The streakiest Braves team

The 2013 Braves are a much more talented version of the ’80 squad, the streakiest Braves team of them all.

Despite coming off yet another last-place finish, there was reason for optimism entering the season, Bobby’s third as Braves manager. Oft-maligned GM John Mullen had pulled off two shrewd deals, acquiring Doyle Alexander from Texas and Chris Chambliss from Toronto. I was thrilled by the Chambliss acquisition — a  guy with World Series rings was actually going to play for the Braves.

The offseason’s best move was switching Murph to the outfield from 1B, where he had committed 35 errors in 206 games. He was even worse as a catcher. Murph’s comfort in the OF translated to a breakout season at the plate, hitting 33 homers with an .858 OPS.

Teammate Bob Horner led the team with 35 homers, giving him 91 before his 23rd birthday. Glenn Hubbard and Bruce Benedict also showed promise, with Gary Matthews and Jeff Burroughs providing veteran ballast.

So, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Braves entered a season with hope. That lasted about a week.

The Braves didn’t score their first run in 1980 until the 7th inning of the third game. That’s a 25-inning streak of futility. The Braves had their first lead of the season, 4-1, heading to the bottom of the 7th in Cincy. The Reds scored 2 off Gene Garber but the good guys still led by 1 entering the bottom of the 9th.

Al Hrabosky, signed to a huge contract in the offseason despite struggling the previous year with the Royals, promptly blew his first save opportunity, thanks to a Dave Concepcion two-run, walk-off  homer. The next day, the Braves were shut out for the third time in four games.

Two losses in Houston followed. The Braves returned to Atlanta 0-6, having been outscored 36-10 on the road trip. Only 15,742 attended the home opener, a 4-1 loss to Cincy. Rick Matula’s only career shutout gave the Braves their first win in 8 tries, but they would lose the next two games to the Reds, dropping 8.5 games behind the division leaders after 10  games.

Bobby’s boys maintained an uninspiring pace over the next three months. A 5-3 loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 4 dropped them to a season-worst 12 games below .500. But what appeared to be another lost year took a most unexpected turn.

Over the next three weeks the Braves would score 7 or more runs 9 times, and on Aug. 27 they reached the .500 mark for the first time. Shortly thereafter they rolled off a season-best 7-game win streak, followed by a three-game sweep at the hands of the Reds, who would go 16-2 vs. the Braves that year.

The local nine rebounded to win four in a row, and a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Sept. 16 — their 30th win in 40 games — moved the Braves to within 6 of the division lead, at 76-68.

Alas, the faint whiff of a pennant race soon dissipated, as the Braves lost 11 of their last 15. The season would end as it started,  with  the Reds shutting out the local nine at Riverfront, leaving the Braves 81-80.

gomez_19642_1

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #3 Luis Gomez

Luis Gomez was a poor man’s Rafael Belliard, at least at the plate. Like Raffy, Gomez was smooth, if unspectacular, defensively. But Belliard was a regular Barry Larkin on offense compared to Gomez, the only player on our list who was traded for another of the 20 worst Braves, Pat Rockett (part of the deal that brought Chris Chambliss to Atlanta).

The Braves knew what they were getting in Gomez, a utilityman who came to Atlanta with a career .216 BA. They probably didn’t think he’d do much worse, but he did, batting .192 in 156 games with the Bravos. Of Gomez’s 60 hits only 6 went for extra bases. He had no homers, triples or stolen bases. Didn’t walk much either, which accounts for his .249 OBP.

Pitchers Doyle Alexander and Preston Hanna nearly matched Gomez’s meager .451 OPS in 1980 while Knucksie had just one less double.

Baseball Reference compares his career to that of the infamous Mario Mendoza, although the final Mendoza line (.215 BA) was five points higher than Gomez’s.