Cox preaches patience on Bad-News Braves
After making more errors than runs during a three-game disaster at CitiField this past weekend, the Atlanta Braves are poisoning the well of good will left by the pending retirement of manager Bobby Cox.
Meeting with reporters before Sunday’s game in Flushing, Cox probably felt like applying the local name to most of the men on his roster.
“We just have to be patient,” he said when asked whether he planned any radical changes. He also defending hitting coach Terry Pendleton, a former National League batting king who is the chief target of blame-slingers.
Had he lost his patience in any of the three games against the Mets, Cox would have been justified.
Chipper Jones, who usually turns into an attack dog whenever he sees a Mets uniform, proved more helpful than harmful to the other team. His first-inning throwing error Sunday allowed the game’s only run to score, marring a strong pitching performance from Tommy Hanson in a game mercifully shortened by showers.
The errant throw was bad but earlier errors were worse:
Brian McCann showed no knowledge of the Infield Fly rule.
Melky Cabrera and Omar Infante allowed two catchable pop flies to drop between them.
Yunel Escobar failed to hustle on two infield grounders, allowing the Mets to complete double-plays, and then pulled the Rock of the Season by failing to tag up from third on a Troy Glaus fly to deep right with one out.
Martin Prado, trying to advance from second to third, saw Escobar standing on the bag and got caught in a rundown while trying to retreat to second.
Eventually, both runners were out and the Braves had a big zero on the board after having men on second and third with one out.
This is a team that doesn’t hit with men on base: it failed to hit a single home run with the bases loaded last season.
It is also a team that doesn’t run:
In his meeting with the media, Cox facetiously asked whether Rickey Henderson might come out of retirement to serve as the leadoff hitter he needs so desperately.
During its record 14-year run of divisional titles, the Braves had such leadoff studs as Otis Nixon, who stole a team-record 72 bases one season, and Deion Sanders, whose dalliance with football probably diluted his diamond skills.
Now Cox can’t coax a hit from Nate McLouth, Matt Diaz, or Cabrera, whose combined incompetence gives Atlanta the worst leadoff production — and the worst outfield — in the big leagues.
If not for heralded rookie Jason Heyward, a 20-year-old slugger still adjusting to major-league pitching, the whole caboodle could be shipped off to Triple-A Gwinnett County without a whimper.
Only weeks ago, when he was tearing the cover off the ball in spring training, Cabrera was considered the steal of the winter. His age (25), Yankee pedigree, and ability to switch-hit won him a spot in the lineup, alternating between left and center while hitting first.
Once the season opened, however, Cabrera did a Punxatawney Phil, disappearing into the ground for six more weeks of winter. Maybe he’ll resurface by Memorial Day, while the rest of the Braves wonder whether he misses best friend Robinson Cano so much that he forgot how to play ball.
For the Braves, the worst part of the weekend might have come before the game Saturday. Cox, sitting on the bench, noted that Kelly Johnson had hit two home runs for Arizona while Andruw Jones had hit a pair for the Chicago White Sox. For good measure, Adam LaRoche had one for the D’backs and Jeff Francoeur was ripping line drives for the Mets ever since the season started.
Johnson, LaRoche, and Francoeur were Braves for at least part of last season, while Jones would have come back as a free agent for the relatively-low price of $500,000 — Cox admitted the team considered the signing before the Sox snatched the Curacao native last winter.
Wouldn’t an outfield of Francoeur, Jones, and Heyward look a whole lot better than the sickly crew the Braves are running out there every night? You bet it would.
And you can bet that Atlanta wouldn’t have left New York with its collective tail between its legs.
In 2009, when the offense was only marginally better than it is now, the Braves went 7-2 in New York. So far this year, they’re 0-3.
It’s a brand new year, all right, and Bobby Cox might be thankful to leave when it’s over. For the Braves, it already could be.
Even patience has its limits.
Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of The 300 Club: Have We Seen the Last of Baseball’s 300-Game Winners? The book will be published in mid-May but can be pre-ordered through amazon.com.