Braves bringing back Fredi, entire staff in '12
Manager, players trying to cope with late-season swoon
ATLANTA -- September proved to be a month that will haunt the Braves for many weeks to come and quite possibly until they have a chance to once again secure what they squandered over the past few weeks.
But as Braves general manager Frank Wren digested the completion of his club's historic late-season collapse, he was unwilling to allow it to lead him to seek a fall guy on his coaching staff.
Wren confirmed Thursday afternoon that manager Fredi Gonzalez and the members of his staff will return for the 2012 season. But at the same time, Whren adamantly said there would be lots of time spent over the next few weeks evaluating how to prevent a repeat of the nightmare finish the club completed with Wednesday night's 13-inning loss to the Phillies.
"This [coaching staff] had us in position to have the best record in baseball through the first five months of the season," Wren said. "We had a lot of things that went right. We also had a lot of things that didn't go right in September.
"From our standpoint, there is plenty of blame to go around for what happened. We're going to meet internally and talk about everything that possibly could contribute to what happened. We're going to work to fix it. We feel like the guys we have on this coaching staff are capable of fixing it."
This is certainly a subject Wren and Gonzalez had never planned to address as early as Thursday. The Braves owned an 8 1/2-game lead in the National League Wild Card with 23 games to play and a three-game lead with just five games to play.
But while losing 16 of their final 23 games and each of their last five, the Braves suffered an epic collapse. Had their rookie closer Craig Kimbrel simply preserved the one-run ninth-inning lead he was given Wednesday, they would have been playing the Cardinals on Thursday night in a one-game tiebreaker to determine which team would be the NL's Wild Card entrant.
Instead, when the Braves awoke Thursday morning to the realization the nightmare they had experienced was not confined to a dream, they found themselves not leading or tied for the Wild Card for the first time since June 4.
"It is what it is," Gonzalez said. "It's not like we can close our eyes and it goes away. It happened."
"It's a helpless feeling," Wren said. "There were no shortage of meetings. There was no shortage of conversations. Everything was thought of and tried over the last three weeks and none of it seemed to work."
As Jonny Venters, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and some of the other Braves filtered into the clubhouse at Turner Field Thursday afternoon to gather their belongings, they were still displaying a sense of shock.
Things were already starting to spiral out of control before the Braves went to St. Louis on Sept. 9 and were swept in a three-game series by the Cardinals. One week later while playing the Mets in Atlanta, the dependable Venters blew a two-out eighth-inning lead for the second time in the month.
But Chipper Jones really started to get worried on the evening of Sept. 19, when he lost a two-out chopper in the lights at Sun Life Stadium. Two pitches later, Omar Infante drilled a walk-off homer to hand Kimbrel one of the three blown saves he suffered in September.
"When you lose a ground ball in the lights and the next guy hits a two-run homer to beat you, you kind of get the feeling something is out of your control, something is going on," Jones said. "It seemed like from that point on, we were playing more to protect the lead than to try to extend it."
With injuries taking Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson out, the rotation included three rookies in September. Still, while they did not pitch deep into games, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado certainly did not embarrass themselves.
It seemed the Braves were more affected by what their offense did not accomplish, hitting .187 with runners in scoring position during the final 22 games. They scored two runs or fewer 10 times in September and in five of their last seven games.
"If you look at the offense the whole year really, it never clicked for whatever reason," Gonzalez said. "It never clicked."
With the offensive woes, there were many who wondered whether the Braves would keep hitting coach Larry Parrish, whom Wren hired last October to replace Terry Pendleton, who took over first-base coach duties. But Gonzalez said he saw no reason to part ways with Parrish.
"I think if you hire people, let them do their job," Gonzalez said. "If they're organized, detailed and they work ... it's easy to fire somebody and just kind of throw somebody to the wolves. That's not the way I work.
"You want coaches to be able to come in here and work in a good environment and not be worried looking over their shoulders about that kind of stuff. I'm sure LP will sit back and evaluate some things and maybe do some things different, like we all will."
Gonzalez admitted he barely slept after Wednesday's loss. Instead he spent time wondering how things might have been different had he made a couple different decisions. Like fans, he wonders how things might have been different had he continued to play Jose Constanza instead of Jason Heyward, or kept Jones in the second spot of the lineup, or opted to pitch around Hunter Pence Wednesday night.
"These next three or four days, there's going to be a lot of ifs, could have, should have on my end," Gonzalez said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.