Live from Philly: Cox’s ‘hardest-working team’ faces Halladay

Matt Diaz was in a tripping mood Monday night, if you get my drift. (AP photo)

Matt Diaz was in a tripping mood Monday night, if you get my drift. (AP photo)

Philadelphia — The most optimistic man in the world all but admitted Tuesday what has become increasingly obvious: That these Atlanta Braves have come close to maximizing a modest set of assets. Asked how he would remember his final club, Bobby Cox said: “This is the hardest-working team I’ve ever had.”

Not the best. Not the most talented. The hardest-working. And it has had to be. Because talent-wise this team at peak capacity was never a colossus, and the Braves haven’t been at peak capacity since Chipper Jones hurt himself in Houston. They’ve been making do, plugging leaks, fashioning a semblance of a lineup with retreads and duct tape. And you know what?

They entered play Tuesday with the second-best record in the National League.

We Atlantans have noted and bemoaned the slide from seven games ahead in the NL East to four games back, but we can’t have been totally shocked. A lot had to go right to get the Braves into first place, and a lot more was going to have to go right to keep them there. And it’s not as if this team has collapsed: For all its recent wobbles, it would still be leading either of the other two divisions.

The Phillies, who have talent to burn and money to spend, have showed their class. They’ve gone 16-3 in September, and on Monday one of their three aces (Cole Hamels) beat a Braves’ rookie (Brandon Beachy) pressed into service because Jair Jurrjens turned up sore. On Tuesday the matchup was only slightly more encouraging for the visiting nine: Another rookie (Mike Minor) against maybe the best in the game (Roy Halladay).

There are times this season when to look at the standings was to think, “Has this team really won that many games?” Because a list of the things the Braves don’t do well — hit for power, hit with runners in scoring position, steal bases, catch the ball — is longer than a recitation of their strengths, which have been starting pitching, relief pitching and pugnacity. And now the starting pitcher has buckled, which is why the Braves are 9-10 in September.

At such a time, the response is to ask what has gone wrong. In this case, it’s the incorrect question. We’re seeing a team that has spent nearly  $60 million more for its roster assume control of a division it has won three seasons running, and we’re seeing a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2005 position itself to qualify as a wild card.

The lost division lead represents failure of a kind, but to harp on that would mask the bigger success. Even if these Braves lose every game from here out, they will have overachieved. Let’s return to Cox, who earlier this season described his mindset thusly: “You can’t win them all. But I keep thinking we’re going to, even though it hasn’t worked out like that in 51 years.”

Of this team, Cox said Tuesday: “The ball has bounced our way a good deal this year. You win that many late games and things are going right for you.”

Let’s note that this is the manager whose postgame briefings routinely include a recitation of all the balls the Braves hit hard that were caught (and all the bloops authored by the opponent that weren’t). Let’s note that this is a manager who expects the best no matter what. Let’s note that for Bobby Cox even to hint that his final team has gotten good value for its resources is close to a revelation.

And with that, the figurative phone lines are open yet again for your disagreement. (I know a lot of you blame Cox — or Frank Wren — for everything that has gone awry. I respectfully disagree.) I’ll be here to chronicle and annotate the events of Game 2 in this series, and I’d be honored to have you as company. And, as ever, I thank you in advance.

580 comments Add your comment

CSpin

September 21st, 2010
5:39 pm

It’s like deja vu all over again.

Nick Purdy

September 21st, 2010
5:41 pm

Good analysis, Mark. Let’s be happy and hopeful.

CSpin

September 21st, 2010
5:42 pm

Great blog and well said btw, MB.

kbrab

September 21st, 2010
5:50 pm

No argument here. If they get to the post-season, this year is a huge success.

bvillebaron

September 21st, 2010
5:52 pm

You are right, Mark. Some of the critics of the Braves should consider the following:

(1) they had the 7th worst team in MLB 2 years ago and as of today have the 5th best record in MLB;

(2) this is a still rebuilding franchise with a number of quality young players and/or prospects (i.e. Heyward, Venters, Kimbrel, Minor, Freeman, Teheran and possibly Beachy and Delgado as well);

(3) during the past offseason, the Phils, with a large budget now that Pennsylvania taxpayers, including yours truly, provided them with substantial financial assistance to build their new stadium, added Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt to a basically still in their prime roster which won the World Series 2 years ago and lost to the Yankees last year;

(4) the Braves still hold a 2 game lead in the wild card with only 11 games to play.

Peter

September 21st, 2010
5:55 pm

Silly stuff Mark… “IF” they looses EVERY GAME the Rest of the way ….THEY CHOKED !

What is Tampa’s payroll Mark ?

What was the Marlin’s payroll when they won 2 World Series Titles ?

Yes Bobby explained they have been VERY LUCKY to even be in it with the roster they put together…..Zero speed, little to no bats, and ERRORS galore 112 and counting…..Frank Wren’s mess.

24 Miracle wins so far in the 9th inning……so they are still in it, and can still hold on for a playoff spot.

Please also explain the Money to burn part …..cause in my mind with KK, Lowe, Nate, and Melky…….we burned a heck of allot of MONEY ourselves !

Hardest working ?

Come on Mark…..is that why they throw to the wrong base, miss the cut off guy, made 112 errors, and can’t Bunt….because of HARD WORK ?

Brent

September 21st, 2010
5:56 pm

Bobby is a great manager. All of you who disagree, that’s probably why you don’t have a Hall of Fame vote. Mark is being nice by “respectfully” disagreeing. I just think you are a bunch of morons.

Beeeeg Boy

September 21st, 2010
5:58 pm

Kinda reminds me of the Felix Milan-Felipe Alou teams many moons ago.

dawg4u

September 21st, 2010
5:59 pm

I am really surprised that the Braves have the second best NL record especially considering the lack of consistency in our regular lineup. I think it is important that the Braves win at least one game here in Philly if only for psychological reasons. Tonight should be our best shot to beat the Phils because lately Oswalt has been their best pitcher. Their top three starters are better than our top three and their lineup is head and shoulders above ours so I can see how Bobby can say that this has been our hardest working club under his management. Look at our lineup and some of the injuries we’ve been hit with and you have to be impressed with the record and effort of this team and our never say die attitude.

bvillebaron

September 21st, 2010
5:59 pm

Peter:

Do yourself a favor, re-read my points 1 and 2 above before you criticize Wren. For the record, the “no at bats” team was 4th in the NL in runs scored as of last Sunday. Sorry to ruin your negative comments with facts.

dawg4u

September 21st, 2010
5:59 pm

Enter your comments here

Darryl Blackberry

September 21st, 2010
6:00 pm

Outside of first base, our defense has been terrible. How can we expect to win even the wild card if we keep giving away runs?

It would be a shame if San Diego and Atlanta — the overachieving teams — were to miss out on the postseason, but that’s what may very well happen, what with Colorado and San Francisco surging (and playing easy teams this week, it should be noted).

Peter

September 21st, 2010
6:03 pm

bvillebaron…… I would go look at the games…….. Yes we blew a bunch of teams out in a single game…….but how about in Pittsburgh this last go round……… 1 run in two games then we won 12-3 ?

We have lost close low scoring games all year, then blew a team out……If we could manufacture a run for a change, and not have to wait for a 3 run blast, I could agree with you.

dawg4u

September 21st, 2010
6:06 pm

When you look at our lineup as compared to the Phillies lineup I can see how Bobby can say that this is the hardest working team he’s had because top to bottom the Phillies are much more talented and their top three starters are better than our top three. Regardless of what happens the rest of the way the Braves have over-achieved this season. I think it’s important pyschologically to win at least one game in Philly and tonight would be the best chance because Oswalt has been the Phil’s best pitcher lately.

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 21st, 2010
6:06 pm

How ya feeling today Mark?

Reid Adair

September 21st, 2010
6:07 pm

“The most optimistic man in the world all but admitted Tuesday what has become increasingly obvious: That these Atlanta Braves have come close to maximizing a modest set of assets. Asked how he would remember his final club, Bobby Cox said: ‘This is the hardest-working team I’ve ever had.’”

Bobby Cox is a class act. To call this roster a “modest set of assets” is being kind. And, yes, Mark, I blame Frank Wren entirely for the roster Cox has had to work with.

However, I wholeheartedly agree with Cox that they have worked hard. The harsh reality is that with this lineup, even being in contention right now is an amazing accomplishment.

brad

September 21st, 2010
6:07 pm

i agree brent! morons! they are. we are having a great year and bobby cox is showing how truley talented he is by managing this so so team to a respectful record. we have once again gained respect in this league. for those of you who dont believe that your ignorant and a hater

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 21st, 2010
6:08 pm

BTW, the west will beat themselves to a pulp and it will be the Braves saving grace,

bruce

September 21st, 2010
6:18 pm

Mark, Classy and good perspective-giving. Thanks. Bruce

CSpin

September 21st, 2010
6:23 pm

I almost said something about the probability of another first round exit if they were to win the WC, but I’ll refrain.

Mark Bradley

September 21st, 2010
6:24 pm

Much better, Chef Tim. Thanks for asking.

Lobosolo

September 21st, 2010
6:28 pm

Great post, Mark… Too bad the thread will be inundated by the armchair experts when the game gets under way… I’ve been watching the Braves since they moved here in ‘66, and this team definitely has as much heart as any of the previous ones and Cox has done one of his best jobs to date… They are by far the biggest over-achievers in the majors this year… Too bad the nofans can’t realize that…

Reverand Optimistic

September 21st, 2010
6:28 pm

Yeah though we walk through the valley of shadow and death (CITIZENS BANK PARK) we will fear no evil, for our bats and our gloves will comfort thee…..

Mudge

September 21st, 2010
6:31 pm

Darryl: I beg to differ about the surging Giants. They play a Cubs team at home that has won 8 of 9 and the Rockies in Denver. These are not easy teams. The Giants could easily lose 4 of 6.

P Rose

September 21st, 2010
6:34 pm

JJ is hurt (again) and doesn’t want to pitch.

KK is god-awful and (thankfully) won’t be allowed to pitch. He belongs in

LL (Little League).

MM is all we have available and (unfortunately) HAS to pitch. Can he beat Halladay?

NN-OO

jfreak13713

September 21st, 2010
6:35 pm

I don’t blame Cox or Wren but I give credit to the players who in spite of injuries and payroll limitations have put themselves in position to make the playoffs. Cox is cox but we won’t have him to kick around anymore and Wren has made some decision that haven’t worked out, YET. Lets not forget how well Lowe has pitched in the playoffs in his career, and McLouth seems to be hitting much better. With all that being said its the players that decide who wins or looses. They Braves Players have decided to win much more often than they have lost this year and we would all do well to remember that!

The Braves shouldn’t even be here! Instead of complaining about what they are not try to grateful for what they are, a playoff contender!

Cox I’m not a huge fan of your style but I fear what we will be once you are gone. Be careful what you wish for because the grass is rarely greener on the otherside of the fence!

DCBravosFan

September 21st, 2010
6:36 pm

Let’s grab the next two and get the heck on down to DC!!!

Mark Bradley

September 21st, 2010
6:39 pm

Thanks, Lobosolo.

JIMMY

September 21st, 2010
6:43 pm

if this bobbys hardest working team !!! wonder where they are all at when bunting practice comes aro und ?????

Steve

September 21st, 2010
6:43 pm

Great article Mark! It’s nice to hear positives! Just win that Wild Card. I like our chances of winning, tomorrow. They have overachieved for sure. Hope they take care of business this weekend and next week. Should be amazing at Turner Field next week/weekend. I hear there should be big crowds for every remaining home game.

joejoe

September 21st, 2010
6:43 pm

It seemed to me last night we didn’t have our first string in the game.

Tmac

September 21st, 2010
6:44 pm

Great article Mark!! This is a team, that looking at it by the stats you reference should be at best a .500 club, but here it is 11 games left and we’re battling the mighty Phillies with 3 rookie pitchers, 2 of which were in the minors just a few months ago. Win or lose it’s been an exciting 6 months of baseball. Can’t wait to see how it all plays out

flyboy

September 21st, 2010
6:47 pm

The great thing about a 162 game season is that it generally winds up sorting out the better teams…and that’s what is happening with the Braves. They have been over-achieving all year and getting the most they can from everyone at critical times…what is happening in the last two weeks is simply a reflection of the thin margin for error with which the Braves have has to deal with all year finally coming into play…the loss of Chipper, the fatigue of the starters, a couple of ill-timed injuries, the less than average defense – the real killer in my humble opinion – and an average offensive lineup…it’s going to be a question of whether these guys have just one more burst to the finish line – I hope they do, but will not be surprised if they’ve simply run out of luck and timing…they’ve done far more than any one realistically could have expected looking at the 25-man roster.

CardsfaninATL

September 21st, 2010
6:50 pm

it sure is more fun to watch the Braves than the Cards right now…I think a little perspective is in order here. The Braves are a team fighting for a playoff spot, that’s more than about 20 other teams can say.

Mark Bradley

September 21st, 2010
6:52 pm

Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch: Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy.

bravesfan

September 21st, 2010
6:53 pm

Until the upper management decides to start spending more money, we will always be looking up to the Phillies. Because they have money, they were able to trade for Cliff Lee, sign Halladay, re-sign Ryan Howard for way more than he’s worth, and make a trade for Roy Oswalt and his huge salary. Teams that can take on higher salaries can bolster their team with high-end season-changing players without money being an issue. With the Braves, every move they make has to take into consideration their payroll limits set by Liberty Media. Yes you can look at the Rays and Reds, for example, but they are not perennial contenders like the big-spending Yankees and Phillies.

If we do not win tonight it is over folks

September 21st, 2010
6:55 pm

What a meaningful race to capture the wild card or miserable send off for ‘ole Bobby. We have to play like a team “on fire” tonight or it is essentially over.

Ashley

September 21st, 2010
7:06 pm

Bobby Cox is not to blame at all. We are facing tough pitching right now and the guys haven’t played the greatest defense lately. Too many errors. They need to go out there swinging today. Cuz this pitcher doesn’t walk people thats for darn sure lol.

Mark Bradley

September 21st, 2010
7:07 pm

Here we go. Halladay’s first pitch is grounded to short. One out.

SilentCC

September 21st, 2010
7:08 pm

Any good (great) manager, whether in sports, in the corporate scene or families or any organization that has a leader, has the uncanny knack of getting the most out of his people. The best aren’t usually those who possess the highest skills themselves, but because of their own struggles to excel and their keen sense of what motivates people, are patient enough to lift others up — maybe way past their normal expectations, if even for a little while, or just for a special moment.

Optimism isn’t truly believing that all things WILL turn out for the best — that would be silly. It’s giving yourself and others a chance to excel if possible, and if not, not to wish you were dead because of the failure.

clay

September 21st, 2010
7:08 pm

hey mark the crowd doesnt look as into the game as last night. whats up with them?

CSpin

September 21st, 2010
7:09 pm

We did this last time we faced him and he went 8 or 9 innings—why does bobby make em swing at the first pitch w/ halladay??

Mark Bradley

September 21st, 2010
7:09 pm

Hallday requires five pitches to retire the Braves

"Chef" Tim Dix

September 21st, 2010
7:09 pm

Remember when our pitchers were that economical?

clay

September 21st, 2010
7:10 pm

this is not looking good for the bravos starting off

Ashley

September 21st, 2010
7:10 pm

Dang that first half of the inning was quick….ok they can take one pitch at least lol. Don’t be too aggresive boys.

Trey

September 21st, 2010
7:10 pm

It will be tough tonight.

clay

September 21st, 2010
7:10 pm

whats the crowd like out there mark? as crazy as last night?

Ghost of Jeff Treadway

September 21st, 2010
7:11 pm

I might be alone in this thinking, but I believe it’s smarter to stack our rotation to sweep the Nationals rather than go toe-to-toe with the Phillies’ trio. You’d hate to have our aces get beat by theirs and have nothing left for a crucial series in Washington. Mark, what do you think?

clay

September 21st, 2010
7:11 pm

whats the crowd like there tonight mark? crazy as last night?