TODAY: The Braves have “become more receptive to” the idea of giving Gonzalez more time, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports. Inciarte is now back and the Braves have a more favorable schedule coming up, so Gonzalez could get “at least a couple more weeks” to get the team on track.
THURSDAY: The Braves have gotten off to the worst start in baseball (7-20 record with a -54 run differential), and the club’s dismal performance has led Atlanta officials to discuss the possibility of dismissing manager Fredi Gonzalez, reports MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. Were Gonzalez to be fired, the Braves would likely turn to bullpen coach Eddie Perez, at least on an interim basis, Bowman adds. Yestetrday, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale listed third base coach Bo Porter and first base coach Terry Pendleton as options when discussing Atlanta’s potential managerial changes.
Of course, as Bowman notes, it’s more than fair to wonder whether any manager could have navigated this roster to a respectable performance. The Braves never fancied themselves contenders in the NL East heading into the 2016 season, but the front office stressed over the winter that it felt the team would improve upon the club’s 67 wins in 2015. Instead, the Braves have seen astonishingly poor performances from a number of players, including infielders Erick Aybar, Jace Peterson (who was recently demoted to Triple-A) and Adonis Garcia. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski has also been among the league’s least-productive hitters, and veteran relievers Jim Johnson, Eric O’Flaherty and Jason Grilli are each sporting ERAs of 5.40 or worse. Gonzalez, of course, can’t be faulted for the fact that Ender Inciarte has played just three games this season, while Daniel Winkler will miss the year following an elbow fracture. Hector Olivera, whom the front office had been counting on to take a step forward, is currently in limbo as the league investigates him in connection with some truly troubling domestic violence allegations.
Then again, a team’s manager is often the first to take the fall when a club underperforms. Such was the case around this time last year when the Brewers fired Ron Roenicke and the Marlins parted ways with Mike Redmond. There’s been some recent buzz about future managerial candidates in Atlanta, with FOX’s Ken Rosenthal writing last week that it was “difficult to imagine” Gonzalez surviving this eight-game road trip, and Nightengale tweeting just yesterday that Bud Black was a strong candidate to manage the team in 2017. That type of talk from well-reputed reporters isn’t often pulled out of thin air, so the discussions among the Atlanta brass have likely been ongoing for a fair amount of time.
Bowman writes that “all indications” point to Gonzalez entering this weekend’s upcoming series in Arizona as the club’s skipper, and recent wins over the Cubs, Red Sox and Mets have helped his case to some extent. Atlanta’s best player, first baseman Freddie Freeman, voiced support for Gonzalez when speaking to Bowman and said that the blame should be placed on the players, not the manager. “We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day,” said Freeman. “We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.” As Bowman notes, there’s an argument to be made that with the Braves’ rotation only just now coming together — Julio Teheran, Jhoulys Chacin, Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler have all delivered fairly encouraging results recently — and Inciarte just now returning, Gonzalez should be given a lengthier look.
The 52-year-old Gonzalez has served as Atlanta’s manager since 2011, and the team is a combined 432-405 during that time even in spite of the woeful results from 2015-16. Gonzalez’s Braves posted winning records for his first three seasons as skipper and won the NL East in 2014, but there’s been a growing number of Atlanta fans calling for change since a late collapse in 2014. That year, the Braves got off to a 52-43 start before limping to a 27-40 record following the All-Star break. Overall, the team is just 101-155 dating back to the second half of that 2014 campaign.