Braves hope to write different ending
Atlanta tries to turn division crown into World Series title
ATLANTA -- It doesn't matter that they've been part of something never accomplished in the history of professional sports. Instead of being celebrated for their annual accomplishments, the Braves enter the postseason every year questioned about what they haven't done.
With one World Series championship since 1991, the Braves have garnered something during the past 15 years that 22 other Major League franchises have not. Having appeared in each of the past 13 postseasons that have been staged, they can lay claim to doing something no other Major League franchise has ever done.
Yet annually, the Braves are forced to answer why they have captured just one World Series title despite having so many consecutive opportunities.
"This is not like flipping a coin," Braves ace John Smoltz said. "There are too many variables. You have three series to win. If we are the same team playing the same team, then it applies."
During the past 13 postseasons, the Braves have faced 17 different franchises in the playoffs. As for Smoltz, he's the only Braves player who has been around for the entirety of this incredible streak, which was extended with the clinching of a record 14th consecutive division title last week. Of course, he himself has undergone a few transformations during that span.
Back in a starter's role, Smoltz feels this year might have a different ending than many of the others. His postseason savvy combined with Tim Hudson's powerful right arm give the Braves a much desired one-two punch at the top of their starting rotation.
"This is why you play the game," Hudson said. "You want to go out and win a world championship."
If the Braves were to fall short of a World Series title, this season might have a disappointing ending. But as a whole, it will be far from a disappointment. With the use of 18 different rookies, nine different starting pitchers and three different closers, they've already proven capable of overcoming much adversity.
When the season began, Dan Kolb was Atlanta's closer and their corner outfield positions were manned by Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan. By the time the National League East crown was clinched, Kyle Farnsworth had established himself as a dominant closer and rookies Ryan Langerhans and Jeff Francoeur had become the club's corner outfielders.
Braves general manager John Schuerholz found many different ways to improve his team. He acquired Farnsworth in a trade deadline deal and went to the Minors to strengthen many of his club's other weaknesses that resulted from injury.
Mike Hampton basically missed all but six weeks of the season. By mid-June, the lefty was on the disabled list with fellow starting pitchers John Thomson and Hudson. As for position players, Johnny Estrada battled a bad back for much of the final four months and Chipper Jones spent six weeks on the disabled list with a left foot injury.
While the sometimes raucous Tomahawk Chop is still alive and well at Turner Field, Braves fans haven't enjoyed nearly as many memorable moments as they did at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where October magic existed throughout the early 1990's.
At the same time, the new Home of the Braves hasn't exactly been friendly to the hosts in October. It played host to postseason celebrations for visiting clubs in seven of its first eight years of existence. Heading into this postseason, Atlanta has won just 11 of its past 16 home playoff games.
Since moving into their new digs in 1997, the Braves have celebrated postseason advancement in Atlanta just twice (Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS and Game 3 of the 2001 Division Series).
Unlike its predecessor, which was commonly known as the Launching Pad, Turner Field doesn't possess a hitting-friendly environment. In fact, it would be more appropriate to say it's a non-biased ballpark. The Ted's symmetrical dimensions have enabled it to become known as a stadium that favors neither pitchers or hitters.
Before Turner Field became the Home of the Braves, it was a grand oval where the legendary Carl Lewis won his record-tying ninth Gold Medal during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Francoeur, Brian McCann, Blaine Boyer and Macay McBride all began the year with Double-A Mississippi. But by the end of July, each had proven themselves as legitimate big leaguers who will be counted on during the postseason.
"I know everybody wants to see if we [the rookies] fail and this and that," McCann said. "If you had to ask me, I think we'll do the same thing we've done all year."
If Andruw Jones is able to continue what he did throughout most of his MVP-caliber season, the postseason should be a pleasurable one for the Braves, who haven't advanced to the NL Championship Series since 2001.
Although there has been great hope, each of the past three seasons have ended with the opposing team celebrating a Game 5 Division Series victory at Turner Field. This year, the youthful Braves enter in more of an underdog role. It's one that they believe could be beneficial to their psyche.
"If we fall short, I don't think I'm going to be as devastated as I was when we should have won," Smoltz said. "But honestly, this is an incredible opportunity for this team. I don't think we're going to be playing with everything to lose. I think we're going to be playing with everything to gain. That spin alone should allow for these guys to experience some pretty incredible times."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.