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

Kevin

April 28th, 2009
7:31 am

I can tell u of two weakness of braves…….No1 Bobby cox n friends n No2 the new owners of the braves……..also Mike wren to but he like TM all hot air n gas….Oh and folks we lost to st.louis team with bad pitchin to…so we just dandy for bad teams with no leader in any players…U can;t bobby(i choke) cox will not allow it

Kevin

April 25th, 2009
9:26 am

Geez i stink in comments please discard…….ahen

Kevin

April 25th, 2009
9:25 am

Big deal 8-8 now after tryin to lose to a bad tean again like reds…and let the worst team the nats win 2 out of 3 is awful no playoffs again….Under the arms of wife beater bobby cox only mananger to choke world series wild cards games in a single blow….i see a 78-84 season and 3rd place..if we can’t beat washington n all chipper say is well we did are best…we remember that 2000 season with a lead in game 162 with a 4 run lead and are leader over threw first base n rocker lost n i said that it we gone in 3 in wildcard game with St;louis…and what bobby do say well that the breaks…what he should was have a closed door meetin n cuss chippey out for lousy throwin…But no he blames lofton for it and after that choke choke choke u see why we never sale out is that….fans were tired of chokin and bobby cox and friends are it….and frenchy needs be in gwinnwtt with that clod centerfield shafecer what is son of presidnt sherzgoats…as for glavine release him let him wesr a mets hat in hall of fame like phil niekro will a yankee’s hat maddox a cubs hat….Now as me its crap we be 8-10 after sunday to….where be the cheerleaders then….Fire cox is answer

jwilli120

April 8th, 2009
10:54 am

The Braves will win the division title with SMALL BALL and go deep in the playoffs,the reason we don’t get out of the 1st rd is we always wait on the THREE RUN HOMER and it never happens, the key to advancing in the playoff is get runners on, move em over and get em in, good starting pitching and good defense which i think we have, if this team excells in small ball this is a dangerous team in series play.(DON”T WAIT FOR THE THREE RUN HOMER) BRAVES WIN, BRAVES WIN , BRAVES WIN!!!!!!

jgon

April 8th, 2009
10:09 am

We still need andrew , don’t you think T.M. ?

Blindog

April 8th, 2009
10:05 am

I don’t always agree with every thing you say and some times you make me want to cuss, but I always find your articles informative and sometimes humorous.The earlier comment from Jack was uncalled for and shows that some people are just mean and stupid. Oh yeah, his last name is Ass!

steve

April 8th, 2009
10:02 am

Where are the Wren haters?!

Where are the Wren Haters!?!

BossLady

April 8th, 2009
10:01 am

What in the world are you doing having the mets and phillies players on the AJC lead page and calling the Braves underdogs? You are so terribly stupid and this is just like you to do this type of thing.
I hope the AJC changes that page as soon as possible. Man