Monday, May 16, 2005

Second to None

I sometimes feel like I’m in a space-time-continuum when it comes to the National Eastern Division of Major League Baseball. We’ve been seeing the same team year after year after year after year. 10 straight seasons the Atlanta Braves have won the NL East – 10 straight seasons! When you try to put that into perspective it still doesn’t do them enough justice.

Since 1995 the Braves have just waltzed through the regular season on their way into the postseason like it was foregone conclusion (They also won the NL West in 1991, 1992 & 1993). Sure their have been several seasons were the Wild Card teams from the NL East have gone to the World Series over the Braves…1997 & 2003 the Florida Marlins won the World Series and the 2000 New York Mets lost in the World Series. But this has been their division. The Phillies, Mets, Marlins and Expos/Nationals have been nothing more than division opponents…

The only thing that has been constant with this team is manager Bobby Cox, pitching coach Leo Mazzone and pitcher John Smoltz. Guys have come and gone but they always find the right mix of pitching, defense and timely hitting. For the last several seasons people have predicted that they would fall off and it would finally be the season that they didn’t reach the playoffs – hasn’t happened yet. From 1999-2001 the New York Mets were supposed to dethrone Atlanta – all three years coming up short. In 2004 the experts were convinced that the Philadelphia Phillies would take the division title – but they couldn’t keep pace with the Braves.

The Braves have been home to future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux and possible (and probable) Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff.But to think about the great players that have worn the Atlanta uniform over the last decade plus is mind boggling. Who could forget guys like Francisco Cabrera, Deion Sanders, Terry Pendleton, Otis Nixon, Mark Lemke, Sid Bream, Ronnie Gant, Rafael Belliard, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Jeff Blauser, Marquis Grissom, David Justice, Kent Mercker, Kenny Lofton Bret Boone, Andres Galaragga, Reggie Sanders, Steve Avery, Julio Franco, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and the late Ken Caminiti? Each of these players have left their mark on Braves baseball and the NL East. At one point or another whether it was the regular season or the playoffs they came through with a great hit, homerun, stolen base, shutout or diving catch that has kept this team winning.

People forget that pitchers Jason Schmidt, Joe Borowski, Kevin Millwood, Bruce Chen, Mike Stanton, Jason Marquis, Odalis Perez, and Greg McMichael all started their careers with Atlanta. Incredible if you take a minute to think about it, isn’t it?

The Braves are second to none in evaluating talent and then drafting future major leaguers. If a kid gets drafted by Atlanta it’s like a calling card to the major leagues. I would love to know how they’ve been able to keep it up. At the current time they are again in first place in the NL East and unless something drastic happens…they’ll probably win the division yet again.


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