The Braves have now played seven games and still have yet to record their first victory of the 2016 season. Once again, the Braves came tantalizingly close to victory (with a solid performance from Jhoulys Chacin contributing to the cause), but a few miscues led them to defeat. Atlanta had a golden chance to put some runs on the board in the top of the eighth inning, but a strikeout from Freddie Freeman (who is in a pretty serious slump to start this season) and a double play from Jeff Francoeur led to a squandered bases-loaded opportunity. In the bottom half of the inning, Bryce Harper doubled off of Eric O'Flaherty to break the deadlock and make it 2-0, and the Nats eventually won 2-1.
The loss last night put the Braves at 0-7, which is their worst start since 1988. However, the Braves will have to lose three more games in a row in order to match the point of futility that the '88 Braves hit to start that particular season. If there's a silver lining to all of this, it's that the '88 season was the genesis of the special run that the franchise eventually went on for the next decade-and-a-half, and the Braves are hoping that this low point is the start of a similar phoenix-like rise from the ashes.
One thing to remember about the Braves’ 0-10 mark in 1988 is that it actually paled beside the Orioles’ 21 losses to begin that season. The Orioles lost those on their way to a 54-107 final record. The Braves were 5-16 after 21 games that season and lost more games than the Orioles after the 21-game mark.
The 1988 season was the low point for the Braves of the 1970s and ’80s (and the losses for the franchise since losing 115 in 1935), but it began to set the stage for the successful run of the ’90s, which commenced three years later with the magical, worst-to-first season. The Braves’ current rebuilding plan hopes to follow the same trajectory.
After Monday night's loss, Fredi Gonzalez shared with the media that he tried to keep morale high in the Braves clubhouse by reassuring that team that they're playing "good baseball" and that nobody would be worried about this losing streak if it happened in July. Well, Jason Foster of The Sporting News caught wind of this and let's just say that he disagrees with Fredi.
Oh, Fredi. Thou shalt not lie. There's no need for fabrication. Wait, unless you really believe it. Do you really believe it? Because the Braves have been bad in just about every aspect so far this season. It's not even really debatable.
Personally, I can't wait to see what people think of this particular comment from Fredi after last night's contest.
Fredi on Chacin: "It’s one of those decisions later in the summer where if you’ve got a winning streak going...you maybe let him hit."— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) April 13, 2016
While Fredi may be catching some deserved flack for in-game decisions and media comments, one acet where he seems to be ahead of the curve is how he's tackling the late-game bullpen situations for the Braves. Granted, it seems to be done out of necessity, but the Braves do not have a set closer. Instead, Fredi has decided that the best way to deal with things is to have Arodys Vizcaino deal with high-leverage situations -- whether they're in the 8th or 9th inning -- and put Jason Grilli in for lower-leverage situations. The crew at Baseball Prospectus is thrilled with this development in tactics.
There’s been an Avogadro’s Number of articles written about how the rigid "ninth inning only" closer is a horribly inefficient use of the guy who is supposed to be the best reliever on the team. And this year, the Braves(!) are finally going to do something about it. They’ve told Vizcaino that he is their ace reliever and that he will pitch to protect a close lead. The Braves innovation? Before the eighth inning, manager Fredi Gonzalez will look at who’s due up for the opposing team. If it’s the heart of the order, Vizcaino will go in and pitch the eighth. Someone else (on Opening Day, it was Jason Grilli) will handle the ninth against what is likely to be inferior competition and hopefully notch the "save." If the 7-8-9 guys are due up for the other team in the eighth, Grilli will pitch to them, hopefully with Vizcaino ready to protect a still-extant lead in the ninth inning. The plan is beautiful in its simplicity.
While our Braves keep on losing, the Baltimore Orioles just keep on winning. They are now 7-0 after they knocked off the Red Sox 9-5 on Tuesday night. J.J. Hardy hit two homers and had five RBIs for the O's, and Manny Machado continued his seven game hitting streak, and they were the two main contributors to another good night for Baltimore. You don't become a playoff contender in April, but the O's are keeping the dream alive with this positive start.
So, who here knew who Jeremy Hazelbaker was before he was one of the three Cardinals who hit pinch-hit homers in that one game last week against the Braves? I'd imagine that a good chunk of St. Louis' fanbase had no idea who Hazelbaker was until he made the team coming out of camp. However, after the start that he's gotten off to this season, he's become a known commodity for the Cardinals, and he could become the latest one of their prospects to come "out of nowhere" and produce for St. Louis at the major league level.
It is much too early to say how long this will last. The speed is there. The power is there. The playing time is there. Hazelbaker has always struck out a lot. If he keeps his walks up, the high strikeout numbers will not matter much. His projections are modest, as we would expect from a 28-year-old who struggled just two seasons ago. If there are holes in Hazelbaker's swing that have yet to be exploited by major league pitching, this might be just a blip and a neat story. If those adjustments he made closed down some of those holes and he can make just a bit more contact than expected, maybe he is the next stroke of luck in a long line for the Cardinals.