10 for 00’s: 2006 Atlanta Braves

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.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

37 thoughts on “10 for 00’s: 2006 Atlanta Braves”

  1. JonathanF, thank you. Mac was a hoot. You and your co-contributors honor him with your excellence. Thanks again.

  2. This was the first time I remember the notion of a “June Swoon” — God, it took hardly any time at all for the devastation to acquire an air of inevitability. What a crappy ballclub.

    But 2008 was worse.

  3. Ah, memories. 2006 was also notable for being the first year in which Blaine Boyer’s ERA for the team was 40.50.

  4. Another-Nice-Mess Dept.
    That June was brutal. We started the month 2 games over .500 & ended it 12 games under. Splat.

    I remember the Braves limped into The Bronx at the end of that month. I had some friends visiting from Georgia & we took in the whole series with a couple Yankee-fan friends of mine. Somehow the Braves split the first 2 games and went into extras in the rubber match – a mid-week, day game.

    Marcus Giles hit a solo HR in the top of the 12th – a real fence-scraper, IIRC – for a one-run lead & Bobby summoned Jorge Sosa from the pen to close out the series. One of my Yankee friends asked: “Sosa? Is he any good?”

    My reply: “Well, I’ll say this for him… he’s certainly capable of giving up a walk and a homer at any time.”

    And like Sosa himself was listening, he promptly walked Jason Giambi & gave up a no-doubter blast to A-Rod that landed beyond the LF bullpen – a titanic shot that sounded like an M-80 going off on your front porch. Ballgame, 4-3 Yanks.

    As my Yankee friends were high-fiving, I turned and looked at my Georgia pal & we just stared at each other for a second. And at the same time, with much resignation, we both said, “Well…”

    I’d like to think it was a little bit Matthau/Lemon, but it was probably more Laurel & Hardy. Then we trudged out of the stadium to a Dominican bar on River Avenue. Three Heinekens for $10, indeed.

  5. That particular player has rarely been referred to on this blog by his first and last name.

    Based on his record of accomplishments, back in July 2006, Mac decided that he would exclusively refer to him by a pseudonym:

    I’ve heard that when Don Zimmer was managing in Boston, one of their sports radio shows had a policy that nobody was to use his given name but had to refer to him as “Chiang Kai-Shek”. I am imposing a similar policy. From now on, No. 34 of the Braves must be referred to here as “Kim Jong-Il”.

    (Glossary entry.)

  6. @7

    I shall remember, instinctively, that three homer night in Boston.

    He himself could not believe it.

    Fare thee well.

  7. That actually feels like a good deal for Miami. Two years, $5 million is a pretty low risk to take on a very cromulent fourth outfielder who actually was pretty excellent in 2020, and there’s a nonzero chance he’ll actually earn that extra $4 million for the 2022 salary. I can’t see why we wouldn’t go that far with him.

    But all of these outfielder contracts have been crazy reasonable. Rosario, Pederson, all these guys have been going for cheap.

  8. @9 Then why can’t WE get one? I’d have loved to have Duvall come back but perfection would be a left-handed Duvall.

    On the other hand, the Marlins stole Matt Joyce last year. We could return the favor this year.

  9. @9

    That’s not 2 for 5. It’s 1 for 5 or 2 for 9

    Still, pretty reasonable but nearly half of the rumored 10 the Braves have remaining. A 1M $ option is out there that can provide similar production, albeit with less power, and be better against RHP.

    Who? Several, this is one Alex isn’t making me sweat by waiting it out.

  10. Fair enough. It’s one year, $5 million, giving themselves the option of a second year for an additional $4 million. All seems pretty reasonable to me and not dreadful for Duvall either, given what a nightmarish year he had in 2019, though after the year he had in 2020 — or even just the September he had, since that one month was nearly half the season — he certainly might have hoped for more.

  11. @12, 2018 was the nightmarish year. In 2019, he raked at AAA and then hit enough HR in 130 PA with Atlanta to OPS+ 117.

  12. Braves signed Nate Jones to a minor league deal. He was quite bad in 2020, giving up 21 runs in 18 innings for the Reds as a 34-year old. He’s otherwise had a solid career as a middle reliever, but as it tends to happen to 34-year olds, he will be 35 this year.

  13. I’m a bit surprised at how effective Jones has been — career 3.31 ERA and a 2.94 K/BB in nearly a decade of work.

    However, he’s only worked more than 30 innings in a season three times: 2012, 2013, and 2016, and as you’d expect, he’s had a whole bunch of injuries and surgeries. So his legs may be 35 but his arm has aged in dog years. My standard practice is to expect less than nothing and if he does anything at all I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  14. @20–I haven’t taken seriously the prospect of Kakes returning, but all of a sudden it’s looking like a real possibility. Surely there is a better option out there for a spare outfielder and pinch hitter. Who is available that is left?

  15. I’d throw Smitty out there. Then he can come in relief with the Eephus.

    I mean, if Kakes was only a PH against RHP and a sparingly-used corner OF for a $1M, I can live with that. Ick.

  16. Looking at Nick’s postseason stats from last year, it said he hit a triple in the NLCS. When did he hit a triple???

    He was better in the NLCS than I remembered. Just as bad in the first two rounds as I remembered.

  17. Nick is an easy decision for me as a 4th OF. He has gotten a majority of the playing time in RF up to this point, so he would naturally seem like an upgrade for the bench.

    With Ender probably being a piece of the bench, unless he gets injured, we need someone who can hit and field some for the OF.

  18. Keith Law ranks our farm system as the 6th-best in baseball:

    The Atlanta system that was the envy of baseball a few years ago remains strong, but it’s starting to thin out due to a slew of promotions, some minor trades and their exile from the international free agent market, which starts to end this year. Their pipeline of pitching will hit a brief gap after this current wave, headlined by Ian Anderson, ends with promotions this year; the next potential starters beyond back-end guys after him and Tucker Davidson will probably spend 2021 in Low A. They do have some surplus talent in the outfield they could use for a trade, and it looks like they have their catcher of the future in Shea Langeliers, addressing a longtime organizational hole, but they’re banking on some development by some high-ceiling, lower-probability draft picks to keep the train rolling.

    https://theathletic.com/2375784/2021/02/10/mlb-2021-farm-system-rankings-keith-law/

  19. Agreed with Chief that Jeter is doing a good job.

    Agreed with Keith Law about the state of our farm.

    We are so close to baseball, friends. We have seen 75 games since October of 2019. May we never be this derived of baseball ever again.

  20. As usual Braves sit and watch everyone else get better in division . Very frustrating watching other not afraid to pull trigger .. make Oakland or Cleveland offers they cant refuse .. for their 3B .. we need another piece to keep up in division

  21. It would really suck if Freddie and Ozzie went down a sinkhole….

    @31 I feel like the offense is in a an ok place right now. I’m counting on Acuna and Albies feeling better, swanson and riley to develop some more.
    I worry more about the pitching; Soroka’s health, the new guys doing their part and Ian and Max not regressing much.

  22. @32 …hope you are right .. Acuna SO pct is alarming .. I can live with a 8th place hitter in Pache or Inciarte .. but all other spots need to be producers .. 3B is my only question .. I like Riley alot .. great power .. he improved on slider .. hopefully he improves more .. if he does then bench OF and IF and a reliever need addressed .

  23. @33 Luckily there are still good quality relief options available, including a couple from last year; no one left should be too expensive.
    Acuna swinging through pitches (middle middle fastballs, usually) was definitely worrisome last year. I think it can be attributed mostly to injury. If not, get him Lasik, in a hurry!

    IF Riley can be consistent, that would be so great for the whole offense….I think he ended last year, last 33 games or so, with a .300/ .345/.450 line (something like that). That is good enough , IMHO.

  24. @34 Definitely wasn’t his last 33 games as that would have been half the season. If we take a much more generous sample size of his last 8 games in September, Riley hit .290/.371/.452. It’s such a small sample, though, that if you adjust to only his last 7 games, it looks much worse.

    There are two lines of thinking with third base. The first is that third base is obviously not a sink hole in the mind of the Braves. They’re comfortable with Austin Riley there. However, the other line of thinking is that Riley is versatile and can play LF, which enables the Braves to broaden their search for talent. The truth is we still need another OF, ya know, in case something happens to Pache. No one wants Inciarte starting in LF.

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