Braves as underdogs? They could bark their way to the top

   It’s been official for three years and counting: The Braves have gone from operating as the famously hunted in their division for 14 consecutive seasons to whatever they are now.

  What the Braves are now is just another wannabe team in the National League East not named the Philadelphia Phillies or the New York Mets.

  No worries, though. If used properly by their evolving boys of summer, this is encouraging news for the choppers and the chanters. The Braves could sneak from the shadows into brightness with their significant upgrades that include starting pitching, bullpen depth (well, potentially) and Jeff Francoeur.

  They could do all of this by feasting off that tired but occasionally effective us-against-them mentality.

  That said, before the Braves left for Philadelphia, where they are scheduled to spend Wednesday afternoon completing their season-opening series against the Phillies, Braves manager Bobby Cox shrugged off underdog talk. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, puffing away at one of his cigars at Turner Field.

  “Once the umpire says, ‘Play ball,’ everything’s out the window. Who’s picked. Who’s not. I don’t even look at it.”

  Cox shouldn’t. Among the reasons why he already has at least the bill of his cap in Cooperstown is his ability to live that old Bob Knight philosophy: You don’t play the opponent. You play the game.

  As for Braves players, they need to play the opponent and the game. They need to use everything they have physically, mentally and spiritually to battle a couple of former wannabes who suddenly are the real things as consistent forces in the NL East and beyond.

  You have the Phillies, for instance, with their wonderfully cocky attitude courtesy of that fresh World Series trophy in their possession. They return all of their primary sluggers and throwers who made that trophy possible. You also have the Mets, prolific chokers during the past two seasons. That’s because they couldn’t keep leads from vanishing late in games. Now they have the splendid likes of J.J. Putz as a setup guy and Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez as a closer, which means New York foes have little hope if they’re trailing late.

  “Who wouldn’t pick the Phillies or the Mets, especially when you look on paper at what they’ve done?” said Francoeur, whose Braves are expected to spend this season trying to swat away the rapidly improving Florida Marlins for third place.

  Even so, it doesn’t have to be that way for the Braves. Not if they have the right attitude, along with that pitching and a rejuvenated Francoeur after last year’s fiasco (.239 batting average, 11 home runs, demotion to the minor leagues). Said Francoeur, “I think the thing that I like about us this year is that we’re just kind of flying under the radar. I came to camp, and I saw a very confident team.

  “It was a little embarrassing where we finished at the end of last year (20 games behind the Phillies), so we’ve got a lot of guys who kind of have a vendetta. I think we’ll come out with a little bit different attitude this year.”

  They haven’t a choice.

28 comments Add your comment

DirtyDawg

April 7th, 2009
5:18 pm

Maybe those guys at ESPN and the MLB Network know what they’re talking about – they certainly say so with certainty – when all they know what to do is to pick either the Phillies or the Mets to finish one/two or two/one with the other taking the Wild Card. These are the kinds of smugness that begs for the Braves to win it all. God it would be glorious.

Alaska Braves Fan

April 7th, 2009
4:51 pm

Forecasting a season is pretty darn tricky, but I have a good feeling about 2009. This isn’t a superstar Braves team, it’s the working man’s Braves team. If all our guys go out, day after day, and do their jobs at the level we know they can, I like our chances. Attitude is important too, and the Braves seem to be in the groove. Vince Dooley once said something like, “The fans don’t always understand the technical parts of the game, but they always know when you’re trying hard to win.” This team will try hard, I think.

mike arnone

April 7th, 2009
4:31 pm

I like the makeup of our team. I try not to get too excited about how we did in spring training or how we spoiled the party in philly on opening night. As fans let;s lay back and see what develops for awhile. I think we will be pleasantly surprised. Our starting pitching should give
us innings this year. That is huge!

chris watson

April 7th, 2009
4:20 pm

I am totally confused on why the mets & phillies are picked to win the division over the braves. The braves have a deep rotation (nine capable starting pitchers), a solid bullpen (other than a reliable lefty), and a very balanced good hitting lineup. No they don’t have a 35-40 homerun guy but who cares? They have power up and down the lineup they don’t need a one dimensional power hitter in the middle of the line-up. That style of baseball is played out anyway. Look at teams like the ays & the angels…they do it with the same exact type of team the braves have this year…only the braves are fielding a better team in my opinion….please let me know the weaknesses the braves have??

Jack

April 7th, 2009
4:20 pm

Hey Terrence, enjoy your last year as a writer for AJC.

No one reads you. No one comments. I felt like being kind this morning by giving you a comment.

Horrible piece here. No meat. Just a sloppy article.

Are you a college graduate?

Stacie

April 7th, 2009
4:19 pm

Im really tired of the bias in baseball. I really dont care about the Mets and Phillies. They still have to play the same amount of games.

Tomahawk Matt

April 7th, 2009
3:59 pm

The Braves were underdogs every single year that they won the Division Championship. No one outside of Atlanta ever picked the Braves to win the Division – not once and obviously not 14 in a row.

It’s great to have another season under way.

GO BRAVES!!!

Tomahawkin

April 7th, 2009
2:56 pm

I love the underdog role, but It’s only the first series Bro…We gotta see how this team handles adversity (Injuries, hitting slumps, Tough Interleague schedule, etc.) before we make the assessment that the braves are underdog playoff contenders…

Schafer Came out on point Sunday Night, but we have to see how he handles the bat once the scouting reports get around and the league figures him out, Same for Kawakami and Anderson (Who is known to be a notoriously slow starter…)

And we haven’t even seen Kawakami pitch against teams in the regular season. He could be the next sensation or another version of Hideki I-Rob-U (Irabu)…We will all find out how good this team really is come June…

Still I want these braves to proves those guys at BSPN that “The Road to October” Still rolls through the “A” and not New Yawk…

Go Braves!

New Adjective

April 7th, 2009
2:47 pm

Maybe I’m not aware of a Where’s Waldo-type game you play in your articles, but you’ve used the adjective “splendid” no less than 4 times in as many posts. My 9 year old knows how to use a Thesaurus.

DeanDome Dan

April 7th, 2009
1:02 pm

One game into the season and the Braves columnists/cheerleaders are coming out of the woodwork.