Last September was one of the most exciting pennant races I’ve ever seen since I’ve been following baseball. Two teams, the Braves and the Red Sox, had what seemed to be insurmountable leads in their respective Wild Card races entering the month. Then, the unthinkable happened: Boston went 7-20 during September and Atlanta followed suit by going 8-18, both teams collapsing day-by-day for the entire World to see, and eventually losing their tickets to the post-season, which three weeks prior seemed to be in the bag. I read a great article by Jayson Stark of ESPN, which talked about how the Red Sox and Braves went completely different paths to prepare for 2012.
Up in Beantown, there was a complete overhaul and face lift, in an attempt to forget what happened last year and hope that a new regimen and new faces will bring better results. Down in Atlanta, GM Frank Wren not only kept his job, but didn’t make any major moves on the free agent market, even though he did try. Also, unlike Terry Francona, Fredi Gonzalez is still at the helm for the Braves.
Why did Atlanta not go through an extreme makeover after they blew a 10.5 game lead with 30 games to play? Well, they feel that they have made some “additions” with players on their roster getting healthy, both mentally and physically, such as Jason Heyward, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson. I find it amazing how quiet their collapse was compared to the one the Red Sox endured, and I think part of it can be attributed to the markets they’re in. Boston is one of the biggest baseball markets in the league, and there is a different mindset in Red Sox Nation due to their location and “win right now” mentality. Down in Atlanta, the organization and its fans have gotten used to consistency, especially since Gonzalez is only the third different manager since 1990. Since I am a witness to baseball in the Northeast, it seems to me as if Braves fans are willing to give this team a second chance, especially since it was mostly home grown talent and they had the fourth-best record in the MLB for most of the year.
The collapse of the 2011 Braves and their idea to stay intact this year to give the team another chance reminds me of the 2007 Mets and their epic failure. After being a game within going to the World Series in 2006, they surrendered a seven game lead with 17 games to play in September. The ownership and front office decided to give Willie Randolph and his players another chance in 2008, mostly because of the great success they had the year prior; so, they kept the team intact and added Johan Santana to head the starting rotation. Then, New York came out flat and was hovering around .500 three months into 2008, which led to Randolph being dismissed. At this point, I haven’t heard any analysts talking about Gonzalez on a hot seat, which is amazing in itself.
I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it’s hard not to be weary of it. As much as a manager and his coaching staff can tell players to forget last year and move on, they’re not going to. Even if they tell reporters they have forgotten about last year and are focusing on the season ahead, that’s not entirely true. If Atlanta gets off to a slow start, all of those questions will be asked again. Even if they do have a great year, once the calendar turns to September, those questions will be inevitable. Do I think the Braves still have a great team? Absolutely; however, I also think there is a possibility that they will come out flat, just like the 2008 Mets.
Which team has a better chance of bouncing back and making the postseason in 2012: the Red Sox or the Braves?