From his view in the press box, Braves TV broadcaster Chip Caray, sees the team’s success as a strange kind of calculus.
“The great thing that characterizes this 2013 Braves team is that the individual pieces are not as good as the collective whole of the ball club,” he said. “The amazing thing about this team is that Fredi Gonzalez has had his envisioned starting players together in the lineup just 28 times, yet they have the best home record in baseball. They have the best record in the National League, and they’ve really run away with the Division after the All-Star break. The next logical question is how does this happen, because it’s not supposed to.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez thinks there was more than luck involved.
“I think you create your own luck, really, you create your own good fortunes,” Gonzalez said. ”But you gotta have pretty good pitching. I think good players, good athletes cover up a lot of bad coaching mistakes.”
And the Braves have had good pitching.
“Our pitching keeps us in the ballgame. It’s the adage of good pitching beats good hitting every single night. Knock on wood, our starting pitching has been consistent. The end of our baseball games with [closer] Craig Kimbrel – you feel good when you hand the ball off to Craig.”
But this season, injured Braves pitchers could have filled an orthopedic clinic. Ace Tim Hudson broke his ankle, Brandon Beachy had Tommy John surgery, Paul Maholm was out for 30 days with a wrist problem, lefty Eric O’Flaherty worked 19 games before he left for the season, and Johnny Venters hasn’t pitched at all. Other teams may have been tempted to trade for replacements, but the Braves already had them in their organization.
“The farm system has always been an incredibly rich and vibrant pipeline of young talent,” Caray explained. “The Braves have always nurtured, drafted, developed young starting pitchers and when they get to this ball club, they are put in a system that allows them to flourish, and grow and learn, and have success which then breeds confidence which then breeds more success.”
Four of the Braves starting pitchers – Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, and Mike Minor – all came up through the farm system.
The development of young players in the Braves organization is just one part of the system left by former manager Bobby Cox, who led the Braves for 24 years. When he retired in 2010, Gonzalez, who had been a Braves third base coach and the club’s Triple A manager, took over the skipper’s reins. To Gonzalez, the Cox legacy doesn’t cast a shadow, it shines a light.
“He’s my biggest fan,” Gonzalez said. “I get a text every night from him You know, we lose five in a row, and I make a bonehead move or screw up a game and he’ll call me and say, ‘That’s what I would have done,’ knowing damn well that he wouldn’t have done that. That’s the support you have from him, so taking over his legacy was easy.”
What’s not entirely easy for Gonzalez is thinking about anything but baseball.
“That’s the hardest thing I have during the course of the season. I tell people I sleep like a baby. They say, ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah, I get up every three hours crying.’ It doesn’t shut down, you gotta continue thinking about stuff. My biggest thing is trust in your players and put them in a position you think they’re gonna be successful.”
Gonzalez tries to emulate Cox’s consistency. He points to a picture on his office wall of a lighthouse in a storm.
“You see that big 100-foot wave crashing through a lighthouse. You gotta withstand that. And that’s what I try to be. This game is hard enough to play without the manager or leader being an emotional roller coaster. And these guys that come in know that I am going to be the same guy every single day.”
And as the Braves approach the postseason, Gonzalez says he’s going to be that same guy every single day.