Braves’ miracle takes hit, but it doesn’t change future

Another great play: Yunel Escobar's relay throw to Brian McCann nails Florida's John Baker at home in the second inning Sunday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

One great play wasn't enough. Yunel Escobar's relay throw to Brian McCann nailed Florida's John Baker at home in the second inning. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Regardless of where this playoff run goes — and here’s your public service announcement: The Braves are in a playoff run, but “I Believe” posters are stacking up in the warehouse, like Izzy dolls in 1996 — there are two things we can be fairly certain of moving forward:

♦ 1) The Braves will be legitimate contenders next season. Not the typical, spring time, everybody’s-happy-and-drunk-on-some-overblown-free-agent-pitcher kind of contender, which tends to last until mid-May, when the city’s baseball fans let go with a collective, “Rut-roh.” But the real, legitimate, they-can-play kind of contender. Because guess what? They can play.

♦ 2) Bobby Cox is not a moron.

Some of you already knew that. But for those who’ve been trying to drop-kick Cox into oblivion, I hope you’ll acknowledge that the old guy you believe is clueless and ready for shuffleboard and Green Jello Thursdays at the Daisy Hill Retirement Village is the same old guy who ran things during a 15-2 run that launched the Braves back into the playoff race.

Maybe he just got smarter?

“Maybe,” Cox said, smiling. “I always manage good when we have great pitching. That’s my theory.”

Tim Hudson probably had his worst outing since coming back from Tommy John surgery. (AP photo)

Tim Hudson probably had his worst outing since coming back from Tommy John surgery. (AP photo)

Good theory. By and large, it’s about the players. Always has been. It has been clear for some time that the Braves’ in-season makeover had positioned the team well for the future. It’s just that few expected the future would include this week.

Yes, things went in the wrong direction Tuesday. But they’re still here, and these days they are all channeling the noted philosopher, John Belushi (“Nothing’s over until we say it is!”) A 5-4 loss to Florida dropped them to three games behind Colorado in the wild card race and reduced their elimination number to three, after the Rockies defeated Milwaukee in 11 innings.

It’s probably safe to say the East Division chase is dead. Philadelphia’s win gave it a five-game lead with five to go (margin for error: zero). But everything else is still on the table: playoffs, World Series, I think even the  Stanley Cup. I doubt nothing.

A better start from Tim Hudson (four run and two homers in five innings) would’ve helped against the Marlins. Still, the Braves rallied from 4-1 down to tie the score on Matt Diaz’ three-run homer in the sixth, before Kenshin Kawakami allowed the decisive run in the seventh. But these Braves have proved to be a resilient bunch. A team doesn’t win 11 of 12 road games and sweep three straight road series unless it has grown up. It has done so under Cox.

“Bobby didn’t get enough credit early on [in the 1990s] because of the names on the back of the jerseys,” Chipper Jones said. “When the names on the jerseys changed quite a bit and we were toiling at around .500, nobody said anything about that.”

There will be a ripple effect from this late-season run, regardless of where the Braves stand Sunday. They were confident going into spring training, but there’s a difference between confidence and having tangible evidence to back it up.

“If we can go 6-1 or 7-0 on this homestand, and basically do what we’ve been doing on the road, that’s something we can take into the off-season,” Jones said. “We can say, ‘Why not next year? Why not pick it up where we left off? Why not win two out of three against the really good teams and take care of business against the bad teams? Those are things we didn’t do early in the season. I realize a baseball season is full of ups and downs. But regardless of what happens, I think we’re going to have a lot of confidence going into next year.”

The Braves were on a 15-2 run before Tuesday. As even the always-confident Cox said, “The greatest teams in the world don’t do that, but the pitching’s been great, and we’ve had clutch hitting and great plays. We’ve gotten some breaks, too. It’s been an unbelievable run.”

We’ll know soon enough what it means for this season. But it’s OK to feel confident what it means for next year.

411 comments Add your comment

Fierce Dawg

September 29th, 2009
5:55 pm

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
5:57 pm

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
5:57 pm

Actually, technically — aren’t I always first?

Cheese

September 29th, 2009
5:58 pm

I believe…I believe

Cheese

September 29th, 2009
6:00 pm

if we make the playoffs what will the rotation be:

Id like: Vazquez, JJ, Hanson
with: dlowe and tim hudson ready to help in the 6/7/8 if we need it

[...] (And if you’re not going, follow Tuesday’s game live with Jeff Schultz.) [...]

Dawgs fan in las vegas

September 29th, 2009
6:02 pm

reminds me of the season where the braves chased down the giants in the final week. All the Braves can do is win out and whatever happens, happens. If they go 7-0, they will at least get the play-in game against the rockies. I just don’t see the rockies winning out. And if the phillies don’t look out, they could totally collapse. i know they only have to win 3 of the remaining 6 games, but anything can happen.

Paul H

September 29th, 2009
6:04 pm

I told you so! Ha. Just kidding. I thought this team was done a month ago when they got swept by the Reds at home. Who knew??

My Braves

September 29th, 2009
6:06 pm

I’ve got the posters plastered in the office. I BELIEVE!

Hillbilly Deluxe

September 29th, 2009
6:06 pm

Actually, technically — aren’t I always first?

You’re first in that you write the column but you’re not the first responder, unless of course you are a volunteer fireman or something. If that’s the case I withdraw my comment. ;-)

Red Shirt

September 29th, 2009
6:09 pm

This blog has “SI Curse/regression to mean” written all over it. The Braves simply can’t keep playing out of their minds the way they have.

Heywood Jablome

September 29th, 2009
6:10 pm

How about a higher quality photograph, you cheapskate?

amicusterrae

September 29th, 2009
6:12 pm

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t see this coming. When the were swept by the Reds at home, I lost hope. Now, I believe they can do it. I live in Denver and see a lot of the Rockies. They are really struggling right now, but they have some magic about them–seem to have a nack for winning close games, get a lot of breaks, etc. But, they can’t beat the Dodgers. A lot of people here think they are playing not to lose right now. If the Braves keep winning, I think the Rox won’t be able to handle the pressure.

Tomahawk Slim

September 29th, 2009
6:15 pm

At the game now…hanging near the field…Word around the dugouts is Johnson is very weak at ball park…might only last a couple innings…Marlins are hoping for 5. Florida must win this game and that’s the only reason Johnson is pitching.

Bring it, Bravos!

CJDawg

September 29th, 2009
6:20 pm

I have given up, come back believing, given up for sure, come back, given up for the last time only to come back believing wholeheartedly. EVERY pitch is edge of the seat stuff for me now. I got so excited the other night, I went to brush my teeth. Being on the other side of youth, I have prep H next to toothpaste. Let’s just say my gums won’t be swelling anytime soon! GO BRAVES!!!!!!

amicusterrae

September 29th, 2009
6:25 pm

CJDawg,
LOL!
I take it that stuff doesn’t have a minty fresh taste?

Tomahawk Slim

September 29th, 2009
6:26 pm

More inside word around the dugout…just overheard radar gun guy talking about how he was in the Marlins bathroom and saw Johnson projectile vomiting…he even clocked it at 95 MPH. Things are looking up, Braves fans!

amicusterrae

September 29th, 2009
6:34 pm

Fish fry tonight at 755 Hank Aaron Dr SW!

Timboy6

September 29th, 2009
6:34 pm

I’m pulling for them, but I think that series against the Reds is going to come back to haunt them. I hope not!

Volman

September 29th, 2009
6:35 pm

What is going to happen…Mr. Schultz?

:)

Sg

September 29th, 2009
6:41 pm

Jeff,

If the Braves get in, they are set to go a long way. The Braves are +103 in run differential (only trailing Philadelphia and LA) yet they don’t have a player with 30 home runs or 100 RBIs (by contrast, PHIL has 4 with more than 30 HRs including Howard with 43). This means Atlanta has excellent starting pitching and a balanced lineup that can score 1-9 in the order. I am really excited and think they will absolutely be in the playoffs!!!!

Coop

September 29th, 2009
6:47 pm

TS- I nearly projectile pissed myself.

I only wish I could see the games out here in Texas.

Coop

September 29th, 2009
6:50 pm

I do believe that IF we get in, the Dodgers and Cards are in a lot of trouble. Not sure about the Phils. May be too much to beat 4 of 7.

tjhook

September 29th, 2009
6:50 pm

Go Braves!! I’ve been pumping Frank Wren for Executive of the Year since late early August and if the Braves can pull out the wild-card bid, he can get it. Plus, we get to watch more baseball (they’re really pitching well and playing to their ability). It’s exciting to watch a team play up to their potential. I hope they keep the attitude they have through whatever circumstances come. I’ve enjoyed them battling to get the wins. Hopefully, Lady Luck will brush her dress against their gloves and bats :-)

tjhook

September 29th, 2009
6:52 pm

Coop, I’m in Texas too. Fort Hood . . . I feel your pain, but hoping the Braves continue to give us pleasure.

Coop

September 29th, 2009
6:54 pm

TJ – Ft. Sam here. Just watch on the compuetr gamecast. I’m praying for playoffs just to see them play. Too bad TBS doesn’t carry them anymore. I hate Ted Turner!

Reid Adair

September 29th, 2009
6:59 pm

Chipper Jones: “…Why not win two out of three against the really good teams and take care of business against the bad teams? Those are things we didn’t do early in the season.”

Is Chipper’s definition of “early in the season” anything prior to Sept. 10? I think the star third baseman has a short-term memory failure with regard to how horribly inconsistent the offense has been up until the last three weeks.

Rich

September 29th, 2009
7:06 pm

Back on July 13, the Sports Buffet hosts unanimously concluded not only that the Braves would miss the playoffs, but they wouldn’t even sniff them. Consider us part of the 6%.

They can never have 1991 over again, until the generation of 1991 fans are long gone, simply because of how far they had to climb to reach that point from the depths in which they had wallowed for the better part of two plus decades. Still, you cannot deny that there is a spark of electricity in the air over this club right now. I am loving the comeback and hoping it continues into 2010 and beyond.

Alan

September 29th, 2009
7:09 pm

Let’s go Bravos! So that 15-2–the 2 losses were to the phils. So we’ve swept quite a few teams. Go brew crew too!

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
7:09 pm

Heywood – we’re you expecting a glamour shot of some sort? I’ll try to get you a newer photo later.

Volman – I’m almost certain somebody will win tonight.

SG – Agreed.

About to start. Hudson taking warmup.

Alan

September 29th, 2009
7:10 pm

Come on Huddy. 1-2-3 inning!

Alan

September 29th, 2009
7:11 pm

I was hoping mlb would be showing the rockies game tonight but it’s twins tigers.

amicusterrae

September 29th, 2009
7:12 pm

Jeff, thought that was your glamour shot.

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

September 29th, 2009
7:13 pm

Nice blog Jeff…glad you were “tasked” with this….sooo if the Braves lose….can you handle the impending hatred that will directed towards you..???? hopefully that won’t happen…go Braves..

louisville slugger

September 29th, 2009
7:16 pm

I’m just amazed at the last three weeks! I understand Chipper’s optimism about next year, there’s a lot to be excited about given the starting pitching and the relatively stable starting lineup. However, I’m pretty concerned about being able to catch the Rockies this year; keep in mind their last three games are with the Dodgers, who almost certainly will be playing scrubs to save the starters for the playoffs…

CJDawg

September 29th, 2009
7:24 pm

TV reports that Johnson is battling the flu….hate it for him, but MIGHT be a good sign for the braves.

And no amicute, it didn’t have a minty fresh taste…LMAO!!!

Toots

September 29th, 2009
7:26 pm

Jeff, are you wearing your ‘Believe’ sticker?

dcbrave

September 29th, 2009
7:27 pm

Stuck in DC with no way to watch the game tonight. Just ESPN Gamecast, which is less than good.

Come on boys. Make us proud.

How’s the crowd?

Coop

September 29th, 2009
7:29 pm

I can’t even get gamecast working. I still hate Ted Turner!

Rich

September 29th, 2009
7:36 pm

We already knew if the Braves and Rockies tied for the wild card spot, there would be a one game playoff on Monday to decide who goes farther and who goes home.

Now, as if the season couldn’t get any more strange, according to the AJC, if the Braves and Rockies share a tie with the Phillies, even harder to fathom and also less likely, Monday’s game would switch to the Phillies visiting the Braves to determine the division title, and the loser would then face the Rockies to decide the wild card spot, with the Braves playing at the Ted in both games, if necessary.

Of course, for all this convoluted mess to take place, the Braves would have to win out, the Rockies would have to lose two of their remaining six, and the Phillies would have to lose four of their remaining half dozen games.

I don’t see it happening, but then again, I had given up on this team by Independence Day.

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
7:39 pm

Great thrown by Escobar on that out. OK, here’s my question: Is he the Braves’ MVP this season, despite all the mid-season wackiness?

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
7:41 pm

BobHorner: Sure blame me. Braves, Iraq, Global Warming. It’s all on me.

Rich

September 29th, 2009
7:42 pm

Although Escobar has seemingly grown up a bit over the second half, Tommy Hanson would have to be the MVP, in my opinion.

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
7:42 pm

Toots – I seem to have misplaced my sticker. It got lost in my agenda.

Rich

September 29th, 2009
7:42 pm

Or maybe Vazquez.

Dawgmess

September 29th, 2009
7:42 pm

Your article is 457 words with 244 of them (53%) being comments from Chipper Jones. Why does everybody run to see what Chipper says everytime somebody in the Braves organization poots. Who cares??? Does anybody else articulate anything?

glc3md

September 29th, 2009
7:42 pm

After living and dying with the Braves since 1966, I believe anything is possible. After all we started a season with 13 wins in a row. These guys are getting up from the mat. I can’t wait to see them whip the Dodgers and the Phillies and get another crack at the Yankees.

Jeff Schultz

September 29th, 2009
7:49 pm

Dawgness — they’re just quotes I’m going to use in the next blog. I was just giving you something EXTRA? You’re welcome … And I’m sorry, but would you have preferred David Ross?

Alan

September 29th, 2009
7:51 pm

Huddy not looking sharp tonight. Doesn’t look good now against Johnson.

Rich

September 29th, 2009
7:54 pm

For what it’s worth, Houston’s up on the Phils 1-0 in the 3rd. Brewers-Rockies start in less than an hour.