They’re a factor again. If you’re Chipper Jones and you’re 37 and your body creaks and you make those loud sounds your father used to make and you wake up your poor wife in the middle of the night just when you struggle to roll over in bed, this is what makes it all worth it. A playoff race.
Before this season, Jones signed a three-year extension. He did so after having harbored some concerns about the future. He didn’t want the home stretch of his career crowded with meaningless Septembers. The past three seasons had been bad enough.
“When the contract’s up, I’ll probably be done,” he said Wednesday. “It could be earlier. You know what? My body will tell me. My mind will tell me. It’s been a long career, and my body tells the story. When I get to the point where I’m so mentally and physically fatigued, I’ll gladly ride off into the sunset and not look back.”
Somehow, someway, the Braves have clawed their way into relevancy. Even better. They won again Wednesday night, 6-2 over Washington. They’ve won five straight, the past three by a composite score of 22-5. They took three out of four from a great team (Los Angeles) and then in two games pummeled a long-time cellar-dwelling nuisance (Washington). They have a pulse in the East Division (4-1/2 back of Philadelphia) and they’re more than alive in the wild-card race.
They’re not there, yet. But they’re not somewhere else, either.
Sure, this kind of awakening means a lot to every Brave. But it means more to Jones. He can see the end much clearer than, say, Tommy Hanson.
Understand, Jones made his major-league debut in 1993. He never missed the playoffs until 2005. It makes the misses harder to accept.
“I got spoiled. Early,” Jones said. “But the last few years brought everything that happened in the late ‘90s and early 2000s into perspective. How truly special it was and how hard it was to do what we did for a long period of time. My biggest concern was whether there would be something to play for in the last three, four, five years of my career.
“Your career to a certain extent is defined by the postseason. I’ve had a pretty decent run as far as postseasons go. But all the guys like me and [John] Smoltz and [Tom] Glavine wanted was a chance to get back and punctuate our careers with another championship run. You can’t do that if you don’t make the playoffs.”
We’ll know more after this weekend. The Phillies come to Turner Field for three games, but even if the Braves can’t replicate another series sweep, it looks like September will matter.
To get to October, Jones will need to be the difference. Even with improvements to the lineup, his bat can cause a ripple effect in the lineup like nobody else’s.
He hasn’t had a bad season. He just hasn’t had the year some would’ve expected after he hit .364 last season. His home runs (15) are down, but he attributes that to mechanics, not a loss of power. His RBIs (53) are down, but he’s hitting .380 with runners in scoring position. His on-base percentage: 412. His batting average: .296.
“It’s weird to say hitting just under .300 is a disappointing year,” he said.
But Tuesday night, after missing three games with an oblique strain, he homered in an 8-1 win over the Nationals. The side, the back and most other moving parts didn’t ache as much.
“This is why I signed back,” he said.