Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 – MLB – Recap – Cubs at Braves – 10/05/2003

Ah, hell.

This wasn’t really a game so much as it was a victory parade for the Cubs. The Braves never appeared to be in it, as the Cubs got single runs in the first and second and went up 4-0 on a homer in the sixth. That was it. The Braves at that point had had three baserunners, all with two out.

They had one chance, in the bottom of the sixth. Furcal walked, Giles singled, and Sheffield lined to center, where Lofton trapped the ball. Giles was thrown out at second as Furcal scored the only Braves run. Maybe if Giles gets to second in time, they could have rallied, but he didn’t, and Chipper grounded into a double play after that. The Braves never got the tying run to the plate.

I can’t feel bad for the Cubs or their fans, even if many of those fans appear to be drunken louts. Good luck against the Marlins, and good luck to the A’s or Red Sox, whichever team gets Team Evil in the ALCS. I’ll try to write a “Where Do We Go From Here” post soon.

The story will be “Braves Fail”, of course. It’s unfair, and yet it’s what the media always write. It was a bad matchup, and this team was never supposed to make it this far. Remember, before the season they were picked for 85 wins and second place by the smarter writers. (The dumb ones picked them third because they continue to take the Mets seriously.) They have nothing to be ashamed of. Except for Robert Fick.

49 thoughts on “Chicago 5, Atlanta 1”

  1. A truly great year. I’m sad it’s over. We needed Wood to have a wild outing, and he had a great outing.

  2. Was anyone else plotting to throw a bomb through Tim McCarver’s window after all the ranting about his Grand Slam where he was called out for passing the runner and the constant repetition of what should have happened and what actually did happen in the 6th inning on Sheffield’s hit? I was two seconds away from muting the damn TV when he was going on and on until the 8th inning about the umpires imperfection. As being an umpire myself, I would just love for him to be in that situation and have a split-second on whether he caught it or not.

    Also, it was incredibly frustrating to have FOX and ESPN broadcasters constantly reminding everyone of the “Braves’ failures in the postseason”, but stopping short of putting on their Cubs hats and jerseys. Not to defend their postseason implosions, but atleast they have been good enough to make it every year. They are jumping on the bandwagon of a team that lost almost 100 games last year and had a schedule mostly consisting of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. If Philadelphia or Montreal had those powerhouses to play half their games against, I’m sure they could muster a couple extra wins and be in the postseason, with the Cubs and their Triple-A lineup at home watching re-runs of The Fresh Prince of Bell-Air on WGN. They might as well put Chip Carey and Steve Stone in the FOX booths instead of those two douche bags. Sorry for my ranting, but that’s been in my mind all series…

  3. So is Sheffield leaving now?
    If so, hope we can get for him and Fick a low ERA middle reliever or starter (too bad we didn’t pick up Vazquez earlier), and a good hitter. Move Chipper to first since he isn’t doing well in left field.

    I think it would be nice if all the series were 7 games next year, like the announcers were saying might be something discussed in the offseason.

  4. What went right this year:
    Marcus Giles
    Furcal starting to walk again
    The Mike Hampton Experience
    Russ Ortiz for Moss
    Johnny F’ing Estrada went nuts in AAA
    Maddux as always

    What went wrong:
    the bullpen
    5 days in October

    Looks like a damn fine year.

  5. A seven game series and the better team wins. And I’m pretty sure that better team is the Atlanta Braves. But what are you gonna do?

    It’s too bad a good Cubs team wasn’t the one that ended that ridiculous streak they’ve been on. A good Cubs team means one with more than Prior, Wood, a couple other good starters and Sammy Sosa. I mean, I can’t stomach it when you hear the incessant crap like “and how about Hendry picking up Karros and Grudzielanek in the offseason…where would they be without them….blah blah blah….” Under what scenario is that a good thing? I guess this one….bleh.

    Marlins are gonna trounce them, I think, unless they can squeeze four great starts out of Wood and Prior. I predict a Marlins spanking of Kerry Wood, though. Prior? He’s gonna continue torching major league hitters for another fifteen years.

  6. A seven-game series is no guarantee that the “better” team will win either. If this one was seven we’d be seeing Prior again anyway. Anybody out there anxious to witness that spectacle again?

    I agree with Karl; this season turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than most of us thought it would be. And don’t forget, it took this generation’s versions of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens to end that season.

  7. For the first time in 12 postseasons, I’m of the opinion that the Braves blew it. They are, pretty clearly, the better team and yet seemed to mail this one in. Not hitting is one thing. Flailing away at everything thrown, swinging wildly with two strikes, etc. is appalling.

    I agree completely that all series should be seven games. However, if this one had been seven, the Cubs would have won in six.

    Yuk. I also think you guys are a little harsh on the Cubs. No, most of their players aren’t going to be mistaken for all-stars, but they’re playing well. I think they have a fine shot to beat the Marlins (nice to see the 2 100 win teams at home).

  8. This latest postseason disaster has a melancholic feeling about it. The Braves going down in defeat to a team built around exceptional young pitching. The Cubs certainly deserved to win; they won a tight divisional race and they outplayed the Braves. It seems as if history has come full circle: the past week recalled the heady days of the early 1990s when the likes of Avery, Glavine, Smoltz and others could shut down a powerful offense.

    Yet, Braves fans should feel good about 2003. After all, many pundits (as noted above)predicted second and even third place finishes. Any organization which lost Glavine and most of their most talented bullpen (not to mention Byrd’s arm trouble)would have faced a severe challenge. The great thing about 2003 is that in spite of these problems the Braves kept their divisional string alive and won as many games as any other team. Given the rise of the Marlins and the possible improvement of the Phillies, this achievement can no longer be taken for granted. In short, before some of us turn to the Mesa Solar Sox for our fixes, we should try to be happy about this season, even if it has ended so sadly.

  9. Well…With a little luck tonight and a dominant performace by Prior/Wood against the Marlins this week and FOX will get the ratings series bonanza of a lifetime- Red Sox versus Cubs. Don’t you think that hip ailment by Hudson was a little peculiar yesterday? Anyway…since most Americans rank football ABOVE baseball in popularity, Selig needs a lil’ something to get the juice back in the sport. As far as I can tell…this is a win/win for Bud. If the Yankees play the Marlins the new luxury tax is working (david verus goliath) and if the Cubs play the Yankees you get America’s lovable losers against a 1st class billion dollar ball club.

    Finally, I have many friends who tell me it’s good for baseball that the Braves aren’t going to the NLCS or WS and I’m sympathetic because in a sense they’re corrent — every season (for almost a decade) the start of every season is one long coronation ceremony for the Yankees. While other teams (Braves included) are forced to dump players (aka Millwood) because of budget retstaints, the yankess acquire and re-acquire and purchase players to prevent other teams from having them…ah! the economics of baseball.

    The cubs also benefited from these new economics via Pirates salary dump! So…it all makes perfect sense, measured in dollars and cents that most TEAMS have become a feeder system for an elite handful of clubs representing some of the larger DMA’s!

    Lastly, you can’t go back (it doesn’t work that way), but I’d trade EVERY Braves trip to the post season if we could have had one team (same players) over the course of that decade.

  10. Yeah, y’all must recall that we played a “seven-game” series against another team with two lights-out starters a couple years back..didn’t work out too well either. I mean, the Cubs could potentially shape up their NLCS like Prior, Zambrano, Wood, Prior, Clement, Wood, Prior. Or something silly like that. Having two young arms like that is (apparently) good enough to withstand having the likes of Grudzie+Karros+co in the lineup.

    You’d think the Braves would have used their “great” pitching similarly at some point over the past eight years and we’d have gotten over that hump. But they haven’t. what can you say?

    It’s sad, but they did give us another good year. Smoltz’s comments aside (i will be anxiously awaiting more comments from him in the next few weeks), we will go out and challenge the NL East again next year.

    And far be it from me to stand in the way of a Cubs/Red Sox world series…

  11. Well, dammit, I disagree with mac’s assessment that they have nothing to be ashamed of. My irritation with them is best summed up by a quote from John Smoltz:

    “We just didn’t make any adjustments,” Braves closer John Smoltz said. “They pitched the same way the whole series. But they dominated. It’s not like they were throwing slop up there.”

    No, they weren’t throwing slop, but John’s right – the hitters – the key hitters never adjusted. Julio showed more smarts than any of them – being patient, letting Wood dig himself a hole, and forcing him to throw something hittable to catch up.

    Did anyone in here have any confidence at all when either Sheffield or Andruw were at bat? Hell, I had more confidence when Vinny was up there. Vinny, you know – the guy who actually saw 15 pitches over his 3 PA in game 5. He didn’t get any hits, but at least he was trying to let Wood get himself in trouble.

    When Furcal came out swinging and grounded out on the first pitch fo the game, against a guy who threw over 100 walks this season, I knew the offense was going to struggle.

    Tip of the cap to Prior and Wood, for being smart enough to see a stubborn offense, and talented enough and throw them exactly what they needed to get themselves out. But beyond that, this league-leading offense needs to be damned ashamed for its utterly stupid approach at the plate this postseason, in which many of the hitters brought their worst habits to the game and completely ignored the things that made them successful all year.

  12. It hurts to say this, but the right team won this series. The Cubs wanted it more. Their players, their fans, everybody wanted it more than this listless Braves squad. I’m sort of glad the Braves didn’t win last night. They played stupid, uninspired baseball the whole series and it made me sick to watch it. From Chipper’s indifferent play in left (A quote from my wife after another ball zipped over Chipper’s head in left while he jogged after it: “Why didn’t he try to catch the ball?” My response: “I wish I knew”), to Sheffield swinging so hard at everything he nearly fell down, to Robert Fick playing his way on to the first plane out of town, this series was maybe the greatest of all our embarassments. The Braves were clearly – clearly – the better team here but lost because they didn’t put forth the effort. They wouldn’t work the count, they would hit the ball the other way, and the defense – don’t even get me started.

    This team is in need of some young hungry players because this group looked as if they didn’t really care who won this series.

    I feel bad for the guys who really did show up for this series: Russ, Julio, Javy, Giles, Grybo, Smoltz. They deserved better than a bunch of disinterested teammates.

    I think the Marlins are going to smoke the Cubs and make the Braves look even worse.

  13. The Cubs beat the Marlins 4 games to 2 in the regular season, and that was before their pitching kicked it into high gear. The Cubs fans have every right to be excited, they kicked our butts the entire series. And I don’t want to add insult to injury, but Giles was an idiot for throwing a fit during the Lofton catch. And yes, Lofton did catch that ball, as the hundreds of replays showed over and over. Giles was going to be forced out at second anyway, so he should just shut up and go home for the winter. Not only did Fick cheap shot Karros, but Sheffield and Furcal elbowed Karros in the back in game 2 on routine ground balls. The Braves showed no class in this series, and no enthuisiasm. But instead of putting all the blame on the hitters, how about crediting Wood and Prior? When Clemens or Randy Johnson dominate a game, do you blame the hitters? Great pitching wins in the playoffs, and the Cubs have 2 great pitchers, and Zambrano makes 3 if he gets his stuff together again. The Marlins have some very good starting pitching, but less hitting than the Braves. That said, the Marlins are playing with intensity, something the Braves have rarely shown in recent years in the playoffs. It should be a good series, Cubs win in 6. Now, Javy, Maddux, Fick, and probably Sheff all leave during the offseason. But what the Braves really need to do is trade Furcal for a SS who can actually field. oh, and they need a 3b. and a bullpen. and a 5th starter. (and a 2nd starter when Maddux leaves). and someone to replace Sheff, and replace Fick, and…my oh my, things don’t look good.

  14. In the games in which they were eliminated since the Braves went to their last World Series (1999), Atlanta has scored 1, 2, 1 and 1 runs. ‘Nuff said.

  15. Dean,

    We could spend a century analyzing the various miscues that have cost the cubs a spot in the world series…congratulations. Now your team can go meet their fate- a five game loss against the Yankees. Make sure you come back after the Yankees shred your Wood and Prior (and Pirates line-up) becuase I’ll have some choice post-season words for you. Lastly, the Braves have some choices to make…as do ALL clubs under these tight economics. I can’t wait to see the reception Wood and Prior get where the have the option of testing the free agency market…George will find 12 million for Prior as a signing bonus.

  16. Just don’t forget that they went down SWINGING like MEN. Walking and working counts is what little sissies do, not big macho athletes.

    I really think this is what Braves hitters are told, as compared to organizations like the Red Sox and A’s and Yankees.

    Oh well. Maybe next postseason we can upcharge all the out of town fans who take up the unsold seats and cheer for the other team. Some home-field advantage.

  17. Due to AOL Imposed Budget Contraints the following additions will be made to the club in
    the offseason:

    Other Notes: FICK optioned to the Detroit Lions

    1B C. Limbo (Triple AAA, Dutch Romanian Football Leage)
    2B M. Giles
    SS R. Furcal
    3B B. Smith (California Work Release Program)
    C T. Simmons (Out of retirement)
    LF C. Jones
    CF A. Jones
    RF R. Cedeno (Mets have agreed to pick up his salary)

    P1 M. Hampton
    P2 A. Lopez (Out of retirement)
    P3 A. Reyes (Costa Rican Professional Softball League)
    P4 P. Byrd (Arm transplant surgery)
    P5 P. Astacio (Mets Retread, Mets will play 10% of his remaining contract)

  18. This is not about the game because I’m trying to look past it. There’s no reason t anylize somthing that can’t be fixed the next game so…

    Here’s an unofficial list of free agents:
    (x-team option, y-player option)

    C Javy Lopez
    C Henry Blanco
    1B Robert Fick
    1B Julio Franco
    1B Matt Franco
    3B Vinny Castilla
    IF Jesse Garcia
    OF Gary Sheffield
    OF Darren Bragg
    RHP Greg Maddux
    x-RHP Russ Ortiz
    x-RHP Shane Reynolds
    y-RHP Paul Byrd
    RHP Jaret Wright
    RHP Will Cunnane
    x-LHP Ray King
    RHP Roberto Hernandez
    RHP Darren Holmes
    LHP Kent Merker

    Mac who do you think we’re keepin?

  19. I’m not Mac, but I’ll take a stab at it Aaron. Anything to avoid thinking about the Cubs series.

    Obviously Byrd will activate the player option, but I doubt he’ll ever pitch. I hope the team was well insured.

    From the group of team options, Ortiz is sure to be back, and King is pretty much a sure thing as well. I think they have seen the light on Reynolds and he’ll be let go.

    Now the rest. Blanco, Garcia, M.Franco, Fick, Bragg, Hernandez, and Mercker will be let go. I think we will see another year of Holmes, Cunnane, Wright, and Julio. That leaves the big four: Maddux, Sheffield, Lopez, and Castilla. I think the Braves will resign Castilla to a 1 + 1 contract just because of the absence of any other 3B options. I think the team will try real hard to resign Lopez but lose out (I’ll guess the Orioles). Sheffield will open things up for the highest bidder and that won’t be AOL (I’ll guess Mets).

    Which brings us to the real test for the brain trust, Greg Maddux. Greg probably still has a couple of seasons like this one left in him. Around 200 innings, ERA around 4. So how much is that worth to you? If Greg is willing to give a discount, the Braves might bite. If not it’s probably Arizona or San Diego. If I had to guess right now I would say he would resign with Atlanta at a discount if only to avoid the Tom Glavine nightmare situation. The contract would almost surely not be the best use of the team’s resources but hopefully would not be so expensive to drag the team down for years to come.

  20. I was a great year, in retrospect. I’m glad I had the chance to cool off after the disaster last night. I listened to the radio for most of the game, just so I wouldn’t have to keep listening to the most biased coverage in the history of baseball. FOX, not to mention the rest of the media, desperately wants to see Chicago win. Plus, who can stand McCarver anyway? Where’s Deion when you need him, that’s what I say.

    Smoltz pitching with a bad elbow: forgotten, because Chicago won. Maddux being pitch for pitch with Mark Prior: forgotten, because Chicago won. Ortiz and Hampton pitching well on short rest: forgotten, because Chicago won. Giles, Derosa, and Julio Franco battling in the series: forgotten, because Chicago won. That is all a crying shame. People are going to blame Cox, but he can’t do anything but manage. He can’t hit, and he certainly can’t field. I take that back: maybe he can field better than Fick, the newest Braves goat.

    It was a good year. I wish it could have ended better. I watched the WGN and FOX coverage of the Cubs fans celebration. Sickening, mainly because it was at our expense. You would have believed they just won the World Series, but it is their first series win since 1908.

    One more thing: I’m tired of people getting on Braves fans. I thought it wasn’t too long ago people said sports weren’t the most important thing in life. Now, it is as though the citizens of Atlanta committed an act of treason not coming to a baseball game. I wish more were there to stop the Cubs fans from literally sacking Turner Field in the name of Chicago and his holiness, Dusty Baker.

    Ah well… goes on, whether or not our favorite team wins. But I must say, part of me hopes Chicago is destroyed by Florida, or better yet, wiped out by the Yankees. One of the Braves announcers, after the game last night, did make an interesting comment. He said he’d go for the team that just beat his team, so if they won the Series, you could say your team lost to the champions. I just hope none of this is a fluke by Chicago; then I’ll be ticked.

    I just hope the media stops getting on ATL for having one WS win in 12 division titles. They just don’t give credit for surviving a 162 game season.

  21. Ouch. Mets with Sheffield, Floyd and Piazza! I live in NY and the analysts on WFAN think the team will pursue a closer, starting pitcher (Glavine’s courting Millwood) and power hitter. It will interesting to see how the free agency market is this year (last year it was very tepid). I’d like to see Maddux stay and win 300 but he needs to go to a club with a real bullpen. If the Braves lose most of these free agents they may need Maddux to keep the stands quasi-full next season. Re: Sheff…not sure the Mets will sign him since they’ve been burned so badly by older free agents (although Sheff has been injury-free, no?). The mets may pursue Vlad [bad back and all] if the Yankees don’t get him first.

    I predict DEEP cuts in payroll which will mean massive let loose in the offseaon. I think it’s transition time anyway- time to sack Cox and JS and join the rest of the cheap clubs in the 2nd tier.


  22. The Cubs’ power-pitching duo will not be able to get them a WS title. Having Wood and Prior pitch six more times opens them up, it seems to me, to the law of averages. Some team is going to do just what the Braves didn’t–be patient, make them throw a lot of pitches, and knock them out of the game. I’d like to see the Cubs face the Red Sox; I think Boston, which has a lineup a lot like the Yankees of a few years ago, are the right combination of patient and powerful. I don’t think hard-throwers are going to present the same problem as they do to the Braves (or to most NL teams, for some reason).

    The Braves hit pretty well when Wood or Prior wasn’t on the mound. All another team has to do is beat one of them to take a series.

    One last thing. All this talk about how the Braves don’t play with emotion is misguided, in my opinion. I personally don’t think emotion wins ballgames. Focus, the ability to lay off a high fastball, the ability to shorten your swing and shoot the ball through the middle–these are skills that win ballgames and these are the things the Braves, for whatever reason, cannot do. BTW, I largely blame Sheffield (and maybe Terrance Moore) for all this talk about how the Braves have failed in the postseason because they lack emotion. They lose because they lose their smarts when they go up against power pitchers.

  23. All this talk about how the Braves don’t play with emotion is misguided, in my opinion

    Absolutely correct. Anyone who says the Braves just didn’t “want it” is full of it. If anything they were trying too hard – people like Sheffield trying to do too much withe very at-bat instead of staying inside their own game.

    Intensity is more likely to distract than it is to focus.

  24. I believe that being in so many postseasons have made some players apathetic about the situation. Aside from Smoltz, the players that really wanted this were guys that hadn’t played in many postseasons. I’m not sure if Giles was on the postseason roster last year or not, but he played like it was his first and last. Ortiz has been to two, so has Hampton. Julio has been to 46 postseasons, including six with the Boston Braves, and he is just Billy Bad Ass when it comes to just flat-out hitting. I don’t remember if Gryboski pitched well in last year’s playoffs, but it seemed like he wanted it more. Smoltz I’m sure had a feeling that this may be his last, and he definately pitched like it was. Sheffield has been to many with the Marlins, Dodgers?, and Braves, and I’ve lost a lot of respect for him after the last month of this season, not that it’s important anyway.

    How long is Ivan Rodriguez signed for? If Lopez walks, the Braves need people that play balls-to-the-wall in the playoffs. Barreling over a catcher and not giving up the ball falls into that category.

  25. Anyone who says the Braves just didn’t “want it” is full of it. If anything they were trying too hard

    You and I must have been watching different games. Did you see Javy running half speed on the bases? Chipper short arming balls in the outfield? That’s trying to hard? I guess if they tried any harder they wouldn’t even show up at the ballpark.

  26. It is probably time to retool as oppose to rebuild. Personally I don’t think any of the big four free agents will be resigned. AOL is going to think that they had all those guys and still got kicked off in the first round. And winning the National League Least is not that big a challenge. I’ll go on record right now that the Braves, regardless of the roster, will win the division again. There judgement will be clouded to the point that leadership will think their team is better than any team in the national league.
    Now is the time to find out if the farm system is really as stocked as advertised. Bring up Betemit install him at third and see what happens. Maybe Pendleton can teach him to be selective at the plate. Put LaRoche at first and let him play. My feeling we still have a reasonable core with the Jones boys, Giles and Furcal. We need to find out if the minor leagues can fill out the rest.

  27. Are the Braves still in limbo as far as up for sale? That will cast a giant shadow on what Shurholz is allowed to do this offseason.

    By the way, if it does go down to a Yankees-Cubs world series, the Cubs beat the Yanks 2 out of 3, going against Wells, Clemens, and Pettite. So that doesn’t sound like the Yanks will throttle them or “tear Wood and Prior to pieces.” And if you have been reading espn/peter gammons notes, he claims the Cubs pitchers would annihilate the Yanks. Even without the Braves it will still be fun to see what happens. I’d personally like to see a Boston-Chicago series. At least one of them would finally win. I’m tired of the Yankees.

  28. VAN DYCK: Braves have losing touch

    Fox Sports article by Dave Van Dyke

    Maybe those fans — you know, the ones who didn’t show up at Turner Field for the playoffs all those years — maybe they knew something.
    Maybe they were smarter than the rest of us, just because they had watched 81 home games a year.

    Maybe they had spotted flaws that the rest of us overlooked for the past decade. Obviously, they weren’t hoodwinked by all those 100-victory seasons.

    Their Atlanta Braves have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, again. For the third time in four years.

    And so we ask: How will these Atlanta Braves teams be remembered in the history books?

    As record-setting, 12-time division winners?

    Or as 11-time World Series losers?

    Just how will we remember the Braves?

    It doesn’t seem quite right to put a “loser” label on a team that has won more regular-season games than any other baseball team over the past 12 years. Or that has won more consecutive division titles than any sports franchise in history.

    And yet what did they win? The answer to that question is ONE World Series, way back in 1995, the same number as the Arizona Diamondbacks and Anaheim Angels.

    But here is their history of losing:

    Three times in the last four years in the first round;

    Three times in their last four chances in the league championship round;

    Four times in their five chances at the World Series, including their last two in 1996 and 1999 to the Yankees.

    Or losers?

    Can we get away with saying: “They were winners who knew how to lose?”

    Probably not.

    So, in the final analysis, the Atlanta Braves of the last decade-plus are losers who knew how to win.

    What they have accomplished is one of the most remarkable records of postseason failure, much worse than Marv Levy and his Buffalo Bills.

    Worse than the Cubs, you ask? Yes, because the Cubs never got to the postseason, never disguised themselves as superior, never laid claims to being the smartest and the best.

    According to those in the know, none of the losing seasons hurt worse than this one, when management thought it had finally discovered the correct balance between offense and pitching.

    All those other teams — the ones controlled by Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux — were top-heavy with pitching.
    Henry Blanco tries to come to grips with another postseason disappointment for the Braves.
    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Remember 1998? The Braves scored just two runs in 28 innings at home in the NLCS against the Padres.

    Or how about 1999, when they scored only nine runs in a four-game World Series sweep by the Yankees?

    Even the remodeled team — the one that set almost every Atlanta offensive record this season and led the league in batting (.284) and home runs (235) — hit just .215 and managed just three homers, two of them in one game by Chipper Jones.

    “The problem in the past has been that it was a team built for the regular season and not the postseason,” said one insider.

    However, that’s not true, because the Braves were built on strong starting pitching, and that’s how you win in the postseason. No excuses can be good enough for the Braves. “It’s been a terrific year,” manager Bobby Cox said after the Game 5 loss. “We were right there. But sometimes you have to have things bounce your way, and it just didn’t happen.”

    Huh? His Braves won 101 games this season, the Cubs won 88. And things didn’t bounce their way? MORE BASEBALL COVERAGE

    These Braves, especially in the last few years, seemed to lack the urgency and the emotion of earlier years, when winning was something special instead of something expected.

    Maybe that is Cox’s fault, maybe not. Maybe it was just a feeling that had permeated the clubhouse and no one had ever noticed.

    Cox, long heralded as a perennial manager of the year candidate, has received a black eye in recent postseasons, including this one.

    For the third straight year, he used starting pitchers on short rest. He displayed other signs of feeling pressure as well, leaving Greg Maddux’s personal catcher Henry Blanco off the playoff roster and splitting up the Jones boys by inserting Javy Lopez between them.

    John Schuerholz, the general manager for all these years, has been called a genius for winning so much. What should he be called now? Idiot?

    Certainly not, but maybe we have to erase the “genius” designation in front of his name. He put together some exceptional regular-season teams, ones that were good enough to hold off the free-spending Mets. Even in the year the Marlins won the championship, the Braves won the regular-season battle but lost in the NLCS four games to two even though the Marlins hit only .199.

    Schuerholz was left Sunday night to explain one more postseason tragedy, perhaps sealing his franchise’s fate as a failure.

    “We all know in a short series, whether it’s our team or another team that has two dominant pitchers, that’s all you need to be successful in a short series,” he said. “Not to diminish the Cubs’ victory. They played and pitched well.”

    The person we feel sorriest for is John Smoltz, the only one who has been there since the worst-to-first season of 1991. Sadly, his days are almost over because of continuing elbow problems.

    Glavine left as a free agent after last season, Maddux probably will after this season. Gary Sheffield might, too. The Mets are retooling, the Phillies are spending and the Marlins are good again.

    “You never know what next year’s going to bring,” Smoltz said Sunday night. “That’s why this (year) was important.”

    Most likely, one of professional sports’ most remarkable runs of winning is over. So is one of its most remarkable runs of losing.

    If only the Braves had won just one more world championship. Just one more and the perception would be different.

    But if this were a trial of whether the Braves were winners or losers, the jury would come back with only one verdict: Losers.

    Braves or Cowards?
    Year Postseason result
    2003 Lost in NLDS to Cubs, 3-2
    2002 Lost in NLDS to Giants, 3-2
    2001 Lost in NLCS to Diamondbacks, 4-1
    2000 Lost in NLDS to Cardinals, 3-0
    1999 Lost in World Series to Yankees, 4-0
    1998 Lost in NLCS to Padres, 4-2
    1997 Lost in NLCS to Marlins, 4-2
    1996 Lost in World Series to Yankees, 4-2
    1995 Won World Series over Indians, 4-2
    1993 Lost in NLCS to Phillies, 4-2
    1992 Lost in World Series to Blue Jays, 4-2
    1991 Lost in World Series to Twins, 4-3

  29. For all the grief the Oakland Athletics are sure to catch for bowing out in the first round for the fourth straight year, at least the A’s had the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5. From the time Furcal swung at Wood’s first pitch and bounced out to short, the Braves were never in it in their Game 5.

    Really, though, those two series had a lot in common. In both, the team that lost was going to catch hell, regardless of the fact that two of the four had to lose. So what we were destined to get in the papers was two of four scenarios:

    1. From chop to choke
    2. Chicago’s misery now at 95 years
    3. Curse of Bambino continues for Sox
    4. Moneyball doesn’t work in postseason

    What the Red Sox and Marlins (and to a less extent, the Cubs) winning probably means, though, is another world championship for our beloved New York Yankees. It’s the Yankees’ world, we just live in it.

  30. How sad is this?

    Julio Franco 1.225
    Mark DeRosa 1.214
    Marcus Giles 0.983
    Chipper Jones 0.786
    Javy Lopez 0.762
    V. Castilla 0.618
    Rafael Furcal 0.529
    Mike Hampton 0.500
    G. Sheffield 0.437
    Russ Ortiz 0.400
    Andruw Jones 0.297
    Robert Fick 0.083
    Darren Bragg 0.000

    AJ worse than Ortiz. Sheff worse than Hampton.
    This team batted scared.

    How’s this for an offseason move? New first baseman Javy Lopez with Estrda brhind the plate. I suspect Javy will come cheaper than any of other free agents, and he was under-rated this year. Had he played as much as Puljos he have 50+ homers, same OPS. I think this was not fluke.

  31. Van Dyck’s FoxSports column above was the biggest load of crap I’ve seen this side of Terrence Moore. And that’s saying something.

  32. It’s hard to say what the Braves will do yet. I think they’ll try to re-sign one free agent from the big four, with Sheffield the prime target because he’s the most irreplaceable. LaRoche moves in as the everyday first baseman, with Julio kept around for one more year. Byrd never pitches again. The Braves look to bring in a free agent pitcher, perhaps Millwood, setting up the rotation with Horacio as the fourth starter and Wainwright the favored candidate for the fifth spot. DeRosa is the third baseman until Marte is ready.

  33. I believe that being in so many postseasons have made some players apathetic about the situation

    I think you overestimate the number of players the Braves have who have seen that many postseasons:
    –Smoltz (11 postseasons)- no doubt on passion there
    –Chipper(10), Javy (9) – longtime Braves, and looked damned frustrated overall. I didn’t think either were taking winning for granted, notgiven Javy’s pre-series comments. Did Chipper play well? No, but Idon’t thikI chalk it up to apathy
    –Maddux (11) – no problem there that I could see
    –Andruw (7) – looks like he’s trying to relive 1996 with every swing; stupid, not apathetic

    Then there’s a dropoff
    –Vinny, Julio, Wright (4) – didn’t appear to be apathetic
    –M. Franco, Holmes (4) – did they even play?
    –Furcal, Giles, DeRosa, Ortiz, Sheffield, Bragg – I don’t think three times is enough to become apathetic about the postseason (3)
    –Gryboski (2)
    –King, Fick (1)

    Those are your postseasons. I don’t see where one can make a case that going year after year is making anyone apathetic.

  34. Having been at one of the games, if there is any entity that can be accused of being apathetic, it would clearly have to be the fans. 15-20 thousand CUBS fans filling Turner Field? The cheers for Wood were defening.

    Intensity? I think the Braves had it. Quality at bats? I can’t believe I’m writing this, but outside of Vinny Castilla, they were few and far between.

    I have a hard time believing that this supposedly great offense completely crumbled facing a .500 pitcher. But once again, as noted by Colin above, it was the stars who fell apart.

    Next year, I expect the club to be very, very different. Maddux is gone as is Lopez. Fick and Castilla (good riddance both) are probably going to be playing elsewhere. Sheffield won’t get a market contract here.

    What players left are good bets to be better next year than this? I think Chipper could be slightly better (more power) but wasn’t far off his overall game and is starting to show small signs of aging. Andruw is frustrating ~ he could become a superstar, but every year that passes makes it a bit more unlikely. The rest of the offense seems to have been at or near the absolute peak of their ability.

    The player who most frustrates me is Furcal. His leadoff groundout against a high walk pitcher was typical. Raffy has a huge swing that corkscrews him into the ground. That leads to two problems. First, while he is very fast on the basepaths, his swing leaves him in a poor position to reach base. How many infield hits did he get compared to other speedy folks like Juan Pierre, Dave Roberts, Alex Sanchez, or Ichiro? Secondly, despite some pop, he rarely can drive the ball past the outfielders, but the big swing seems designed to get the ball in the air. I really wish he would (a) so more plate discipline and (b) stop swinging for the fences when he does swing. A leadoff man with a .352 OBA is simply unacceptable.

  35. He Mac do you really think that Wainwright will be in the rotation next year? I really want to see this pitch and soon.

  36. I think he’ll have a chance. He’s got at least as much experience as Horacio did coming into this year, and that worked out pretty well. Wainwright’s the most important player in the Braves organization right now, including the major leagues, the one guy most likely to be a true ace. You have to be careful, but at the same time wasting innings in the minors doesn’t seem optimal.

  37. I agree with you about Furcal’s mediocre OBP, Dan, but the funny thing is he was 4th in the majors in leadoff OBP. There really weren’t a lot of leadoff hitters getting on base this year, as .363 (Shannon Stewart) led the majors.

    Furcal was also #4 in leadoff OPS, trailing only Soriano, Stewart, Lofton, and Ichiro (all of whom had lower OBPs than Furcal).

    So, relative to his peers, Furcal wasn’t that bad in the leadoff spot. But that’s certainly in part due the leadoff spot falling off normal pace, along with managers putting in fast guys that shouldn’t be leadoff hitters. I completely agree that Furcal had a stupid approach during the NLDS, and he’s certainly prone to long periods of poor plate discipline.

    I would look into trading him myself, in large part due to his coming contract increase and mediocre defense. But overall, I’m still pleased with his year even if his playoff stint was beyond frustrating (see Sheffield, Chipper, Andruw, etc, etc).

    (Thanks to David Norman for the numbers)

  38. I might consider trading Furcal, except I’m utterly afraid of what JS would find to replace him. Betemit is no solution anywhere. Not much else out there.

    I’m betting Maddux will be back. He’s Schuerholz’s signature signing, his best move, and JS will want him to get 300 in a Braves uniform.

  39. Kelly Johnson’s defense has improved, but his offense backslid. He might wind up the shortstop in a couple of years. I think that the Braves should probably go with Furcal for a couple more years then let him walk to a team that will overvalue stolen bases and physical tools.

    I hope JS makes a serious effort to bring back Maddux and lets what happened this offseason slide. Maddux isn’t what he once was, but he’s still the one Braves starter capable of an elite performance any time out. Ortiz and Hampton are good pitchers, but they aren’t at that level. But if Greg wants something close to what he got this year, I don’t see it happening, and it would be best to let him go.

  40. Since I believe that the budgetary “problems” are 99.94% smoke and mirrors, I’d bring Maddux back, damn the cost. His LDS game was a perfect example of his season – dinks and bloops all over the place. He may not be at his best anymore, but a notch down, he’s still one of the 5-10 best in the game.

    Mike, the Braves were 6th in the NL in leadoff OBA trailing such dominating clubs like the Brewers and Pirates. Most of that was Furcal. When Lopez is either gone or reverts back to normal, along with the voids at first and third, and potentially in RF, and Furcal’s poor on base skills will be magnified. Just because Colorado thinks Juan Uribe is a leadoff man, or St. Louis’ genius gave most of his leadoff ABs to Fernando Vina and his .302 OBA doesn’t mean that Furcal is good – rather that he is less bad at that task.

  41. Yeah, it’s kind of funny the Brewers got decent play from their leadoff spot, leading the majors at .356. But Furcal was only a few points behind that mark at .352. Furcal may be slightly miscast as a leadoff man with his waning plate discipline, but he was still 17th in the NL in runs above position. At SS, he was behind only ARod, Renteria, and No-Mah. So, overall it’s hard to be that disappointed with his offensive season considering the position he plays…

    However, he did not play that position well. If I have a real bone to pick with Furcal, it’s that his defense was very shaky this year. He cost Maddux and company a number of runs (as did Andruw in CF, but that’s another story). When you have ‘put-the-ball-in-play’ pitchers like Hampton, Maddux, and Ortiz, you have to have good defense back there.

    I had thought after his switch to SS that Furcal would have the natural ability to play it after a couple of years. And he was improving markedly. But this year was a step back, and I question whether he’s really right for the position. I think he’d be fine at 2nd, but with Marcus’s defensive improvements it makes no sense to move Raffy.

    So…with a big pay day not too far away, I’m lost as to what to do with Furcal. He’s still young, and has shown signs of being a very good hitter. But I still get this nagging feeling Furcal is going to end up like Andruw – potential unrealized. I’m really not sure where the Braves should go with him.

  42. Two words on the Braves’ surprise free agent signing:

    Vladimir Guerrero.

    Atlanta is the perfect solution for a player that wants to make more money, contend, get national attention, but stay out of the NY media frenzy.

    There’s a reason why the Braves have so many free agents this year; it maximizes the opportunity to sign the best available free agent since A-Rod. Of course, it may well mean playing LaRoche at 1B, Estrada at C, and using Wainwright in the rotation, but these are not necessarily all bad things.

  43. Signing Vlad would be something alright but wouldn’t really add much since he would essentially replace Sheffield. (Unless you’ve got some kind of fantasy where you sign Sheff and Vlad and move Chipper to first) This team needs an arm and should be spending every waking hour trying to pry Javier Vasquez away from the Expos.

    Plus with Vlad’s back problems he should scare every team that has designs on giving him a $15 million per year multi-year deal.

  44. Yes, Vlad would essentially replace Sheffield … except for the fact that he’s 7 1/2 years younger.

  45. Very true Creg, but after eight seasons playing on that career-shortening cement in Montreal, if you throw down that $100 million for him, that’s a real high risk gamble. He missed 50 games last season and back surgery can’t be far off. It’s not a gamble I would sign up for. I’d say that even though Sheff is much older the chances of them being healthy and productive in the next 2-3 seasons is roughly equal.

  46. What about???

    Griffey to Atlanta (Reds may pick-up some of his salary). It would keep the stands full for AOL? I just don’t think Sheffield is coming back!

    My other predictions- Mets will work out a deal for ARod. If ARod goes to NY, maybe Glavine can convince Millwood to sign there as well.

    Also, I don’t think Vlad is coming to Atlanta.

    Lastly, how about the Braves re-sign Lopez and move him to 1st…Estrada can catch.

    Maddux, Lopez, and Sheffield (I want them to stay). Maybe AOL will sell the team (I’ll suffer through a miserable season if they can find a suitor that loves BASEBALL).

  47. Griffey to Atlanta (Reds may pick-up some of his salary). It would keep the stands full for AOL? I just don’t think Sheffield is coming back!

    Griffey is just a terrible risk. His injury history is just brutal in recent years, and his contract is solidly in albatross territory. The Reds would need to pick up a huge amount. And i think we’re long past the point where Griffey puts fans in the seats.

    My other predictions- Mets will work out a deal for ARod. If ARod goes to NY, maybe Glavine can convince Millwood to sign there as well.

    No way I see that. Millwood likely got to dislike the Philly fans, and already knows from opposing series how Mets fans can be. And after seeing the utterly miserable year Glavine had, I don’t think he can do much of a sales job.

  48. Griffey is done. Anyone who seriously wants to deal for him has not watched him in recent years. He has had 4 straight seasons full of injuries and poor performance. He’s not worth six mil a year right now, and he gets close to 15 mil with over 60 mil left on his deal, if I recall correctly.

    Vlad has fallen off quite a bit in the past two years defensively. He still has a great arm but has been wild. He was never a great fielder, and his back problems don’t help. He’s a heck of a hr hitter, but I think somewhat overrated. 15 mil or more is not something I would be interested in.

    Let Lopez go, he had his career year, he probably wouldn’t make a very good defensive 1b at his age, and the Braves need more speed on the team.

    From what I’ve read, the two main teams that will compete for Sheff are the Yanks and O’s. The O’s are freeing up around 40 million next year due to expiring contracts (including the immortal Albert Belle). The O’s have claimed they will be very aggressive, and other than NY or Atl I dont’ think there are that many options for Sheff if he wants a multi year deal for over ten mil per. Possibly, possibly the Cubs would be interested if Sosa uses his escape clause (highly unlikely).

    I dont’ agree that Maddux is one of the top 5-10 pitchers anymore. There are too many quality young pitchers around now that are all much better than Maddux. Prior, Wood, Zito, Mulder, Hudson, Schmidt, etc. not to mention Ortiz and Pedro and the Big Unit and Schilling and so on. That said, they should still do everything they can to resign him before the arbitration deadline. Maddux should win his 300th with the Braves, and I hope that is important enough to dissuade him from leaving.

    Castilla could return. From what I’ve read, Betemit is a huge question mark, and Marte is not ready yet, still probably a year away, or maybe sometime next season he could come up. But if the Braves intend to be a contender they can’t have 3 or 4 spots with huge question marks.

    Gammons claims Millwood could come back if Maddux leaves and the Braves use that money on a pitcher. I think the bottom line on all of this is what will they be allowed to do financially by the owners in limbo?

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