First, of course, is the matter of another postseason, the 11th in a row for Atlanta. But during that stupendous run the Braves have come away with just one world championship. You might think that the bullpen, which Maddux called "the best we've ever had, top to bottom," will decide whether Atlanta wins a ring this year. Think again.
Conventional wisdom gets slapped around in October more than Jay Witasick. This year will be no different, especially in a democratic field of eight playoff teams who have each won between 94 and 103 games. For instance, the Braves' bullpen tops the list of the 10 biggest myths about this postseason.
A vastly improved corps of relievers will make the difference for the Braves.
The common theory that Atlanta would have won more World Series with a better bullpen, says Smoltz, "is a perception from a long time ago. If you look at the last four or five years, it hasn't been true." No, Atlanta's biggest problem has been that its vaunted starters, especially Glavine and Maddux, have been outpitched. Since Game 5 of the 1997 National League Championship Series, that pair was a combined 5-12 in 22 postseason starts entering the week. The alleged perps in the bullpen? They were 6-4 in that same span.
Atlanta does have a wicked bullpen now, with righthanded closer Smoltz (NL-record 55 saves) set up by lefthanders Mike Remlinger (7-2, 1.88) and Chris Hammond (7-2, 0.95). But as Glavine and Maddux go, so go the Braves, especially when backed by the least-productive offense among the eight playoff teams (4.4 runs per game).
For the Giants to win in October, Barry Bonds has to produce.
Bonds may be great, but he's no Luis Sojo. The four-time NL MVP and the recently re-' tired utility infielder each had roughly the same number of career postseason at bats before this year's playoffs, 97 and 101 respectively. Sojo had more hits (26-15), more doubles (6-5) and more than twice as many RBIs (15-6). And Bonds's at bats came in the days when opposing teams actually pitched to him. You know, way back in 2000, or 119 home runs and 375 walks ago.
In the NL Division Series two years ago New York Mets pitchers walked Bonds only three times in 17 plate appearances. "Ha!" Smoltz said when reminded of that statistic. "He'll be lucky if he gets three at bats against us." Smoltz was only half kidding. Says one NL scout, "He'll see nothing to hit."
The key at bats for San Francisco will fall to Benito Santiago and Reggie Sanders, who hit behind Bonds. Santiago had 49 more at bats with runners in scoring position (134) than did Bonds (85) and hit just .261 in those spots. Sanders had more such at bats (160) than even major league RBI champion Alex Rodriguez. Sanders hit .238 in those situations. The Braves will try to make Santiago and Sanders, not Bonds, beat them.
Teams like the A's and the Diamondbacks are better off using their premier starting pitchers on short rest.