Weak pitching ends Braves' 14-year stay atop NL East
Posted: Monday September 18, 2006 2:55PM; Updated: Monday September 18, 2006 4:21PM
Chipper and Andruw Jones were key components of Atlanta's recent dominace in the NL East.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
A few weeks back, before going to Paris, I stopped into the bookstore to find some reading material. While browsing through the travel section I picked up a book called A Year in the Merde, written by a British journalist who had relocated to Paris. The book was interesting enough, detailing the narrator's adventures adapting and adjusting to Parisian culture while looking for love and a job.
The shocking thing came over the weekend, when I finished the book: For the first time, I realized that the writer had a different name than the book's main character. Nowhere on the book was it advertised as a novel -- it was classified as "travel" by the fine people at Barnes & Noble, who have been tireless in pushing me to join their Members Club. But suddenly, in the space of about one second, the witty and entertaining autobiography I thought I'd read was transformed into a fictional and disappointing novel.
In many ways, this mirrors what Atlanta Braves fans have been through this season: We thought we had one thing, but in actuality we had secretly been given something else.
For the last decade, the Braves have been a model of perpetual success. I think what Braves GM John Schuerholz has done is what financial planners promise they'll do for you: take a solid base and then grow it, little by little, using what's already there to invest in the future. The Braves built a juggernaut, good enough to win the division for 14 consecutive seasons. Key pieces -- Chipper and Andruw Jones, John Smoltz -- were allowed to marinate and grow. Guys who grew too old or too expensive -- Javy Lopez, Tom Glavine, Rafael Furcal -- were allowed to walk away. Young guys developed in the minors were either plugged into the every-day lineup (Marcus Giles, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann) or traded away (Andy Marte, most recently) for proven veteran help.
The key to the whole thing was always pitching. Suddenly, this season, the pitching was gone. Maybe it had something to do with losing pitching coach Leo Mazzone, but it was probably more a function of having a bullpen full of journeymen and not acquiring a true closer, Bob Wickman, until the end of July. Schuerholz kept up his customary corporate front throughout, sitting in his luxury box and shining his cufflinks while the Braves blew save after save through the season's first few months. (They'd blown 20 saves before bringing in Wickman.)
Still, all along the Braves wanted us to believe they were the same old Braves, the team that would catch fire in July or August and run away with the division. Never happened. They told us these were the Atlanta Braves, the same Braves we've rooted for the last 15 years. They weren't. And so it's over. The 14 consecutive division titles are over. And I'm not quite sure what to make of it.