Braves play underdogs for a change against Astros
Updated: Tuesday October 09, 2001 1:49 AM
HOUSTON (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves are in unfamiliar territory heading into this year's postseason.
The Braves (88-74), usually the favorites in the National League playoffs, go into their best-of-five series against Houston on Tuesday with the fewest wins of any of the postseason teams.
Atlanta has won a record 10 straight division titles, and in seven of those years the Braves had the best regular season record in the NL. Only once did that lead to a World Series title.
"I don't think it mattered when everyone said we should win the whole thing and I don't think it matters a whole lot now when it's said that we probably shouldn't win a game," Game 1 starter Greg Maddux said. "It matters how you play."
The Central champion Astros aren't playing so well either heading into their series with the Braves. Houston won its fourth Central Division title in five years despite blowing a 5 1/2-game lead and losing nine of their last 12 games.
Maddux (17-11), who will start Tuesday against Houston's Wade Miller (16-8), disagrees that the Braves had a disappointing season.
"I hope we have five or six more off years like this one," he said. "As a player, you eliminate all the stuff outside baseball. The media is part of that. You have to concentrate on baseball and not what's being said outside."
Atlanta had to rally to get its record-breaking title. They are the only team in major league history to reach the playoffs with a losing home record (40-41).
"They've been there so many times and advanced past the first round," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "The last couple of times the Braves have gone to the postseason they haven't gotten the desired result.
"They are a little like us. They've gotten a little older with the same players and we've gotten older with the same players. We're not intimidated but we see they are better than their record shows. We know what the Braves stand for."
The Braves have played a major role in the Astros' dismal playoff legacy that includes six straight first-round eliminations. The Braves eliminated the Astros from the playoffs in 1997 and 1999.
"We've got to go play a game against the Atlanta Braves, it's nothing about what happened before," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "It's a different team here a different team over there. Some of the same characters are around but other than that it's a different year."
Miller (16-8) got a big victory Friday at St. Louis to help the Astros win the division. He sees little difference pressure-wise facing Maddux.
"I know I can't pitch perfect," Miller said. "If I can hold them to one or two runs, I think we have a chance. If we can get a few runs, maybe I can go out and put zeros up."
The Astros have struggled to hit in recent playoff trips. Bagwell is hitting .128 in the playoffs and Craig Biggio is even worse at .119.
"That's reality, I don't run away from anything," Bagwell said. "I'll tell you when I stink. I've had some tough times in the playoffs. I look at it in the real sense that we've faced real good pitchers and my swing wasn't up where it needed to be.
"If that's the case tomorrow, I probably won't get too many hits anyway."
Despite their postseason history, Braves reliever John Smoltz is still worried about Bagwell and Biggio.
"We all know we're playing around with dynamite," Smoltz said. "You know at some point they're going to explode."