I repeatedly tried to assuage the fears of Braves fans that Fredi Gonzalez was a strategically poor manager who got the job to replace Bobby Cox based on Braves ties and his reputation as a man who controlled the clubhouse.
He did some strange things as manager of the Marlins, but his teams were always competitive and—apart from Hanley Ramirez—played the game hard and correctly.
But 17 games into his first season as the Braves manager, Gonzalez is inviting legitimate bewilderment into his decisions. Not only is he backtracking on his statements that implied he was sticking with his choices for the time being as was the case with Jason Heyward batting sixth (he’s now batting second); but he’s also vacillated on the spring training pronouncement that both Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel would be used as the designated closer based on matchups. It’s been Kimbrel, period.
Sunday’s game against the Mets was a case study in managerial idiocy that cost the Braves a win against a reeling and desperate club that resorted to using starting pitchers Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey in relief to try and snap a 7-game losing streak.
In the second inning trailing 2-1, Gonzalez called for a suicide squeeze with Tommy Hanson at the plate, 2 strikes, 1 out and Eric Hinske on third. Hanson can’t hit; nor can he bunt. Hinske can’t run. It made absolutely no sense especially with Mets-killer Martin Prado on deck.
In the eighth inning, Brian McCann got picked off first base on a failed steal attempt with Hinske at the plate and Jason Isringhausen on the mound. Heyward had drilled Isringhausen’s first pitch over the center field fence; McCann had walked. With one out, the call was ludicrous with Hinske at the plate and Chipper Jones on deck.
The Braves fans who thought Gonzalez’s penchant for “doing stuff”—a common frailty among managers—was a recipe for disaster are seeing their nightmare come to life.
With a team this talented, presumably the manager’s game-costing decisions will be muted by sheer ability; but if the Wild Card/division comes down to one or two games, Gonzalez’s missteps could cost the Braves a playoff spot.
One unknown is where GM Frank Wren stands in all of this.
Does he question his manager—as is his right—after a gaffe-laden adventure like Sunday afternoon? Or does he let it go, confident that things will work out in the end?
If I were the GM, I’d be all over my manager for any decision I saw as questionable. It’s not out of line for the baseball boss of the organization to ask his field manager why he did what he did. There are the Tony La Russa-types who chafe at having their judgment and lines of office being crossed; they have a “how dare you?” reaction when questioned, but that shouldn’t preclude the GM from doing his job regardless of poor body language and short-tempered reactions from the manager.
It’s within the GM’s job description to oversee his manager. It’s not in the vein of a Moneyball-style middle-manager who takes orders, but an honest discussion between people who have to work together to make sure things run smoothly.
Did Wren step in with Heyward batting second? Possibly.
Did he question Gonzalez as to why he didn’t tell Hanson to stand there with the bat on his shoulder and wait to strike out to give Prado a chance to drive in runs? Why he had McCann stealing a base?
If he didn’t, he could’ve.
I’ll be hosting a discussion group on TheCopia.com starting this afternoon around 12:30-1:00 Eastern Time. Given my history of saying lots of stuff, it should be….interesting.
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