Someone, anyone, please wake me from this wretched nightmare. The 2008 baseball season has turned into more than a nightmare for the Atlanta Braves. I can't think of a season involving any other team that has mirrored the path that this journey has taken for the Atlanta Braves. It's almost surreal. This kind of season can't be real, can it?
Well, yes, yes it can. It is real, and no, it is not spectacular. This was a season, that back in March and April had the look of a return to prominence. The offense boasted two MVP candidates, young superstars held places in right field and at catcher, and you had two very promising young middle infielders. The bullpen looked solid, and the rotation was deep - almost too deep. Yeah, right.
The official time of death of this baseball team's season was approximately 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, courtesy of Philadelphia Phillies pinch hitter Greg Dobbs. His three-run homer that completed the meltdown that saw a 9-3 lead vanish was the final nail in the Braves' coffin.
If there were any doubts, Shane Victorino, who himself had probably delivered the first nail in the coffin at Turner Field back on June 6 with his bat and his glove, erased all doubt and completed the burial ceremony on Sunday July 27.
His three-run homerun in the bottom of the fifth completed yet another Braves meltdown, this time choking away a 5-0 lead.
Victorino then further poured salt in the wound with a head-to-head collision at the plate with Brian McCann, knocking Atlanta's star catcher unconscious and out of the lineup for the foreseeable immediate future.
Despite leads of five and six runs, the Braves left the City of Brotherly Love 7 1/2 half games behind the first place Mets and 6 1/2 games behind the Phillies for second in the division. Despite scoring 19 runs on Saturday and Sunday, the Braves managed zero wins. Instead of being two games below .500 and right in the middle of the race, Atlanta left Philadelphia six games under and ailing more than ever before.
At around 5 p.m. Saturday, following a monstrous three-run homer by Mark Teixeira, the Braves appeared to be right in the middle of the pennant race. Twenty-four hours later the season was done. And this was before the debacle that was Monday night's game with the Cardinals.
So while this past weekend is where it all ended, it's definitely not where it started.
First it was Peter Moylan going down in early April, robbing the Braves of an elite set-up man. He was quickly followed by closer Rafael Soriano. What was a formidable eighth and ninth inning duo and the team's strength became a weakness before the season ever got started.
It didn't stop there, though.
Mike Hampton never made his first start, and took until late July to finally take the mound, albeit ineffectively. John Smoltz couldn't make it to the month of May, and Tom Glavine couldn't last longer than early June. By the midway point three-fifths of the Braves rotation was on the disabled list. By the end of July the number is still at three-fifths, however, those three who are out were the one, two and three starters coming into the season.
Mike Hampton can hardly be considered as being back, and you know another injury is just another sneeze or warm-up toss away.
The biggest blow yet may be the news out of Atlanta on Monday. Tim Hudson just made what is likely his final start of the season against the Florida Marlins last week. What's even scarier is the possibility that the injury he's suffered to his right elbow could be of such that he won't even be available in 2009.
So what happened to that deep rotation we had in March? As of today, Jorge Campillo is the number two pitcher on staff. Campillo began the year in Richmond and was called up to be a member of the bullpen. Months later he's our number two pitcher, behind our ace, who began the year as a 21-year-old rookie, who was just going to be asked to give the club innings as the No. 5 starter.
There is a saying that you can never have enough pitching, and this baseball team is a testament to that adage.
The offense? There's a reason I haven't touched on it. It's hard to touch on what isn't there. Chipper has been other worldly, but he too is injury prone. Brian McCann has been as good a catcher as there is and Mark Teixeira has been pretty good himself.
Unfortunately that's just three players, and in the National League, you bat eight position players. Three out of eight won't get the job done. Now McCann is out with a concussion, Chipper is on the disabled list and Teixeira is likely to be traded. It is very possible that by Wednesday or Thursday neither player will be in the lineup.
Part of the problem has been that Yunel Escobar has disappeared for long stretches and has been prone to boneheaded plays on the base paths. Kelly Johnson has been average, but when "average" is the fourth best offensive player you've got, you're not going to contend for any World Series titles.
The biggest problem though has been the outfield. I don't believe there has been a worse outfield in the big leagues. From the outfield positions, the Braves have combined, yes, combined, for 20 home runs. McCann and Teixeira each have 20 of their own.
Jeff Francouer has been among the least productive hitters in all of baseball that has been an everyday player and been to the plate at least 300 times. Gregor Blanco is an ideal fourth outfielder, but he's been forced to play everyday. Mark Kotsay has been decent, but he missed significant time with injury -- as has Matt Diaz.
The result has been an OPS (On Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage) of .687 for the outfield. That's 85 points lower than the major league average. Deplorable? Horrendous? Pathetic? Atrocious? I'd go with all of the above, and then some.
Our two best relievers, our three best starting pitchers and our three best hitters will either be on the disabled list, sitting on the bench with an injury or playing in a different uniform by weeks end. You simply cannot compete when that happens. What can you expect when faced with such problems? Well, nobody can really say, as I can't recall a time when any team has been forced to deal with such a ridiculous rash of injuries and misfortune. You don't lose two Cy Young candidates before July and contend for postseason births.
The mere fact that this team was even playing meaningful games this past weekend is really amazing, and perhaps something we should find a way to appreciate.
That said, "appreciating," is about the hardest thing to do with this particular season gone awry.
Here's to football season getting started next month.