ATLANTA – At the start of spring training, Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones scanned the names above the clubhouse lockers and made a prediction.
“The organization is in pretty good hands for the next number of years with the amount of young talent that we have,” Jones said. “I guess we should consider ourselves lucky we have made the transition and stayed pretty competitive.”
Jones believed the Braves had survived their rebuilding year when they won the National League East in 2005 with an unusually high total of 18 rookies. They included such key position players as Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson and Wilson Betemit, and pitchers Kyle Davies, Chuck James, Blaine Boyer, Macay McBride and Joey Devine.
But that youth movement has been followed by a 2006 fall to last place in the division.
The Braves lost 17 of their first 19 games in June. They fell to 13 games less than .500 and 15 1/2 games out of first – low marks since the end of the 1990 season.
The team’s 10-game losing streak, which ended Friday, was its longest in 18 years.
“This streak is kind of going too far,” second baseman Marcus Giles said. “We’re too good of a team, we have too good of players in here, to accept this.”
Many observers picked the New York Mets or Philadelphia to win the division, but no one expected the Braves to fall to the bottom.
Now the Braves are asking the same questions as their fans: What happened? How has the team which in 1991 went from worst to first to play in the World Series and start a run of 14 straight division titles fallen from first to worst? How can they salvage the season?
“If we knew that, we’d have fixed it a while back,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “That’s the question, right now, that we can’t answer.”
Said pitcher Tim Hudson: “We’re just not very good right now. We’ve got to do everything better.”
The bullpen is the league’s worst, but injuries are a big reason. Braves pitchers already have spent more time on the disabled list than in any of the previous 15 full seasons.
General manager John Schuerholz expected Boyer, Devine and John Foster to join Chris Reitsma in late-inning duty, but all four are out with injuries. Foster had Tommy John surgery on June 6. Boyer had shoulder surgery in April. Neither has appeared in a game this season for Atlanta. Devine has spent most of the season in extended spring training with a back problem.
After posting a 9.11 ERA while losing the closer’s job, Reitsma was placed on the 15-day disabled list June 12 with ulnar neuritis.
Braves pitchers already have spent more than 700 days on the disabled list.
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