On May 20, the Atlanta Braves beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 2-0. Tim Hudson out-dueled David Price, and the Braves maintained their 1½-game lead in the NL East. To that point of the season, the Braves had scored six runs or more in almost half of their games. The one thing that eluded them during their September stumble -- a reliable offense -- was anything but a problem to start the season. The Braves looked like a divisional power.
Since then: chaos. Flames you can see from space. The next time you're thinking about an unbeatable team in April or May, remember that a week of losses might be just around the corner, and that makes everything look very, very, very different. Just over a week ago, the Braves were in first place. Now they're in last place. Last place!
Which isn't that big of a deal in the tightly grouped NL East. I just like to type things with exclamation points for maximum effect. Four games out in May (and a game-and-a-half back of the second wild card) isn't a good reason to trade Chipper Jones to the Orioles for a player to be named later. But in the middle of an eight-game losing streak, it sure feels like the Braves should do something. You know the well-reasoned sports-talk radio set will have some well-reasoned ideas. But, really, what do you do?
You can't lose faith in Freddie Freeman. The 22-year-old has gone 1-for-17 during the losing streak, but there's a pretty danged good reason -- he's waiting for glasses. Actually, that's a crazy reason -- there isn't some glass-grinding monkey at LensCrafters who's looking for OT? -- but Freeman hasn't played in a few days. It doesn't make sense to start monkeying around with his playing time, even if his on-base percentage is down to .303.
You can't lose faith in Jason Heyward, despite his miserable May. A big chunk of the master plan has to do with Heyward being good -- and soon. He was on fire through much of April, but the 22-year-old is still a work in progress, just like Freeman. There will be ups, there will be downs, and there will be diagonals. But the Braves have no choice but to let him play through this.
You can't lose faith in Mike Minor, even though he's been seven shades of terrible this season. Much like Tim Lincecum, Minor's strikeout-to-walk ratio hints at a pitcher who still has a lot of things going for him. But he's giving up the wrong hits at the wrong time, allowing home runs when it's especially damaging. Plus, the alternatives aren't appealing. Jair Jurrjens is a mess in AAA, and Julio Teheran isn't forcing his way into the rotation. The vaunted rotation depth is down to Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis' phone number scrawled on a cocktail napkin.
After an eight-game losing streak, it feels like something should be done, and that action needs to be taken. Except when you go through the roster, you can say "He should be better. He should be better. He should be better" almost to a man. Who should the Braves jettison after two months, Brian McCann? Tommy Hanson? Michael Bourn? All of these players are quite talented, and they're great bets to be good for the 2012 season.
Which is to say that the Braves should stand pat. Trust the roster they built. Ride the ups and downs as best they can, and hope they come out the other side with something resembling the team they thought they built. They had the talent to win the NL East last year, but they ran into a brick wall of bad luck. That shouldn't happen again this year.
Except that's the exact strategy the team had over the offseason. It's a justifiably stubborn strategy, but it's getting to be more and more nerve-wracking with each loss. The Braves should stand pat and ride out the storm. The difference between an eight-game losing streak and a garden-variety 2-and-6 rough patch is a bad break or two sprinkled in during the streak. But considering that the offseason was a void of activity, every loss brings the Braves closer to a move for a move's sake. Teheran in the rotation. Heck, Livan Hernandez in the rotation. A lot more Matt Diaz. A lot more Jack Wilson. Something, just to do something.
I'm pretty sure that any knee-jerk reaction the Braves could come up with would be a bad idea. But I'm also pretty sure that I have no idea what's going on with the Braves, Freeman, Minor or Heyward, nor do I have any idea if they'll be okay. But whereas I was cool with the stand-pat strategy of December, January, and February, it's looking a little freaky at the end of May.
And if I can sense that as someone who isn't emotionally invested in the team at all, you can be sure the people close to the team are freaking out just a bit. Eight-game losing streaks and first-to-last free falls will do that to an organization.