MLB Team Report - Atlanta Braves - INSIDE PITCH


ATLANTA -- It was during the dog days of July that the wheels came off for the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves were in sole possession of first place on July 18 with a 53-43 record. They were within a half game of the Nationals on July 28.

The Braves stopped hitting home runs and began losing games. An eight-game losing streak that swept them out of contention and the Atlanta never found its way back into the postseason race.

The team finished 79-83 and 17 games out of first. They dropped into a tie with Mets for second place in the National League East and fired their general manager along the way.

Not quite what they have in mind when they refer to the "Braves way."

"If you can take something out of it, something positive, it's that you don't want this to happen again," first baseman Freddie Freeman said.

It got even worse.

The Braves went 7-18 in September and watched as Washington and Pittsburgh celebrated playoff-clinching moments at Turner Field. It was the worst finish for the club since going 72-90 in 2008.

The offense was anemic and weak. They hit .241 (12th in the N.L.), hit 122 home runs (12th), averaged only 3.55 runs (15th) and struck out 1,360 times (third most). That wasted excellent pitching; the staff had a 3.40 ERA, the fourth-best in the league.

"In the second half we just really never put it together," Freeman said. "If we hit good one day, pitching gave up runs. Usually our pitching was pretty good all year. We just didn't do anything offensively. It's just one of those years, put it away as fast as you can. Starting looking forward to 2015."

The team of club president John Schuerholz, long-time manager and Hall of Famer Bobby Cox and special assistant John Hart are tasked with finding a replacement for ousted GM Frank Wren. It may wind up being Hart, a two-time MLB Executive of the Year, who has denied seeking the position.

Once a new GM is in place, the club must determine the fate of manager Fredi Gonzalez. Cox, who hand-picked Gonzalez as his successor, has already issued a vote of confident. But the new GM will like have the final say.

The club must then decide whether the 2014 season was an aberration or closer to reality than the 96-win team from 2013. Depending on that assessment, the Braves could make a few alterations or clear the decks for a total overhaul.

Despite a string of injuries, including a second Tommy John surgery for young starter Kris Medlen, the pitching staff was the team's strength.

The Braves got 33 starts each from veterans Aaron Harang, who they claimed off the spring training scrap heap, and Ervin Santana, who was signed as a free agent to a one-year deal just before the start of the regular season.

However, neither is under contract for 2015.

Right-hander Julio Teheran and lefty Alex Wood are two young players with bright future, but left-hander Mike Minor, who made much progress in 2012-13, seemed to take a step backward in his injury-riddled season.

Teheran (14-13, 2.89) made 33 starts, 26 of them quality starts, and led the team with 221 innings pitched. He struck out 184 and walked 51. Teheran is considered the only untouchable member of the starting rotation.