It's not doomsday yet in Atlanta, so keep it together
Posted: Monday July 10, 2006 2:27PM; Updated: Tuesday July 11, 2006 12:39PM
Bobby Cox has always been known to lean on his veterans, possibly to a fault.
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Go ahead and laugh. I've already heard from readers, from my friends and from everyone I work with: Ding, dong, the Braves are dead. Head-butt them in the chest and move on!
Not so fast, I say. The Braves may be down -- 12 back in the NL East and 6½ out in the wild card race -- but they're not out. But why the first-half slumber? Last year, I wrote that Bobby Cox needed to resign. It wasn't something I wrote on a whim, because I honestly respect Cox, both his managing style and his myriad accomplishments. Not being a regular reader of this column, Cox didn't resign, of course, and that has turned out to be a good thing. The Braves have been through so much this season, from injuries to horrid hitting slumps, that Cox's steadying presence has been invaluable.
But then there's Todd Pratt. The thing that has always driven me insane about Cox is his love for veterans. You don't have to be productive or even have had a distinguished major league career -- if you've been in the majors for a while, you've got a good chance of making the Braves. Not many people gave Brian Jordan a shot of making the team this season as a reserve first baseman, considering he'd played all of one game at first in 14 seasons. Jordan's chances were further diminished when minor leaguer James Jurries tore it up in spring training. So who made the team? Jordan, of course, and he was hitting a robust .214 through the first two months before injuring his clavicle and forcing Cox not to play him.
Pratt had also played 14 seasons before this one, and his wheels are spinning right now. His stats are brutal: 95 at-bats, 18 hits, seven walks and 31 strikeouts. And still, he gets a start at least once a week. Triple A catcher Brayan Pena hit .321 in an 11-game stint earlier this season. But let's keep Pratt around!
Cox has done this forever, and these antics have always been smiled at because the Braves have never really been in danger of not winning the division. This is Cox's duality, something we Braves fans learn to live with and make the best of, like a second head or a third leg.
But this season has been different. Last year 18 rookies helped the Braves win the division when the veterans faltered. Now there are no rookies left. Shouldn't the Braves at least rely on the young guys a bit more?
Surely someone will point out that former pitching guru Leo Mazzone finally left, for Baltimore, and things in Atlanta went to hell. Well, as bad as the Braves' pitchers have been -- with a team 4.65 ERA and 1.47 WHIP -- the Orioles are one of the few teams worse in both categories. I don't think Mazzone's leaving has hurt as much as having crappy pitchers in the bullpen has; there's a Southern saying that begins, "You can pour perfume on a pig...." Meanwhile, Braves management seems to feel it's OK to go without a proven closer and just hope one emerges. Um, that's not working out so well, fellas.