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

Jim

April 8th, 2009
8:55 am

It’s all about the quality and depth of the starting pitching rotation. If Lowe, Jurrjens, Vasquez, and the picher from Japan (whose name escapes me right now) stay healthy for the majority of the season, the Braves will have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs. Quality, healthy, starting pitching will keep us in most games and will take pressure off the bullpen, which had to pitch WAY too many inings last year.

Remember last years’ injuries? Hampton/Hudson/Glavine/Smoltz all missed too many starts, and we ended up pitching guys who were not really front-line starters (Carlyle, Reyes,).

You know that Chipper and Glavine and Cox would really like to get another ring before they retire…..

Why wait

April 8th, 2009
8:52 am

The Braves are 2-0…have playoff tickets gone on sale yet?

Scottbravesfan

April 8th, 2009
1:48 am

The Braves and the Marlins have the best rotations in the NL East. The Mets have a good bullpen but their rotation is lacking after Santana. And I”m not sold on the Phillies rotation either. After Hamels it’s a huge drop off and they are expecting a lot out of 46 year old Jamie Moyer. I think it’s hilarious that the Philly fans are already booing their team after the Braves have spanked them twice.

Henry

April 7th, 2009
11:16 pm

I certainly believe after we acquired Lowe and Vasquez that we would be competitive in the N.L East and make the playoffs. I am not only concerned about the Mets and Phils but also the Fish as they seem to give us problems every year. However we will be at least the Wils Card team and with some luck could go very deep. i.e WS. Terrence you are doing a good job of ignoring your critics, when last I checked we are still in the USA and you are entitled to your opinion just like everyone else.

Bob

April 7th, 2009
10:29 pm

Moore, this article is poorly written. It is not that difficult to formulate and transcribe complete thoughts onto paper.

Lash La Rue

April 7th, 2009
10:21 pm

DOB pick Mets this year.Bradley picks Braves to win 85-90 games. I pick Braves to win 90 if everyone stays healthy. But in my book the Fish (is the team to watch) are something else. Braves great game tonight.

T. Moore don’t let some Bloggers get you down..I believe this is still the USA and your opinion is as good as any.

Plato

April 7th, 2009
8:34 pm

Was it O’Brien or Bradley who picked the Braves to win 89 games and the wildcard? If it was Sunny Skies O’Brien, take it with a grain of salt. He previously picked the Braves to win the division every year he’s been here.

well

April 7th, 2009
8:34 pm

We have far too few black players for Terrence to pick us to win

RickNole

April 7th, 2009
6:24 pm

Is this the same Terence Moore who just said that this team would be battling for 3rd place in the NL East??

http://www.ajc.com/video/content/video/?bcpid=1659825399&bclid=1717763724&bctid=18719349001

Mitch

April 7th, 2009
5:55 pm

Terrance, I do agree with your assessment. The key to our team will be health.

Unless the Mets seriously falter, they should win the NL East. They have a good rotation, a solid lineup, and maybe the game’s best closer in Frod.

As for the Phillies, they are a team that had everything go right for them last year. I dont see that happening again. They have talent, but, usually after a team wins the WS in the manner that they did, there is a “hangover”.

As for the Braves: We should have a very solid rotation. Lowe, Jurrgens, Vazquez, are a good top three. I think Tom Glavine is destined to have one last decent season in the sun, before riding off to retirement, and Cooperstown.

I dont think we will bury opponents with our offense, but our lineup is solid. It would be great if Chipper could play in 130-140 games. Mccann should be very good, and hopefully Jeff will rebound from his bad 2008.

Dave O’Brien said 89 wins and the wild card for the Braves. If we stay healthy, there is no reason we cant achieve that. I expect the Mets to win the division unless they really fall apart, or unless many of their pieces are out for long periods of time.

Mitch