1991 is the demarcation year of the Atlanta Braves: worst-to-first and then excellence thereafter. 15 years of excellence. 2006 was when it all fell apart: not only did the Braves fail to win their division for the first time since 1990 (insert 1994 asterisk here) they fell below 0.500 for the first time: 79 wins and 83 losses.
That said, they played a little better than that. They were one of only three teams in franchise history to finish below 0.500 with a Pythagorean projection above 0.500. (The other two were the 1951 Boston team and the eternally perplexing [to me] 1973 squad.) They scored 849 runs, behind only the Phillies. The pitching was a problem, as they gave up 805, 20 above the league average (though fewer than the Phillies). So it’s not surprising that they didn’t win the division, but they clearly underperformed.
Even worse, the pattern of underperformance tells the tale. After a slow 10-14 start in April, the ship righted with an 18-11 May, followed by a terrible, horrible June: 6-21. 6-21 ought to be a day in June, not your record for the month. July saw a recovery to 14-10, but then two near-.500 months were just playing out the string. Just as one hot month can bring a championship, one terrible month can ruin a season. April 1988 (3-19) was worse, but these were the 1988 Braves fer crissakes: they lost 106 games. I can’t comment on the Boston Braves’ 7-20 September in 1949, but if there are any Braves fan still alive who remember that team, they’re probably still as depressed about that month as I am about June 2006. June 2006 has the largest divergence between final season winning percentage and monthly winning percentage for a full month (no March or October) in Braves history. It’s even worse (in difference in winning percentage, though not in pennant import) than the disastrous Fredifail in September 2011 (9-18 for a 89 win team.)
Going back and reading Mac’s old posts from June 2006 is horrifying.
On June 6: “The low point. I think this is the absolute lowest point the Braves have been in the last fifteen years. Lower than when they were way back of the Giants in 1993 (before the McGriff trade). Lower than when the strike hit. Lower than two years ago when I started talking about who the Braves should trade for prospects. They just suffered a four-game sweep at home at the hands of the Diamondbacks, and none of the games was a one-run game. In none of them did they play particularly well and lose. In none of them did they lead. Only the first game was close throughout.”
June 8: “I swear, I can actually smell the Braves from here. Or maybe that’s just an open sewer.”
June 17th: “Of course, the Braves are going to lose. But how? This time, they will rally back from 7-0 down to 7-6 in the ninth inning. Adam LaRoche will hit an apparent game-winning two-out, two-run homer. However, when rounding second, pinch-runner Pete Orr will be devoured by a pack of wolves that will run onto the field. LaRoche will be called out for passing him and the game will end.”
On June 20th, Rob Copenhaver won Mac’s “What’s Wrong with Marcus Giles?” contest that was going to be a Chris Reitsma contest, but he got put on the DL that day. https://bravesjournal.us/2006/06/14/contestgame-thread-june-14-braves-at-marlins/
June 21st: “What more is there to say? I’m spent. Okay… If Jays starter Ted Lilly married Meg Tilly, she’d be Meg Tilly Lilly.”
If anything, this season shows the problem with complacency. Schuerholz made fewer preseason changes in this off-season than in just about any off-season of his tenure. He dumped Dank Lob, decided (correctly) that Brian McCann was fully ready and turned Johnny Estrada into… Lance Cormier and Oscar Villareal. After losing Furcal to free agency, he got Edgar Renteria to play shortstop in a controversial trade that gave up Andy Marte. Sure the bullpen sucked, but that wasn’t addressed until the end of July when they acquired Bob Wickman. By then it was far too late.
The offensive side had five players with good seasons and three players with bad ones: Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Andruw Jones and Adam LaRoche were great (although LaRoche reserved his heroics for the second half of the season when the Braves were out of it) and Renteria was fine. But Marcus Giles, Ryan Langerhans and Jeff Francoeur failed to achieve anything close to replacement level. Somehow, Jeffy was granted yet another year of suckitude in 2007.
Of the starting pitchers, John Smoltz put together a fine season at 39. Tim Hudson ate innings. The second half of the season was most notable for a scorching hot Adam LaRoche and the half-season of rookie Chuck James, the only addition who helped (I’m calling Renteria for Furcal a wash). Unfortunately, his first starting outing was on June 25th, so he wasn’t available earlier. He pitched twice at the end of June, both Braves wins, and finished 11-4.
Of the relievers, other than late season pickup Bob Wickman, the less said the better. Some of their names live on: Rietsma Room, Kali Yates, Vulture Villareal.
It was also the last season under Time Warner ownership. Liberty Media bought a buncha losers. If John Malone cared about the team, as opposed to minimizing his taxes, that might have been important. The 2014-17 teardown was a lot worse than this, but this felt pretty terrible at the time. And the Braves wouldn’t return to the heights until 2010. And, when all is said and done, 79-83 is the sort of record that the late 80s Braves would have sold Princess Win-A-Lotta into prostitution for. But the worst-to-first Braves proved mortal, at last. The magic ran out. I hope you guys all enjoyed the run. I know I did.