The Atlanta Braves have problems. After being in first place for much of the season, the Braves are now looking up at the Washington Nationals.
But that’s only part of it. This is a big-picture dilemma that is exposing some dysfunction and perhaps explaining why Atlanta is not a very good team right now.
Fans don’t seem to like this team very much. Interest is waning by the day, and with football getting closer, that’s not a good sign for a team supposedly in a pennant race.
The attendance is down at Turner Field by 2,305 fans per game through Monday. Look at the numbers from last weekend’s big series against the Nationals. For the three games, the Braves averaged 29,243 fans. A year ago in mid-August against the same Washington team, the Braves had 34,583 fans for a three-game series.
The game Sunday was downright embarrassing. It was a national TV audience, yet only 18,191 fans showed up. Sure, school is starting all over the state. But Atlanta has 5.2 million people in the metro area and only a little more than 18,000 showed up for a game against the team the Braves are chasing?
What’s wrong with the Braves? There’s talent on the roster, but the offense is pathetic. Entering Tuesday’s game, the Braves had averaged fewer than three runs per game the past two weeks. We know the 17-7 start was all about the tremendous pitching. But this team has been awful since then (43-51 entering Tuesday’s game) because the offense has not gotten any better.
There are too many incidents going on that represent a bigger problem. The once-proud “Braves way” is fading. This organization is just not the same. Maybe it’s because Bobby Cox is gone, and so is Chipper Jones. But this mix of players is just not working.
There doesn’t seem to be much respect on this team -- for each other, for the manager or for that once-respected Braves’ way -- something that was created in the late-1980s by Cox and then-president Stan Kasten and then further developed by John Schuerholz in the early 1990s.
Fans are tired of watching B.J. Upton in center field. After Atlanta got Emilio Bonifacio from the Chicago Cubs on July 31, manager Fredi Gonzalez said he was sticking with Upton in the leadoff spot even though Bonifacio has had more success at the top spot. Upton was, in Gonzalez’s words, “My guy.”
Well, Gonzalez’s guy is now hitting .220 as the leadoff man and back to his normal sub-.210 average for this season. Then Sunday, when Gonzalez sent Upton in to pinch-run for Evan Gattis, Upton could be heard cussing Gonzalez to first baseman Adam LaRoche. It’s hard to pick up completely, but it is obvious Upton was upset that his manager, his boss, got him up two innings earlier but did not use him.
So a player who is making $83,024.69 per game -- and who has been awful since he put on an Atlanta uniform -- was calling his manager who took up for him names on national TV?
How about the number of times Upton has been seen lollygagging in center field this season. A few weeks ago, shortstop Andrelton Simmons seemed so angry at Upton taking his time that he stared down his teammate.
Then there is Justin Upton, who didn’t run hard on a ground ball a few weeks ago and Gonzalez said he was going to talk with Upton because, “That’s not the way we play the game.”
But the next day, Upton was asked about it and said it was, “Just another play in the game.” Gonzalez should have benched his left fielder for the lack of hustle, and he then should have suspended him for throwing off the situation with his comments.
These players don’t seem to respect Gonzalez, and maybe when they see him not take care of things he’s giving them reason to not respect him. Would this stuff have happened with Cox in charge?
There have been other incidents, like Chris Johnson throwing a tantrum earlier this season and then Gonzalez benching Simmons the night after he bunted in a bad situation that cost the Braves.
Should we even bring up Dan Uggla, a situation that lingered too long and for some reason still has a negative impact on the clubhouse? It’s sort of tough to take a team seriously when two of the three highest paid players are: a) at home after being released (Uggla) and b) hitting just above .200 (B.J. Upton).
Everyone should be blamed, starting with general manager Frank Wren for putting together a bad mix. But the players and Gonzalez deserve equal criticism, as well.
There are no leaders on this team. There is no respect for the ‘A’ on that uniform. The farm system is in the worst shape in years. The players don’t seem to be having much fun playing, which makes it tough to watch.
Other than that, college football season starts in two weeks.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.