It’s over…finally. An 8 1/2 game lead in the National League Wild Card standings as of September 2nd, erased. The Braves epic September meltdown and subsequently their season culminated last night with yet another blown lead; yet another loss, this one costing them the rest of their season.
A curious mixture of hype and question marks surrounded the Braves during the early part of the season. How would they handle the departure of legendary manager Bobby Cox? Can Jason Heyward duplicate his magical rookie season from 2010? Will the ailing and aging Chipper Jones hold up for yet another season, 2011 being his 18th? Or the more important question, can he be productive at the age of 39?
But the hype of rookie Craig Kimbrel; the 100+ mile per hour, flame-throwing, 23-year old pitcher, Brian McCann, who again made an all-star appearance, the arrival of Dan Uggla, the second basemen who had 5 straight 30+ home run seasons before donning a Braves uniform, and rookie Freddie Freeman, who along with teammate Craig Kimbrel will definitely contend for NL Rookie of the Year honors, gave Braves fans a reasonable expectation that not only would the Braves make the playoffs again this year, but maybe, just maybe steal back what the Phillies have recently taken from them, the National League East title.
So where did it all go wrong? Coming into September, the seasons’ final regular season month, the Braves were 80-55 with an 8 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card standings. On September’s eve, the Braves beat the Washington Nationals 3-1 in record-setting and memorable fashion; Craig Kimbrel earned his 41st and record-setting save for most saves amongst rookies in a single season, Derek Lowe hit the first home run of his career, and Chipper Jones bombed his 450th career home run (slightly more than Derek Lowe). What’s more, the Braves bullpen was by far the best bullpen in the National League – anchored by Kimbrel with his 46 and league leading tying saves, a 2.10 ERA, and .178 BAA (Batting Average Against); Johnny Venters and his 1.84 ERA and .176 BAA, and Eric O’Flaherty with a nasty 0.98 ERA and .221 BAA. So I ask again, where did it all go wrong?
Perhaps the fact the Braves played more extra-inning games than any other team in the Majors with 26 emptied their tanks as they headed down the back stretch. Or maybe it’s because Venters, Kimbrel, and O’Flaherty combined for 242 appearances this season; ranking 1, 2, and 3 in game appearances respectively in the Majors, putting too much strain on their young arms. Or maybe it’s because the Cardinals were just too damn good in September. Let’s review some basic but key NL stats for the month of September shall we?
|Wins||9 (t-last)||18 (1st)|
|Losses||18 (last)||8 (1st)|
|Runs||87 (t-14th)||128 (1st)|
|Runs/Gm||3.22 (15th)||4.92 (1st)|
|Batting Average||.235 (15th)||.294 (1st)|
|ERA||4.17 (11th)||3.13 (3rd)|
If I were to blank out the names of the teams listed in the above table but allow the statistics to remain visible, a reasonably educated baseball fan might think this is a comparison between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies; not one of the most storied franchises in the history of Major League Baseball!
No matter how you slice the cake or how long you debate what really happened in the month of September that caused the Braves to spiral into a crash landing, what’s done is done; the Braves were more than awful and the Cardinals were better than good. The Cardinals are going on to face Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the National League Division Series while the Braves are officially in the off-season; a tragic end to what looked to be such a bright season not only individually for some of the Braves players but for the Braves as an organization. The rumblings and chatter of the epic meltdown the Braves (and Red Sox) pulled off is sure to linger on the Braves minds all off-season long and most certainly into next year; let’s just hope they take this dark moment in their history and turn it into some type of motivation for next season.