Braves, in familiar territory, may surprise people
Posted: Monday October 3, 2005 2:56PM; Updated: Monday October 3, 2005 2:56PM
Will Jeff Francoeur help change the Braves' postseason misfortunes?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Since I got my new DVR machine hooked up in March, only two video programs have had a long shelf life. One is an HD showing of Victory, my favorite soccer movie. The other is a two-minute clip from a Braves game. It was on July 18, when the Braves were at San Francisco. Chipper Jones returned from the injured list to blast a home run, and Andruw Jones hit two two-run bombs, but the moment I saved was subtler. After Andruw's second homer, he returned to the dugout and the team tried to give him the old silent treatment. As he jogged down the stairs past Bobby Cox, the normally vocal old man didn't even look up. Andruw got down to the bat rack and glanced back at Cox, a look of bewilderment on his face, wondering what he'd done wrong. At that point the whole silent thing broke down because Julio Franco and Johnny Estrada jumped up and embraced Andy.
The moment happened before Jeff Francoeur taught us all how to spell his name, before Jay Powell broke his arm on the mound, before Mike Hampton hurt his elbow again. But that moment -- seeing Cox goofing off in the dugout during a game for the first time in maybe a decade -- was when I knew things were going to be different this season. Maybe it was the dozen rookies getting their first taste of the big leagues. Maybe it was Andruw finally learning that no matter how many times he swings at it, he will never be able to hit an outside curveball. Maybe it was John Smoltz back in the rotation. Something about this season just felt different.
I suppose it was because of the lowered expectations. I work in an office full of Mets fans, bless their hearts, and I spent the first two months of the season taking guff about how this would be the year the Braves division-winning streak would shudder to a halt. Even I wasn't too excited about our prospects. After all, we started the season with Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi in our starting lineup. And that was before we lost 60 percent of our starting rotation and Dan Kolb turned into a combination of Mark Wohlers and John Rocker.
This year, though, the Braves have made something unbelievable completely believable. A team full of kids, replete with a 47-year-old first baseman, won 90 games and a 14th consecutive division title.
Now comes the tough part.
The big knock on the Braves postseason failures in the past has been a lack of passion, from both the fans and the players. I understand the complaint against the Braves fans, because to a casual columnist, it's easy to look up and see a team that doesn't sell out a playoff game and think, Obviously, the fans don't care. It's not that we don't care, but it's that we already know how it's going to end up. (That and Major League Baseball always screwing us by sticking us with the Wednesday afternoon game. I can't speak for all Braves fans, but I have to be at work on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Although I have been feeling a bit under the weather...) The players deserve their share of the blame, too. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were amazing starters for us, but getting any iota of emotion out of them was like asking David Ortiz to be productive on both offense and defense -- it just isn't happening. The Braves have always left us cold.
Unlike years past, however, this year we have no idea how things are going to shake out. The Braves are just as likely to wilt against the Astros as Francoeur is to go 5 for 5 with five home runs and five outfield assists in the opener. This Braves team is so strange, fun and intriguing that I don't think they'll have any problem selling out their home games.
Can they win it all? Everyone talks about the Braves having to play Houston instead of a weaker San Diego team, but they don't mention that the Braves went 5-1 against Houston and 1-5 against San Diego this season. And with Smoltz and Tim Hudson our lead starters, its quite an upgrade over Russ Ortiz and John Thomson.
We've got all the tools, now we just need some luck. One year ago this weekend, I wrote about how maybe last year would finally be the year the Braves got it together. Obviously, that didn't work out so well.
But we have to assume it's going to happen this year, because otherwise we forfeit hope. And without hope, we have nothing. With hope, anything can happen, and anything just might actually happen. Without hope, we're the Mets. And nobody wants to see that happen.
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