity, the Braves are on pace to go 47-115, which would keep them out of the history books as the worst team ever. It would still be their worst season in modern franchise history – only the 1909, 1911 and 1935 teams failed to win as many games – but nobody wants to be the worst team ever.
The turnaround under Snitker hasn’t been an accident. In games decided by one or two runs, the Braves are 5-2 since the managerial change. They were 4-12 in “close games” under Gonzalez.
Timely hitting has also been key. Freddie Freeman’s walk-off home run Wednesday night against the San Francisco Giants was a great moment for the team, but it goes beyond that. Third baseman Chase d’Arnaud has been huge for the team since he debuted with the Braves on May 2. In 53 at-bats, d’Arnaud has posted a .340 batting average and always seems to be at the plate in key moments.
Outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who wasn’t expected to make the major-league club at all, batted .306 in May with two home runs and 10 RBI, playing in all but seven games. Infielder Gordon Beckham has also been a nice surprise, batting .299 with two homers and 12 RBI in May.
And, of course, that Mallex Smith guy has been himself, as usual.
During the current 10-game homestand that’ll conclude on Thursday, the Braves have posted a 4-5 record. Again, that might not seem like much, but when you start the season with a 2-17 home record, that’s a huge improvement.
These are all baby steps, and this team isn’t going to make a run at the division title at any point this season. But if the Braves can continue this stretch of decent baseball for the remainder of the season while slowly adding more prospects into the mix, the fans will have a reason to watch and restore hope for the years ahead.
Photo: AP/Butch DillFollow @Sean_Breslin