The Braves record currently stands at a miserable 4-15. It's a rather ugly record, but not a particularly surprising one given that Atlanta is currently in the midst of the tankiest-tank that ever tanked. Let's review the roster for a brief moment.
It's bad. It's worse than warm beer on a hot Atlanta summer day, but it's by design. The Braves have spent the last year or so jettisoning assets in the name of accumulating prospects and desirable draft picks. The ethics of this approach to roster-building is a debate with many intricate sides but it's not as if John Hart is trying to take this roster to the World Series.
That means we can't exactly fault Fredi Gonzalez for putting this lineup together, right?
The Braves aren't trying to win, right? So it's not an absolute crime to bat Freddie Freeman sixth and A.J. Pierzysnki cleanup... no?
Except it is. Even when the Astros were at their absolute worst, Jose Altuve was still batting at the top of the lineup. The Cubs never hit Anthony Rizzo in the bottom third of the order. We know that lineup construction has minimal correlation with winning, but, at the same time, there is some correlation. It feels inherently wrong to look at a lineup and see the player who's easily the best on the team hitting all the way down in the six spot.
Freeman had struggled mightily entering Monday's game. He was hitting just .177/.311/.258, a far cry from his excellent career norms. Sometimes managers will lower hitters in the batting order if they're going through a rough patch. Indeed, that was the explanation that Gonzalez offered before the game. However, this is Freddie Freeman, and this is the Braves. The Braves, who have hit just three home runs as a group. It may have been a bad month for Freeman, but he's still the most talented player on the team and it's shocking to see him not in the heart of the order.
It's also shocking to see Pierzynski where Freeman should be. It's not as if Pierzynski, a 39-year old catcher, is having himself a good season. He was hitting just .233/.298/.256 when Gonzalez filled out the lineup card.
This leads us to our big question. Was this lineup a product of Gonzalez being a poor manager, or all in the name of the tank?
One doesn't need to dig all that deep into the bowels of the internet to find griping about Gonzalez's managerial decisions. There's a small library's worth of qualms over his day-to-day decision making, and of course, the whole incident where he had Craig Kimbrel ready to go in the bullpen with the tying run on base in a playoff game.
He didn't go to Craig Kimbrel. So, there's that. Gonzalez bumping Freeman down in the order may just be an earnest effort to get his one good player firing on all cylinders again. As for Pierzynski batting cleanup, it's likely a simple factor that someone has to bat in that spot. The duty fell to Pierzynski as a cruel matter of default. Perhaps 'veteran presence' is to blame here.
That all being said, putting Freeman in the six hole could have led to him struggling even more. What incentive would the Red Sox have to give Freeman anything to hit when they could have pitched to Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith and pitcher Julio Teheran? Freeman managed to walk away with two hits, of course, but it isn't the best way to try to nudge a hitter towards productivity.
The two hits weren't enough for the Braves. They lost 1-0 to the Red Sox. Kimbrel picked up a save against his old club. The loss was bad for Braves fans, for Gonzalez's managerial record, and for the team's place in the standings.
It was good for the organization's goal. Another loss, another step towards the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, another step towards increasing the size of the army of prospects in the farm system, another step towards Teheran and others being traded in July. It was aided by a questionable managerial move that was only the latest in a long line of missteps. It seems that Gonzalez's continued presence in the dugout may in fact be a way for the front new office to ensure that the tank has as much potency as possible.
Freddie Freeman got his two hits. The Atlanta front office got their loss. We can chide Gonzalez for his decision to bat his star behind Jeff Francouer, and somewhat rightfully so. But there are only so many bats in the lineup, only so much talent on a roster that more resembles a Triple-A team than a team that once rampaged through the NL East with regularity.
Perhaps this will be the start of a slow slog back towards statistical relevancy for the star first baseman. Even if he bats .330 from here on out, it won't matter. He is trapped in baseball purgatory. Baseball isn't basketball. He can't singlehandedly push Atlanta into mediocrity. He can only bat when the lineup card dictates, do his best to help his laughable team win, and pray that change comes as quickly as possible.