Braves’ replacements flounder in Game 1 loss

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With Dan Uggla off the roster and B.J. Upton on the bench, the Braves were banking on lesser names helping their cause against the Dodgers. It didn’t work in Game 1, as both left fielder Evan Gattis and second baseman Elliot Johnson had key misplays in the 6-1 loss.

Uggla and Upton are the Braves’ two highest-paid players, but the Braves are willingly going without both. It’s hard to argue against the decision considering those two hit .179 and .184, respectively, this season. Still, the Braves gave up defense in the outfield by playing Gattis, and it showed as he dove for and missed A.J. Ellis’s RBI double in the second.

Johnson, on the other hand, is in there because he’s a better defender than Uggla (and hopefully not any worse offensively). But he failed to haul in Carl Crawford’s grounder to begin the third. Adrian Gonzalez later hit a two-run homer with two outs. Johnson wasn’t charged with an error, but he’ll be the first to say he should have made the play.

On offense, Gattis did contribute a bloop single and and a couple of walks. Johnson went hitless.

Personally, I thought Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez should have handled September differently. After Upton’s horrible start to the year, he was in and out of the lineup the rest of the way. Gonzalez never benched him for long, but there was always that threat hanging over Upton’s head; anytime he put up a couple of 0-fors, he knew he’d sit for the next day or two.

With the Braves’ NL East lead in hand, Gonzalez should have gone to both Upton and Uggla and told them they’d be lineup fixtures for at least a couple of weeks, no matter what happened. Give these guys, who have been everyday players their entire careers, the chance to sink or swim. If they sunk, fine; the Braves still had the second half of September to let Gattis find his rhythm at the plate (Johnson has no rhythm).

When Upton came to the plate as a pinch-hitter against Clayton Kershaw tonight, it was his first at-bat in eight days. His last hit came all of the way back on Sept. 12. There was no reason at all to think he’d succeed.

Uggla, who returned from eye surgery on Aug. 28, did get a little flurry of playing time in the end, coming after a spell in which he started one game in nine days. He was lousy. He may well have been lousy anyway. Upton, too. But I don’t think Gonzalez put them in the best position to succeed.

Red Sox owner: “spending money helps”

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The other day Rob Manfred said, as he and other owners have said often in the past, that there is no correlation between payroll and winning. He said that defensively, in response to criticism of the slow free agent market of the past two offseasons.

As we have noted in the past, Manfred is not being honest about that. While, yes, in any given year there can be wild variation between payroll and win total — the Giants stunk last year, the A’s won 97 games — common sense dictates otherwise. What’s more, a recent study has shown that there is a pretty strong correlation between winning and payroll over time. Yes, you can fluke into a big season with a low payroll — Deadspin compared it to a cold snap occurring during a time of climate change — but if you want that “sustained success” teams claim they want, the best way to ensure it is to spend more money over time.

If you know anything about baseball labor history, though, you know well that the Commissioner and the owners will continue to mischaracterize the dynamics of the business as it suits them. Mostly because — present lefty sportswriters notwithstanding — very few people push back on their narratives. Fans tend to parrot ownership’s line on this stuff and, more often than not, baseball media acts as stenographer for ownership as opposed to critic. That gives owners a far greater ability to shape the narrative about all of this than most institutions.

Which makes this all the more awkward. From David Schoenfield of ESPN:

In apparent contradiction to his own commissioner, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said Monday that, while there is not a perfect correlation between a bigger payroll and winning, “spending more money helps.”

Which is right. The correlation is not perfect — teams can spend a lot of money on a bad team if given the chance and a low payroll team like the Rays can bullpen their way to 90 wins — but you’re way more likely to win year-in, year-out if you’re spending than if you go cheap all the time and hope for a miracle season.

Which is not to say that Henry is some labor activist owner. He and his fellow front office officials have a long history of backing the league office on just about everything that matters and will no doubt do so with labor matters in the runup to the next CBA negotiation. The owners tend not to have a solidarity problem.

But Henry does seem to draw the line at peddling baloney, which is a shockingly necessary thing when the league and the union’s relationship turns acrimonious.