Jonah Keri nailed the Braves' collapse yesterday. In short, the team's two best starting pitchers are hurt, O'Ventbrel has been the strength of the team but are now running out of gas after having been used all year, and the offense isn't good enough to pick up the slack with Heyward, Gonzalez, and Prado all having had disappointing years at the plate. It's surprising that the Braves have blown most of a giant lead, but they were overachieving to have that lead in the first place.
My first impulse when the collapse started was to miss Bobby Cox. Bobby had plenty of shortcomings as a tactician, but he was a master of keeping an even keel in the clubhouse and creating an environment where players didn't panic. Cox didn't leave a trail of players with whom he had major fallings out like Tony LaRussa has. Cox's teams never collapsed during a season. In fact, the Braves had a lifetime's worth of playoff disappointments during Cox's tenure, but there were no instances of the team blowing a big lead in a series. (OK, maybe the '96 World Series was a collapse, but I view that more as an instance of bad luck. Game Five was especially galling.) Fredi is presiding over a phenomenon that did not occur during the Cox years.
That said, there are at least two ways to defend him from this criticism. The first is that it is unfair to measure him against a Hall of Fame manager. The second is the point that Keri makes. It's not really Fredi's fault that Jurrjens and Hanson are sidelined. I doubt that it is his fault that Derek Lowe is in the toilet. He bares some responsibility for O'Ventbrel running out of gas, but it's not like he had a lot of options during the season, given the players who were rounding out the rest of the bullpen. Maybe he is responsible for the disappointing season from the offense, but that's more of a general criticism than it is a placement of blame on Fredi for what has happened in September.
Overall, this race to the playoffs seems a little pointless. Yes, the baseball playoffs are a game of chance, but the Braves would be sitting at the Blackjack table with a 15 and the dealer showing a face card. Does anyone have faith that the rotation as currently constituted would be able to hold up against a playoff-quality lineup? Or that O'Ventbrel will suddenly find their second winds? Or that Jason Heyward will make up for a lost season with a burst of hitting that reminds us of the form he showed last year? This is my 27th season cheering for the Braves, but I am having a hard time working up the emotional energy to care about what would seem on the surface to be a devastating prospective collapse.