The Braves haven't been good lately. Strike that, the Braves have been shield-the-kids'-eyes, turn-off-the-television awful lately.
The biggest reason for the current eight-game losing streak is one we should've seen coming: this Braves team has no leadership. I don't mean leadership with regard to the manager or front office, but rather player leadership.
This dearth of truly seasoned veterans is a new experience for Atlanta and its fanbase. Since the “worst to first” team of 1991, the Braves have had a stream of experienced members of their roster to help mold young talent into winners.
First, the team could turn to the likes of Terry Pendleton, then the “big three” starting pitchers – Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. From there Chipper Jones took the mantle that was then passed on to guys like Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, who were the only players from the 2005 division championship season that were still around for the 2013 NL East title.
They had been there, seen what it took to carry a team through the ups and downs of a 162-game season to win a division. They had enough tenure in the Braves' locker room to have younger players' respect.
More importantly, they had seen the difference between the run of 14 straight division titles and the four consecutive years the Braves missed the postseason from 2006-09, as well as the collapse of 2011.
But now they're all gone.
In a move that made all the business sense in the world, general manager Frank Wren and the Braves' front office didn't fork over the cash necessary to re-sign either Hudson or McCann, instead investing in the future.
Who could blame them?
Hudson was a 38-year-old pitcher who already had ankle issues before breaking an ankle last season, and McCann was a 30-year-old catcher. Could you really justify spending the $17 million per season that the New York Yankees threw McCann's way or the $11-$12 million per year the San Francisco Giants were willing to give Hudson?
Not with young stars like Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran in the mix, the Braves decided. But that decision left a void.
Who would be the stabilizing force like McCann when things went wrong? Who would come through like Chipper with the big hits when the offense needs a couple runs? Which pitcher would step up to halt any losing streak the way Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz once did?
Heyward's the only Braves' regular who had even put in four full seasons in Atlanta, the most likely to be a leader. But his own inconsistency and injury issues have made him tough to rely on. Freeman, coming off a breakout year that saw him hit .319 with 23 home runs and 109 RBIs, was also a likely candidate, especially considering the eight-year contract he signed in the offseason that will have him making more than $20 million a season starting in 2017.
Yet even Freeman, usually a solid presence in the middle of the lineup, hit just .255 in July – the same batting average as popular scapegoat BJ Upton over the same stretch.
Speaking of Upton, his experience suggests that he should provide the veteran wisdom. After all, he's almost the oldest Braves' regular – second to Johnson by a few months. And Upton's the only player on the team, besides backup catcher Gerald Laird, who's been to a World Series. That was part of the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays, not completely unlike the Braves' own surge in the early 1990s.
But Upton's struggles at the plate make him a tough sell as a starter, much less the leader of the pack.
And Minor, the starting pitcher who has the most service time logged in the Braves' uniform, is skipping his next start after surrendering three or more earned runs in six of his last seven starts on the way to a 5.42 ERA for the season. Even young ace Julio Teheran has faltered recently, coughing up a three-run home run after the offense finally gave him a lead during Wednesday's 7-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Two more rotation members, Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, are veteran journeymen on one-year deals while Alex Wood is still earning his spot.
So that has the Braves in their predicament, tumbling further back in every playoff race. As a fan, you'd like to hear about some players-only meeting, called on the plane back from Seattle or in the locker room before tonight's game against Washington, whom the Braves trail by 4Ĺ games in the NL East.
Those airing-out sessions seem to have magical results, rallying the troops to victory or at least lighting a visible spark in the team's demeanor.
The question looms, though: Who's going to call the meeting?
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
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