October 2010

Is this a team of destiny?

With Al Michaels’ voice providing some influence, many of us will always recognize the 1980 U.S. Men’s hockey team as a group of men who helped us “believe in miracles.” 

As the Braves enter this postseason motivated to prolong Bobby Cox’s managerial career as long as possible, they have already give us further reason to wonder if we should “believe in destiny.” 

Cox first guided the Braves to the playoffs in 1991 and now the last Atlanta team that he carries into the postseason is coming off a 91-win season.

Cox’s first and only trip to a big league ballpark during his schoolboy days came when he traveled from his rural hometown of Selma, Calif. to San Francisco and had the chance to to see Stan Musial and the Cardinals play the Giants at Seals Stadium.

Now a little more than 50 years later, Cox’s final postseason journey begins in San Francisco. Unfortunately with both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado sidelined, he carries a lineup that doesn’t posses the offensive firepower that Musial provided in the latter part of his career.

“I was mad because (Musial) didn’t take batting practice,” Cox said. “It was toward the end for him.  No wind sprints, no nothing.  First at-bat, he grabs two bats waves them a couple times in the on-deck circle, steps in the box and  whack  — a bullet.”

At 69 years-old, Cox is still sharp as a tack and obviously very vibrant as we witnessed again Sunday when he celebrated his club’s Wild Card berth with his players.

The Braves organization staged a first-class tribute Saturday afternoon and the fans that packed Turner Field this weekend showed an appreciation that proved that the oft-maligned Atlanta sports fans can display that same passion that exists in Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

But what I will forever remember about this weekend was the fact that Cox truly allowed himself the opportunity to enjoy a couple of fitting celebrations  — the one staged Saturday to honor his career and the one staged Sunday after the Wild Card entry was clinched. 

Cox’s primary focus remained on the games and the postseason race.  But for 25 minutes before Saturday’s game, he allowed himself to wholeheartedly enjoy a fitting tribute.  Then after suffering a demoralizing loss that bruised his club’s postseason hopes a few hours later, he took time to reminisce with some of his former players who had traveled to Atlanta to celebrate his career. 

Getting a chance to see Cox smile like he did both on Saturday and Sunday was something special for those of us who have had the pleasure to spend countless afternoons and evenings with a man that we recognize as much more than somebody who has totaled the fourth-most managerial wins in Major League history. 

Taking the Wild Card route for the first time, Cox will be taking his Major League-record 16th club to the postseason this week.  He and Joe Torre entered the season tied with 15 appearances.

If this is truly it for Cox, he will go out unlike any other legendary manager in the game’s history.  None of the other managers who rank among the top 30 on MLB’s all-time wins list have guided their final club to the postseason.

ROTATION PLANS:  The Braves will work out a Turner Field this afternoon and then travel to San Francisco tonight.  They will likely officially announce Derek Lowe as their Game 1 starter later this afternoon.  Cox and his coaches spent a portion of Monday deliberating whether to use Tim Hudson or Tommy Hanson in Game 2.

Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts and is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in eight career starts at AT&T Park.  This obviously enhanced his candidacy for the Game 1 start.  But the Braves also seemed to want to put him in this position because they feel he is the best candidate to return on short rest. 

With Jair Jurrjens’ status still uncertain, the Braves may work with a three-man rotation during this Division Series.  Lowe would be on short rest if he comes back for Game 4, which would be held Monday at Turner Field.

Whoever starts Friday’s Game 2 (Hanson or Hudson) would be on regular rest for Game 5, which, if necessary, would be played Oct. 13 in San Francisco. 

Jurrjens (sore right knee) and left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty (blurred vision and dizziness) may spend the next week in the club’s Instructional League in Orlando, preparing for the possibility to pitch in the NLCS.

     
      

 

Enjoy the excitement of a meaningful regualar season finale

There is nothing you can do about the damage that has already been done.  You can sit around think about losing six of nine to the Nationals and Pirates in September or you can enjoy the excitement created by the fact that the finale of a 162-game season truly means something in Atlanta.
 
Heading into the weekend, it didn’t seem hard to believe that the Phillies would come to Atlanta and win the first two games of this weekend’s series.  But there was little reason to believe that this would happen at the same time the Padres were keeping their playoff hopes alive with a pair of victories in San Francisco. 

Regardless of what happens this afternoon, the Braves won’t know what their fate until the Giants and Padres finish their series finale at about 7:30 p.m. ET.

  • A Braves win combined with a Padres loss would clinch the Wild Card for the Braves and set them up to begin the National League Division Series in San Francisco Thursday.

  • If both the Braves and Padres realize the same result (win or loss) today, there will be  one game played Monday or Tuesday at Turner Field to determine who gets the Wild Card entry.  The game would be played Tuesday if both teams win and force the Giants and Padres to play Monday to determine who wins the NL West.   

  • A Padres win and Braves loss would mark the end of the Braves season and Bobby Cox’s legendary managerial career. 

Conrad to play 2B:  After watching Brooks Conrad commit costly throwing errors in the first two games of this series, Cox has decided to position Conrad at second base and move the ever-versatile Omar Infante to third base for this series finale.

Cox said he felt the need to give Conrad a chance to relax and distance himself from the nightmares he’s experienced at the hot corner.

“I don’t think he’s slept in two days probably,” Cox said. “I used to throw them away. I threw one away.  It cost us a ballgame in Detroit and I’ll never forget it.  I was the only left in the dugout.  I was beating bats and helmets.  (Yankees bullpen coach) Jim Hegan came out of the bullpen, put his arm around me and said, “let’s go.” 

The Braves had the option of keeping Infante at second base and positioning Troy Glaus at third base.  Those who watched Glaus play third base for a week at Triple-A Gwinnett have said “he was able to make all of the routine plays.” 

In other words, Glaus didn’t display any surprising mobility. 

Still if the Braves advance to the postseason, I have to wonder if they might not be able to benefit by having Glaus in the lineup.  (I can’t believe that sentence came off the tip of these fingertips.)

While facing the aces that they’ll see in October, the Braves won’t be able to play station-to-station ball and prove successful.  They may need to benefit from the instant offense that Glaus might be able to occasionally provide with his power potential.  

But before worrying about what they might do over the next couple weeks, the Braves have to escape today with the realization that this season includes a tomorrow.      

 

Former players arrive for festive scene at Turner Field

It’s a festive day here at Turner Field.  The Braves could clinch the Wild Card today after honoring the man who is most responsible for the plethora of success this organization has experienced over the course of the past 20 years. 

In a tribute story that ran today, I defined Cox as the most influential man in the history of the Braves organization.  This afternoon, Chipper Jones said that Cox and Hank Aaron are the most influential men in the history of Atlanta sports.

Say what you want about the fact that the Braves have only won one World Series during Cox’s long managerial tenure.  The fact is that he has impacted your life and the lives of the many former players who have gathered today to honor him in a pregame ceremony. 

Proving that Yunel Escobar didn’t exactly make him completely run away from the baseball scene, Jeff Blauser arrived at Turner Field to reminisce with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mark Lemke Fred McGriff and some of the other stars of the 1990s.

When Dale Murphy arrived this morning, he playfully said, “Is something special going on around here today?  Can I get a ticket? 

When I suggested today’s attendance might surpass some of the season attendance figures the Braves realized during the 1980s, Murphy laughed and said:

“Yeah, these guys have what like 25 last at-bat wins?  When we played, we were just hoping to get 25  wins.” 

Cox began this morning eating grits with his long-time friend Pat Gillick and an Atlanta artist who painted the portrait the Phillies presented him last week in Philadelphia. 

By the time the day is over, he would like to be soaking in champagne. 

 

Beachy primed for potential clincher

If you want to tell me that coming out of Spring Training, you knew Omar Infante would be an All-Star, I would say, “OK, Whatever.”  If you choose to tell me that you knew on Opening Day that Brooks Conrad was going to play such a critical role this year, I’d smile and simply nod my head. 

Now if you could tell me entering the season that you predicted Brandon Beachy would be the starting pitcher on a night the Braves could clinch, I’d have to rudely interrupt your excitement and ask, “are you are an attorney or a politician?” 

In a season that has simply been improbable, maybe it would be fitting for Beachy to earn his first Major League win in a clincher. I’ll be honest, I knew very little about this kid until July arrived and some clubs were at least showing inquiring whether he would be available via trade.

At that point, I think Beachy had made just two or three starts this year.  Don’t forget that he began this season in Double-A Mississippi’s bullpen. 

If the Braves do clinch before the end of Saturday’s games, Tim Hudson likely won’t start Sunday’s series finale.  The Braves haven’t revealed whether Derek Lowe or Hudson would be start Game 1 of the National League Division Series. 

If Hudson were to pitch Sunday, he would be on regular rest for Friday’s Game 2.  But he said he would rather get some extra rest and possibly throw a couple simulated innings on Tuesday.    

Jair Jurrjens completed another bullpen session today.  The Braves haven’t decided whether he will pitch in relief this weekend.  But they may soon have to decide whether they can afford to put him on the Division Series roster simply with the hope that his right knee remains strong.

Derrek Lee said that he received some “Your Welcome” text messages from some of his former Cubs teammates, who aided the Braves by taking three of four from the Padres this week. 

With the Padres and Giants playing late tonight, the Braves have determined that they won’t celebrate even if they clinch the Wild Card tonight.  With an afternoon game tomorrow, many of the Atlanta players plan to go home at the conclusion of their game to watch the game in San Francisco. 

Andres Galarraga and Gerald Perry are among the former Braves who have already arrived in town to celebrate Bobby Cox’s final regular season weekend.   Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff and David Justice are expected to be present for the celebration preceding Saturday’s game.

Fans attending Saturday’s game should plan to be in their seats by 3 p.m. ET to watch the ceremony.  MLB.com will stream the ceremony live at 3:30 p.m. ET. 

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