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By Michael Rushton, MLB Contributor - Archive - Email
Braves collapse doesn't bode well for future
B.J. Upton On paper the Braves should have been able to run with the best of them.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Atlanta Braves came into the 2014 season as defending National League East champions and with a roster that appeared good enough to make the club contenders once again.

Fast-forward to the final weeks of the season and the Braves should now be more worried about how 2015 is shaping up.

At six games off the pace in the wild card race with 10 games to go, it appears very unlikely the Braves will be playing October baseball. They can try to figure out all that went wrong until their collective heads start to spin, but the bottom line is that general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez need to come up with ways to fix it.

That won't be an easy task given some of the issues weighing Atlanta down.

Ultimately, the most disappointing aspect of the season is that the Braves weren't able to capitalize on some of the things that went right.

For starters, outside of the current division-champion Washington Nationals, the NL East didn't offer much competition throughout the season. The Miami Marlins, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies may all finish the year under .500 and with their own long-term issues to deal with.

Then there is the fact that the Braves still excelled in two-thirds of the game: pitching and defense.

Despite losing starters Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to season-ending elbow injuries before the campaign even got underway, the Braves are fifth in baseball with a collective 3.33 earned run average, though 13 blown saves kind of hurt.

Still, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang were more than adequate filling in and Julio Teheran continues to flash ace-like stuff.

Atlanta's fielding percentage is also one of the best in baseball, so once again it is the offense that came up short.

That wasn't supposed to be the case, not with outfielders Justin and B.J. Upton in the mix, first baseman Freddie Freeman providing some impressive power and third baseman Chris Johnson coming off a runner-up finish in the NL batting title race.

Add in Jason Heyward and another power bat in catcher Evan Gattis -- stepping in for free agent departee Brian McCann -- and on paper the Braves should have been able to run with the best of them.

That was the case for a while as Atlanta rode a strong first half to the top of the standings and led the division for 86 days this year. But the club has gone 24-33 since the All-Star break and 8-15 since Aug. 23.

The Braves have won just twice in their last 10 games, with four of those eight losses coming to the Nationals, who won the division crown on Atlanta's home field.

In fact, before beating Washington on Wednesday, Atlanta's record of 75-76 was the first time the club was below .500 since it was 0-1 this year.

Now the concerns are real.

Heyward showed major power potential with 27 homers in 2012, but has just 11 this year and is the club's leadoff hitter. He is in that role because B.J. Upton has hit just .197 with 317 strikeouts to 20 homers and 60 RBI in 260 games with Atlanta.

He is set to wrap up the second season of a five-year, $75.25 million contract.

Upton is just one of a few gambles that have not paid off for the Braves. They thought they had second base locked down for a while after getting Dan Uggla ahead of the 2011 season, but the second baseman hit just .209 in three-plus seasons with the club.

Even after moving on from Uggla, Atlanta second basemen have hit just .230 with five homers and 48 RBI this year and that is not a position so easily filled from outside an organization.

Good teams are usually strong up the middle, but between the current state of second base, B.J. Upton's issues and shortstop Andrelton Simmons -- a wiz with the glove but only a .243 hitter this season -- the Braves are looking more Lewis Skolnick than Hulk Hogan.

The Braves are hitting just .206 in September and are tied for 10th in the NL this season with 118 homers. Add in the fact they have struck out the third- most times by any team in the league and you can see why the playoffs fell out of reach.

Getting things on track for next season aren't looking like a lock either.


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