CANOE Network SLAM!Sports

 
SLAM! Sports SLAM! Baseball
  Thu, September 9, 2004


BASEBALL NEWS
BLUE JAYS
COLUMNISTS
COMMENT
PHOTO GALLERY
VIDEO GALLERY
STANDINGS
STATISTICS
PLAYERS
INJURIES
TRANSACTIONS




NFL CANADA




The Braves proved us wrong
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

"Excuse me sir," we ask. "Is this where you line up?"

"Which line do you want?" comes the answer.

"The line you get into to say that you were wrong," we reply.

"Oh, about the Blue Jays?"

No, we weren't wrong about the Blue Jays.

We certainly didn't figure they would win 95 games. They went into the season without an established closer, with a bullpen based on hope and were expecting Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay to better career seasons.

We were wrong about the Atlanta Braves, though.

We're sorry we jumped off the bandwagon after 12 consecutive years of believing in the Braves. Now, as they head toward their 13th division title, we realize that it was a mistake.

GO PHILLIES GO

The feeling in spring training in Florida, whether it was in Clearwater, Dunedin, Tampa, or Lake Buena Vista, home of the Braves, land of the free and Mickey Mouse, was that the Philadelphia Phillies would win the National League East.

Plus, the 2003 World Series champs, the Florida Marlins, reside in the NL East.

And with the NL Central so strong -- the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals -- we figured the wild-card winner would come out of the central time zone.

Yet here are the mighty Bravos, with only closer John Smoltz remaining from their star-studded days, rolling along toward another October.

Smoltz watched a Montreal Expos-sized lineup of Braves stars depart for one reason or another: Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Tom Glavine, Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko.

There are two constants from 13 years ago: General manager John Schuerholz, who believes in scouts, stats and knowing a player's makeup; and manager Bobby Cox who, when he finishes managing the Braves and retires, next will be seen wobbling on his bad knees in Cooperstown, N.Y.

On Aug. 20, the Braves were hitting .267 as a team, which was in the middle of the NL pack, and were scoring an average 4.9 runs. Since then, the team average has climbed to .274, a huge hike in a short period so late in a year, while scoring 6.1 runs a night.

For 12 consecutive games in August, the Braves reached double-digit hit totals, the longest stretch in the majors since the 1999 Boston Red Sox had a 13-game streak.

Eight Braves compiled .300-plus averages for August, when the team recorded 20 wins for a second consecutive month for the first time in team history.

The Braves, at .274, now rank second to St. Louis (.277) in team average. Except for the 2003 Braves, who hit a franchise record .284, no Atlanta team has not hit higher than .274 in the past 56 years.

The 2004 season turned when Chipper Jones moved from left field to third, his position when he arrived in Atlanta in 1993.

Jones hit .337 in August, stirring memories of the 1999 season when he was the NL MVP.

That year, Jones hit 11 home runs in July and 10 each in August and September en route to a career-best 45 homers and 110 RBIs.

Right-hander Russ Ortiz wasn't bad either in August, going 7-0 with a 1.87 earned-run average in nine starts from June 26 to Aug. 8. He gave up only two homers during that stretch.

"So, you here to say you were wrong about the Braves?"

"Yep."