Monday, October 31, 2005

McDowell already paying off

We obviously don’t yet know what sort of pitching coach Roger McDowell will make. But he is already paying off in a small way: His hiring is getting under the skins of Mets fans.

Here are a couple of amusing comments on the heavily trafficked, and highly informative, Metsblog.com:

“I just thought I'd mention here that THOSE DAMNED BRAVES - they just love to get in our face! Whether McDowell turns out to be a great or terrible pitching coach, every time we face them now, we're gonna be looking at a "ghost of 86" in the enemy dugout. I'm guessing that besides his merits, which if I know Atlanta and the impossible task of filling Mazzone's must be the only consideration, there was a value-added for them with the "Psyche-Out" or just plain mess-with-us factor. It's just like Chipper's kid being named Shea.”


“I know the Braves don't as an organization do things to spite us--but it sure feels that way sometimes, doesn't it?”


“I know we Met fans say this every year, but this could be the Braves year they don't win the east. But most likely we'll see them with oh some random rookie carrying that team with Andrew Jones.”


-- CD

Will there be a Raffy IV?


He was the best of our three Raffys, no offense to Misters Ramirez and Belliard. But I think it's time to prepare our goodbyes, if the early hot stove scuttlebut is to be trusted.

SI's John Donovan (based in Atlanta) speculates Furcal will end up getting a four-year deal worth about $11 million annually. Based on the contracts given last year to Edgar Renteria and Orlando Cabrera, Donovan's assumption seems reasonable.

As much as I'd love to have him back, that price is too high to add to a fixed $80 million payroll, particularly since the organization is stocked with shortstops. The offense will suffer, no doubt, but it would provide for the financial flexibility needed to bolster the pitching staff.

Inferior pitching, as has been the case with each of the recent Braves' squads knocked out in the first round, was again our downfall. Same goes for the Yankees, Red Sox and Padres. In each series, in each round, the team with the deeper staff won.

While the bullpen will get, and deserve, primary focus, another quality starter is also needed. I'm a fool for doubting Smoltzie, but I don't think you can reasonably expect our ace to produce another 200-plus innings next year. Of course, it wouldn't surprise me if he did, but it's too big of a risk to take.

While the free agent market wouldn't be the way to go for a starter (Burnett, Millwood, Weaver and Morris will all be overpaid this offseason), the Braves have the young talent that could be packaged in return for a stout starter. As for the bullpen, Fukey's departure would allow the Braves to contend for one of the talented relievers who will be available through free agency (Billy Wagner is probably out of reach, but B.J. Ryan might not be. On the lesser end, you could do a lot worse than Eddie Guardado, Uggie Urbina or Tom Gordon).

The Braves certaintly have.

Again, Furcal's departure would be a major blow, but Betemit does have the talent to fill in capably, at least as well as, say Juan Uribe or Adam Everett, the last two shortstops standing this season. Keep in mind that, in 89 games played this year, Betemit committed only seven errors while shuffling between third and short. Yes, he doesn't have Fukey's arm or range, but who does?

And if Betemit disappoints, Cuban defector Yuniel Escobar, impressive with the bat and glove in his organizational debut, could be ready by 2007. Perhaps a Royce Clayton or Neifi Perez could be signed cheaply to bridge any gap (and provide reliable defense ... a la Raffy II).

One last point: the Braves last championship was won with Jeff Blauser (who hit .211 in '95, not the best compliment to his pedestrian defensive work) at SS. Then, as in now, good pitching trumps all in October. And it should trump all other priorities this offseason.

---CB

Good old fashioned consistency


With news of Theo Epstein's resignation from the Red Sox (seems Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox president and source for the famous "Evil Empire" quote about the Yankees, owes a good bit of his management style to Big Stein), I'm reminded how lucky we are to be followers of baseball's model franchise.

When I was a kid, there was the "Oriole Way" in the AL and the "Dodger Way" in the NL. It wasn't based on any kind of statistical philosophy, a la "Moneyball," just good scouting, sound executive judgment and expert managing.

Which brings me to the Braves' new pitching coach, Roger McDowell. No one knows whether he'll be a good choice or not (though word is he works well with young pitchers, one of the only knocks you'll hear against Leo). Regardless, don't expect to see any dropoff in performance by Braves pitchers. There is a "Braves Way," and the teachings pioneered by Johnny Sain are so entrenched in the organization that it wouldn't matter if Dan Kolb was our new pitching instructor.

Besides, track records shouldn't be ignored. And who's better at evalutating talent, both in the front office and on the field, than Schuerholz (who, not coincidentally, got his start in the Orioles front office).

Hopefully, McDowell --- one of the more successful set-up men of his era --- will play a strong role in developing, say, Blaine Boyer, into a closer. Maybe not. But Braves pitchers won't suffer, and perhaps they'll benefit from having someone in an advisory capacity who's "been there." Nothing against Leo, but he never pitched in a World Series like McDowell did. That can't hurt.

Meanwhile, now is the time to appreciate what we have. Since Peter O'Malley sold the the Dodgers eight years ago, the team has been through four managers and five general managers, each with differing philosophies (ranging from the bombastic incompetence of Kevin "There's a New Sheriff in Town" Malone to the Rotisserie baseball style employed by overmatched stat geek Paul DePodesta).

So it took about three weeks for the bad taste of the latest first round exit to dissipate. Context and perspective reigns. It's good to be a Braves fan.

---CB

Thursday, October 27, 2005

It coulda been Michael Tuckah!


On the plus side of the first 1-0 score to end a season since the Glavine-Wohlers one-hit gem 10 years ago, the White Sox finished the postseason with an 11-1 record, blitzing past their October opponents as if they were the '98 Yankees.

An outfielder who was with the Richmond Braves back in '95 drove in Game Four's only run, earning MVP honors for the '05 series. (Trading Jermaine Dye to the Royals for Michael Tucker and Capt. Mediocre, Keith Lockhart, was one of JS' few blunders). And of course the winning manager was a member of the Bravos in the late '90s.

I couldn't help but feel badly for one my favorites, Craig Biggio, fittingly watching from the on deck circle as Orlando Palmiero bounced into the final out of 2005. Biggio's career has followed a path that you'd swear would've made him a Brave. Plenty to be proud of, but slightly unfulfilled.

That's no embarrassment, regardless of what Phil Garner thinks.

You want embarrassing, how 'bout the blubbering of Jerry Reinsdorf last night? You may remember him as the man who advocated a two-year lockout in order to break the players union 11 years back. If only that had been Bill Veeck accepting the commisioner's trophy ... from A. Bartlett Giamatti.

No doubt, though, that somewhere Bill Lucas (the first black GM in the majors, with the late 70s Braves) is very happy for Ken Williams.

---CB

What's the early line on Braves-A's in '06?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The '07 Yankees manager will be ...


Larry Bowa, just hired to coach third base for New York next season. Big Stein loves fiery types, and Bowa is as close to Billy Martin as he'll find in the modern game. The Yanks might finish third in their division next year, and Torre will either be fired or resign. Keep in mind that it was Steinbrenner, not Torre, who wanted the former Phillies skipper named to replace Joe Girardi on the Yanks' coaching staff.

Can't fathom the Gothamites hiring a twice-fired manager? Joe Torre was fired three times before landing in the Bronx, and we all know how many times Martin had been out of a job.

---CB

An odd hunch


Maybe I was inspired by the Enos Cabell pic, but I can't shake the feeling that the Astros are going to make this series respectable. Why so much faith in Brandon Backe? Hell if I know, but this match-up reminds me of the Braves-Padres '98 tilt, when San Diego jumped to a three games to nothing lead before the Braves mounted a late comeback, eventually losing in Game Six.

All respek, as Ali G says, to the Pale Hose, but I just can't see this team sweeping a World Series. The '98 Yanks sweep. The '05 White Sox don't.

Bank on it: this series will return to Chicago, although I'm curious to see how the 'Stros players respond to Phil Garner's rather ridiculous assertion that his team has embarrassed itself in the Fall Classic.

---CB

Whitey ball!


Did you know Houston is the first team in more than 50 years to reach the World Series without a single black player on its roster (Chicago has three)? Just 10 years ago, there were 10 African-Americans playing in the Fall Classic (five, each, with the Braves and Indians).

Revitalizing minority participation was supposed to be one of Bud's big initiatives, and, to be fair, it's too early to deem MLB's RBI program a failure. But at the very least, we're in a down period. With Brian Jordan not expected back next season, it's possible the Braves will have no black players in '06, sad in a city where Hank Aaron and Bill Lucas made history.

Racism? No. Disturbing? Sure is.

Baseball once had a strong relationship with the black community, thanks in large part to Jackie Robinson. But, as it so often does, baseball squanders its advantages. Where other sports reach out, the national pastime sits back. They're fond of issuing initatives, but slow to actual action.

One encouraging sign: many of baseball's top prospects --- including Ryan Howard, Rickie Weeks, the Upton Brothers (B.J. and Justin), Delmon Young, Josh Barfield, Prince Fielder, Lastings Milledge and Braves farmhand Josh Burrus (who is hitting .313 so far in the Arizona Fall League) --- are African-American. Hopefully that's a trend, not an anomaly.

---CB

Talk about underpaid


Re: Leo's departure
Good food for thought from MLB.com's Braves correspondent, Mark Bowman, who provides far more information than you'll ever get from David O! He's good for some informed speculation from time to time, as well (our limited sources within the local media tell us O'Brien despies hot stove reportage):

Could the Braves have found the money to keep Mazzone in Atlanta? Possibly. But that might not have been the most prudent decision. It would have forced them to pay him much more than they're paying any of their other assistant coaches. And doing so would have gone against the philosophy of manager Bobby Cox, who despite obviously having the credentials, has never once complained that Dusty Baker made about $1.5 million more than he did while leading the Cubs to a fourth-place finish this past season.

Pictured: Dusty Baker, promising OF with the 1969 Savannah Braves

Did I ever tell ya the one about Yogi and the alarm clock?


Geez, if the games actually started at 8 p.m. (instead of 8:40), you'd not only miss out on unplugged Michael McDonald (this year's Huey Lewis award winner for tired pop act dragged from oblivion by MLB in a laughable attempt at seeming "with it"), but the wit of Jeanne Zelasko and the wisdom of Kevin "Too Bad I Came Along before Accutane" Kennedy.

Not only that you'd be robbed of the analysis from the animated ball "Scooter," who, in his spare time, misleads reporters and lobbies for tobacco companies. You'd miss countless reminders that "Prison Break" is an exciting new Fox show, plus you wouldn't get a chance to view the stars of "That 70s Show" at their first baseball game.

Next year, they'll probably import Terry Bradshaw to promote Sunday's NFL games (that's a real man's sport!) to help fill those 40 minutes of pre-game blather. Coming up, Howie goes one-on-one with Peter Gallagher from "The O.C." Then, previews from the bawdy new cartoon, "Life with Scooter:" "Scooter gets bizzy with Judith Miller."

Makes one yearn for Joe Garagiola and his endless supply of Yogi Berra anecdotes.

---CB

Snoozing at the end


Baseball owners swim in oceans of cash, so they don’t care. But I have seen the final pitch of exactly zero World Series games this year, and I’m guessing I’m not alone among people who aren't White Sox or Astros fans.

Last night’s game was 14 innings, but even if it had ended in nine, as a working person who lives in the Eastern time zone, like about 120 million other people, I generally don’t stay up until midnight on weeknights to watch television.

The late starting times is a tired argument. It’ll never change. But for various reasons, this is the first year I’ve experienced this the way a lot of other Americans do. I find out who won on SportsCenter the next morning. I see the dramatic home runs and strikeouts and nothing else that happened after the fifth or sixth inning.

Now, I did get to see Michael McDonald – what, Bud, Michael Bolton not available? – sing the national anthem and some cheesy patriotic song apparently connected to hurricane victims. And fortunately, I saw Smoltzie receive the Roberto Clemente Award for his work in the community. In the local organ, he called it the biggest honor he’s gotten.

Nice going, Smoltzie. Keep up the good work, and we hope to see you next season.

Finally, the National League is 0-7 in World Series games since the Marlins won it in ’03.

-- CD

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fab 5 Fredi


Slow news week at the Office, but we remain vigilant. Not that this will stop any preses, but further evidence next year's coaching staff could have at least a 40 percent turnover.

From Chicago's Daily Herald:

(T)he hot name making the rounds at World Series parties is that of Fredi Gonzalez, the Atlanta third-base coach.

He recently lost out to Joe Girardi for the Marlins’ job, but in talking to scouts and execs the last week, you get the feeling Gonzalez is high on everyone’s list of candidates, and many expect him to have a job within the next year, maybe even in Chicago.


Rich getting a lot richer


Yes, baseball players get paid absurd sums of money.

But the bottom line is the owners have it, and plenty more. Soon, they will have yet more.

Ever wonder why Time Warner stopped shopping the Braves?

This might have something to do with it. Peter Gammons wrote recently that the regional TV network deal that Orioles owner Peter Angelos worked out with MLB to shut him up about the Natspos moving to D.C. gives Angelos 90 percent of the revenue from the network's broadcasts of Orioles and Nats games. The deal will help push the price tag of the Natspos to at least $450 million, according to Gammons.

That will increase the value of all franchises. Petah reckons the Red Sox, which sold for $700 million a couple of years ago, will be worth $1 billion to $1.2 billion after the Natspos are sold. Not only that, but MLB’s official web site, mlb.com, has become a money machine.

Wall Street firms have been lining up to try to underwrite an initial public offering of the site that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars, according to various media reports, including this one from the San Jose Mercury News. Amazingly, the owners declined.

These guys turned down a chance at some cash? Yeah, because an IPO means they have to open the books on their teams and, to some degree, themselves, and they don’t want to do that before the next labor talks after the 2006 season. Diana Nyad of National Public Radio has reported that Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who of course opened his bank account to A-Rod, was in favor of taking the online operation public, but Steinbrenner and others voted him down.

If those guys turned down that kind of money just to keep their books closed, what does that say about what’s in those books? Remember this next time the owners whine about all the money they’re losing, which, sadly, could be the next time there’s a players’ strike.

-- CD

Monday, October 24, 2005

Unplug the computer


No doubt the umpiring has been spotty, at best, during this postseason, but for those who want to take away the human element, look no further than football.

Does baseball really need those five interminable minutes when some middle-aged ref peers into a television camera as a breathless audience awaits? Talk about manunfactured, and tedious, drama. Or maybe MLB should just decide a championship on a computer's whim. USC may be undefeated over nearly three seasons, but now the BCS had decided they're second best to Texas. What's to say the Hokies won't jump over the Trojans next week?

On second thought, aren't the Cardinals better than the White Sox?

If that's where technology leads, let baseball stay stuck in the past. It's one thing it does better than any other league.

---CB

Saturday, October 22, 2005

An amicable parting


Finally, the local organ published a comprehensive story about Leo’s departure. They had to get someone besides Oops O’Brien to do it. Thanks, Thomas Stinson. Maybe you can pinch hit for 162 games next season.

According to Stinson’s two-story package in today’s paper, Leo didn’t ask the Braves for a counteroffer, and JS said they didn’t make one. (Stinson referenced the research we posted yesterday.) Even if they had, it sounds like Leo was set on joining his buddy Perlozzo in B’more. Leo noted that the contracts of Bobby and JS both expire after next season, and that his three kids and aging parents all live in western Maryland.

As much as we all would have liked JS to try to keep Leo, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. Leo saw a convergence of circumstances that at his age, 57, was not coming again: his best friend named manager of the team near his home, the contracts of JS and Bobby coming up and a chance to fatten the bank account. Who wouldn’t do that?

Good for Leo. Good luck, rocking gnome, and thanks for the memories. My initial bitterness about the situation has faded. This was apparently inevitable, Leo and JS were gracious in their comments, and we’ll find a new pitching coach and move on.

It should be an interesting new challenge for Leo. As bad as the Orioles have been lately, it might be a good time to dive into the AL East. The big-spending Yankees’ and Red Sox’s days of lording over the rest of that division might be ending. Both clubs are saddled with decaying, pricey rosters. They’ll spend enough to stay competitive, but the O’s have some promising young arms and never seem to have trouble scoring runs.

It’ll also be interesting to see if moving from a pitcher’s park to a bandbox changes Leo’s approach. Having spent several seasons in FulCo, I would think not. So we’ll see if our good rocker can make a difference at Camden Yards.

-- CD

Friday, October 21, 2005

JS has feelings, too


Actually, a refreshing change from his usual automotron mode:

This postseason loss was the most difficult ever for me. It defied the odds in baseball. There have been 270 games played in the Division Series. In only two of those games has a team lost that entered the eighth inning with a lead of five or more runs. This stung quite a bit. It's incomprehensible.

We don't have the luxury of wallowing in it. But it's among the worst, if not the worst, defeat to have to suffer that I can recall.


That doesn’t sound like John Schuerholz, does it? It is. In a column for ChopTalk and on the Braves official site, JS writes what for him is an emotional outpouring.

It ain’t literature, but it is somewhat revealing. And it’s got some detail on just what the braintrust does in offseason meetings. And it might not bode well for Kyle Farnsworth's returning.

-- CD

It was 30 years ago today ...


Anyone else feeling old?

Prediction from a lousy prognosticator



Looking forward to that Angels-Braves World Series? So I was a little off. CD got half of it right by picking the Astros. Obviously we both underestimated the Pale Hose, and I won't make that mistake again.

That doesn't mean I'm picking them over Houston. The 'Stros will win, in 7, and while Brad Lidge won't be an issue, the White Sox bullpen might be; the combination of their inexperience and recent inactivity doesn't inspire much confidence. I am fairly confident, however, this will be an entertaining, and competitive, Fall Classic.

---CB

Don't panic


CB, I think you or I are as likely to be the pitching coach as Don Sutton.

Don likes cash too much. As a broadcaster, I think he makes at least double what the Braves pay pitching coaches, for less than half as many hours on the job. He and the Time Warner honchos reportedly had a spat over his broadcasting contract, and he almost didn’t re-up for the 2005 season. And some of his on-air rhapsodizing about the Dodgers during games against them this season sounded almost like an application for a seat in the Chavez Ravine broadcast booth.

The guy does Carpets of Dalton commercials! You don’t do that for artistic fulfillment. Don knows pitching, and I love his TV work. But I’m guessing there’s zero chance he’s coaching next season.

Regardless of who the new guy is, I’m not ready to declare the Braves the Pirates just because Leo is leaving.

I think columnist Jeff Schultz of the AJC – yes, I’m giving them some credit – makes some good points in today’s paper. Schultz argues that Leo is not a miracle worker and is not nearly as vital to the team’s success as Bobby or JS. He contends that if we’re going to credit Leo for Jorge Sosa and Jaret Wright, then we have to remember Dan Kolb and this year’s bullpen.

Fair enough. I would contend he is overstating it, but on the whole, Shultz is right. Leo’s departure doesn’t mean Turner Field becomes Coors Field overnight. That said, below is an intriguing story about research that seems to show definitively that Leo does make a significant difference. Apologies for the length, but you’d have to pay to access this. So here ‘tis.

-- CD

The Mazzone Touch Is More Than Just Perception
New York Times
May 22, 2005
Author: ALAN SCHWARZ

The cardinal precept of statisticians, at least within the foul lines of baseball, is that one must not accept any declaration on simple faith. Never let anything breathe the air of blithe acceptance when it can be smothered in ream upon ream of data-driven analysis.

Numbers buffs strive to examine any part of the game in which the traditionalists show unflanked confidence, even if it's just some pitching coach. Then again, this isn't just some pitching coach. This is Leo Mazzone, baseball's pitching Midas, who year after year keeps the Atlanta Braves' ever-changing pitching staff the class of the National League.

J.C. Bradbury, an assistant professor of economics at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., has spent much of his life tuned into Braves games, watching Mazzone consistently thrive with staffs annually reworked like a map of Eastern Europe. It's happening again this year. After yet another round of major turnover, Atlanta entered the weekend with a 3.45 team earned run average, second best in the National League.

More strikingly, Mazzone has turned so many struggling starters (Jaret Wright and John Burkett, for example) and relievers (Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond) into coveted commodities who didn't continue their success elsewhere that Bradbury decided to peer inside the numbers.

"Maybe we're just remembering the success stories," Bradbury said, noting that he began his study suspecting that Mazzone was overrated. "I needed to know."

Mazzone has had 98 Braves pitch at least 30 innings in a season during his 15 years in Atlanta. Bradbury examined the performance of each before, during and after his time with the Braves, always compensating for league, home park, age and defense so those factors did not cloud the data.

Using multiple regression techniques, he isolated the effect of pitching under Mazzone and not. The change turned out to be even more than Bradbury expected: a decrease of 0.62 in E.R.A., essentially turning a mediocre pitcher with a 4.10 E.R.A. into a quite valuable one at 3.48. Or, as Bradbury put it, "about the same as the Coors Field effect in the opposite direction."

A perfect illustration of the Mazzone Effect is Remlinger, a middle reliever with a 4.63 career E.R.A. before he pitched for the Braves from 1999 to 2002. He posted a 2.65 E.R.A. in his four Atlanta seasons, and with the Cubs it has since risen to 3.73. Even after Bradbury considered factors like Remlinger's ages as a Brave (33 to 36) and how he left a park that favors pitchers (Turner Field) for the opposite (Wrigley Field), his adjusted E.R.A. was 3.82 before Mazzone, 3.35 during and 4.23 after.

Starters generally benefited, too. After adjusting for the fact that they spent their prime years under Mazzone, Denny Neagle, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux still pitched considerably better with him than without him.

Mazzone, a self-deprecating West Virginian who likes to say, "I may get stupid real fast," is known for having his pitchers throw twice between starts, rather than the now conventional once. He also preaches working the outside of the plate, preferably with a changeup and a controlled fastball. The left-hander Mike Hampton, one of Mazzone's current success stories, said, "Everyone knows it: Leo's the best."

That brings up the next question: How does Mazzone compare with other pitching coaches? Two students in a Tufts University experimental American studies course, the Analysis of Baseball: Statistics and Sabermetrics, pursued that matter last fall. (Such classes, usually in the applied mathematics vein, have recently cropped up at several colleges.) For their final paper, the students analyzed Mazzone's record much as Bradbury had -- with similar results -- but did not stop there.

Peter Bendix, a freshman from Cleveland, and Matt Gallagher, a sophomore from Winchester, Mass., also examined the Yankees' Mel Stottlemyre, whose effectiveness was questioned this season by the team's principal owner, George Steinbrenner. Stottlemyre has coached for the Mets, the Astros and the Yankees since 1984. All together, Bendix and Gallagher estimated, pitchers posted E.R.A.'s 0.30 lower under Stottlemyre; with the Yankees it was 0.19.

"I wanted to look at pitchers' injury rates," Gallagher said with a sigh, "but I had five other classes in the spring semester that weren't about baseball, unfortunately."

All three researchers agree that separating Mazzone's skill from that of General Manager John Schuerholz and Manager Bobby Cox is difficult; the three have formed Atlanta's brain trust since 1990. Schuerholz is surely good at identifying pitchers who will succeed under Mazzone's system, and Cox deploys them deftly during games. But given how Schuerholz and Cox defer to Mazzone on many pitching matters and credit his system with their persistent mound dominance, his impact is undeniable.

And not unquantifiable, thanks to the number crunchers.

"We already knew Leo was a good pitching coach," Bradbury said. "But now we really know it."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

And a perm shall lead them?


The following has virtually zero chance of happening, but patience is warranted. It's been nearly two decades since we've had to even consider the prospect of someone besides Leo instructing the Braves pitchers, so a clumsy reach like the one below should be forgiven.

I'm not even sure my candidate would want the assignment; for one, he makes more money in his present job. But, you never know, he might be up for a change, something a bit more hands-on.

His pitching acumen is unquestioned, and he knows the Braves hurlers as well as anyone outside of Leo and Bobby. Earning the respect and trust of this staff, after all their years with the reassuring bald man, will be the next pitching coach's greatest challenge, although it would be much less pronounced for Hall of Famer Don Sutton, who, if memory serves, is also a free agent this offseason.

Of course, you're more likely to see Sutton broadcasting games for the Marlins next year. I didn't intend it at the time, but my post a few days back about the declining state of the Dodgers now seems part cautionary tale when you consider a future without our beloved mound Yoda.

Ya, I'm overreacting. At least I hope so ... though I contend that even the possibility of more air time for Tom Paciorek --- sorry, I'm just saying what might be --- is a pretty ominous harbinger.

---CB

Who's more valuable: Leo or Joe Simpson?


I don't know exactly what Simpson makes, but I'm fairly certain it has exceeded Leo's annual intake. Really, the biggest surprise in this whole sorry episode is that Leo didn't leave long before. It probably has much to do with loyalty on his end, something that seems to be in short supply these days down at the Ted.

Office reader John Graham said it best in a comment posted earlier today; Rowland has deemed it worthy of front page treatment:

We've gone from 24 hours ago thinking that Leo was bound for NY to now assuming he's gone to Baltimore. I have to say I feel a lot better today than yesterday, though I'm not sure that I should (maybe I just feel better because LaRussa failed in the playoffs to a lesser team yet again). Regardless of whether Leo is leaving for The Evil Empire or for Fidel Castro's Piss Boy, the fact is that he's been taken for granted for too long now. It's usually taken me about six months to leave a job when I felt like I was grossly underpaid, so I admire Leo for sticking with it as long as he has. You make an exception to "corporate policy" when you're talking about possibly the first pitching coach to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Whether Leo was paid market rate or not, he should have at least had the security of a contract that was the same length as Bobby's.

How much difference will losing Leo make? We won't lose much in terms of having pitching talent, because Paul Snyder, Dayton Moore, et al. have instituted The Brave Way all up and down the organization, so the guys that come up should know what's expected of them. Where we'll miss Leo is that one pitcher that every year he seems to resurrect. Was salvaging Jorge Sosa's career worth a couple of games in the standings? At least. That could be the difference in winning the division again next year or not.

Who let Leo go?

Clearly, the central question about Leo’s departure – it looks all but done – is what kind of effort the Braves made to keep him.

The local organ here in Atlanta has not explored this and, if form holds, probably won’t. All the AJC has reported is that Leo’s 2006 salary of a little more than $250K had already been agreed upon between Leo and JS. The paper also reports that the Braves’ policy is to offer coaches only one-year contracts.

So the obvious question is: Did JS try to bend the rules a bit to keep the guy ESPN named the best assistant coach in any sport, EVER? If he didn’t, he should have his suspenders snapped and get a vigorous wedgie. If he tried to secure some money, which in the context of Time Warner would be chump change, and a multi-year contract and was rebuffed, then shame on the high sheriffs in New York City, or Atlanta. That’s one of the problems – we never really know who’s ultimately making decisions.

Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know the answers to those questions. They probably won’t even get asked if it’s left up to David “Oops” O’Brien of the AJC.

At any rate, thanks for the memories, Leo, and good luck with a once-proud franchise that Peter Angelos has pretty well wrecked.

-- CD

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Good news for Bruce Chen


The former Braves prospect will be back under Leo Mazzone's tutelage in 2006, but he isn't leaving Baltimore. After 26 years with the Braves, Leo's gone.

It's a sad day for the organization, as the the man as responsible for the Braves' run of success as John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox has left for greener pastures (we assume). Or friendship, as the Orioles new manager, Sam Perlozzo, is Leo's childhood chum. We do know, through Ken Rosenthal's report, that Leo received a three-year contract to join Baltimore (he was born in Maryland), and the Braves have a policy against offering coaches more than one-year deals.

It's a policy they should've broken to keep their pitching guru. If that, or an unwillingness to spend a few hundered thousand more, is the reason he left, than the franchise is shamed. Hell, Leo was already underpaid; Jorge Vasquez made more than his pitching coach last year.

Plenty more on Leo later. The only good news to take out of this: at least he didn't go to the Yankees. Still, it's a bad way for the offseason to start, unless you're an Orioles fan. Your team just signed the premier free agent on the pitching market.

---CB

Time Warner needs to pay Leo or he's gone


From the reports, it sounds like there is a good chance Leo will be rocking next to Joe Torre in the belly of the beast next season.

And it sounds like the main reason is money. Listen to Leo’s lawyer: "Leo has great affection for the Braves organization and Bobby Cox but has reached a state in his career where, for his benefit and his family's benefit, he has to consider all his options," Reale said. "That's what he's in the process of doing right now. We're proceeding in a formalized manner."

His benefit and his family’s – that means money. The Braves pay Leo $200,000 a year, less than the minimum a club can pay a player. If Time Warner, which generated sales of about $119 million a day in the second quarter, lets our pitching coach walk over a couple hundred grand, that’d be a shame. Time Warner recently set aside $3 billion to settle shareholder lawsuits.

Because of stuff like that, the damn Yankees once again can buy whomever they want from other clubs. I won’t blame Leo if he leaves. This is not a Tom Glavine situation. In this day and age, yeah, $200,000 a year is a nice salary, but that’s not set-for-life money. If someone offers to double or triple that, to give you set-for-life money, or close to it, who wouldn’t do it?

Time Warner, please come off a little cash for the greatest pitching coach of our generation.

-- CD

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TP dodges L.A.


Citing family concerns, our '91 MVP has canceled his interview for the Dodgers' managerial vacancy, according to the Associated Press

Not that I'm questioning TP's word, but perhaps he took a closer look at the overwhelming wreck that once proud franchise has become and decided to take a pass. While their farm system is showing signs of life, the Dodgers have made a habit (over three different administrations) of offering marginal and/or underachieving "talents" too much money spread over too many years.

Carlos Perez. Todd Hundley. Devon White. J.D. Drew. Derek Lowe. Andy Ashby ... all signed contracts exceeding $20 million. Additionally, the Dodger brass seems intent on populating their clubhouse with cancerous personalities. How'd you like to hang out with Jeff Kent? Or Milton Bradley?

Meanwhile, their new owner, Frank McCourt, is reportedly underfunded and obviously over his head. It's sad, really, because few franchises have more to work with. Their audience is loyal; despite winning only 71 games, the Dodgers drew more than 3.6 million fans this season.

They also have one of the best stadiums in baseball. And they have Vin Scully. But "the Dodger Way" of doing things, once the envy of the game, has become a textbook for how not to run a franchise.

Perhaps TP figured it wasn't even worth the aggravation of air travel, since reports out of So Cal indicate that former Angels skipper Terry Collins is DePodesta's choice (akin to the Bulldogs one day hiring embattled Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey) to succeed Jim Tracy. While seemingly outlandish, TP's other potential suitor, prospect-rich Tampa Bay, appears closer to contending than the boys in blue, who need pitching, offense, speed, youth, direction, a plan ...

---CB

The Rowland Office Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings


No problems with CD's team, but here's some worthy counterparts:

SP: Dontrelle Willis. Somehow it's been determined that Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods have an abundance of charisma, though I'd rank them around Paul Wolfowitz on the charm scale. Dontrelle oozes likability, minus any pretense. Too bad he's not the face of baseball (instead of Barry or Manny). Besides, every generation needs their own Vida Blue.

RP: Billy Wagner. Guys my height and size who throw 98 are okay with me. CD has his small town, country boy, and now I've got mine. I'd gladly share the soon-to-be free agent with the Bravos (where's Ted and his checkbook when we need him?)

C: Brad Ausmus. I'm not inclined to like Ivy League types, but when they play with the heart of an overachieving community college grad, I give. He's kind of like a Mark Lemke behind the plate: he'll hit about .240 with limited power during the regular season but, once October rolls around, Ausmus seems to deliver with regularity.

1B: Carlos Delgado. The modern Fred McGriff offensively (and defensively), but, unlike the Crime Dog, he's refreshingly candid. In his contract season, Delgado admitted to a reporter he didn't stand for the National Anthem, a stance that likely limited his value in certain markets. (One I may not agree with, but I admire the way he handled himself). Last offseason, he called out Mets GM Omar Minaya for overplaying the Latin card in his bid to recruit the lefty slugger to Flushing.

2B: Craig Biggio. I don't understand the debate over whether he's a future Hall of Famer. He's been among the elite at the position for more than a decade, and he remains productive. Biggio's career batting average is .14 points higher than Joe Morgan's; he's only eight home runs and 70 RBI shy of the former Reds' career total (in four less seasons). I like Morgam, and I like Biggio. But only one can play on Rowland's team. (For a time I though Marcus Giles would be the next Biggio, but I'm afraid he's wandering down the Bret Boone path. Have you ever seen Biggio not hustle?)

SS: David Eckstein. He's now proved two teams (the Red Sox and Angels) wrong for giving up on him. Everything I'd say about the rich man's Freddie Patek is cliche at this point, but if I were teaching a child the fundamentals, I'd make sure he saw Eckstein play as much as possible.

3B: With David Wright playing for CD, is there any other option than Scott Rolen? Not that I'm complaining ...

OF: Barry Bonds, Kenny Lofton and J.D. Drew. Kidding. Honestly, I've got nothing here. Kind of surprising that, among all the NL outfielders, I can't name any favorites. Too bad Torii Hunter and Ichiro are AL'ers. Jim Edmonds is entertaining enough, and Dave Roberts seems like a nice guy. Got nothing against Jason Bay ...

MGR: Frank Robinson. I like the no-nonsense old schoolers, particularly when they've been habitually underrated, both as a player and manager. He's helped turn around three teams now (both the Giants and Orioles were at franchise low points when Robinson took over, and he deserves more credit than he's received for keeping the Natspos respectable during his tenure). Robbie's blunt style doesn't play so well these days, but it should.

---CB

The '05 All-Office team


This is not an all-star team. Rather, it’s a collection of non-Brave National Leaguers whom CB and I simply like. Comments explain why each was selected to the 2005 squad.

Here’s my team:

SP Roy Oswalt, Houston – I dig the slight righty’s full, old-school windup, and he’s a country boy from small-town Mississippi.

RP Todd Jones, Florida – He writes an online column about baseball.

C Mike Matheny, SF – Admittedly, I had a little trouble coming up with a catcher. I actually think Piazza is a good guy, but he’s a tad too famous. Matheny is prized by teammates for defense and game-management skills, though he’s not much of a hitter. I like that.

1B Sean Casey, Cincy – Generally acknowledged as one of the friendliest, chattiest players in the game. A solid player to boot.

2B Eric Young, San Diego – He’s old, and he’s fast.

3B David Wright, Mets – An excellent offensive player with some speed who appears to bust ass at all times.

SS Jimmy Rollins, Philly – Cool dreadlocks and a fine ballplayer who comes across as a great guy and cares about the game.

OF Juan Pierre, Florida – Great fun to watch, always hustles, works like a spring invitee and truly gives a damn, unlike some of his teammates.

OF Lance Berkman, Houston – A slightly dumpy, schlubby-looking – especially with the beard -- regular-guy type.

OF Brian Giles, San Diego – He has a distinctive swing, seems to play hard and his brother is a Brave.

-- CD

What in the Sam Hill?

That's an expression my mother used to use. I'm sure she's not the only one, but I don't think I've ever heard it from anyone else.

Anyway, this is a slightly worrisome tidbit from the Baltimore Sun, by way of SI.com, regarding Leo:

If a bidding war for Leo Mazzone ensues, one advantage the Orioles should have is Mazzone's fondness for Sam Perlozzo. The two grew up together in Western Maryland and have remained best friends. Mazzone, who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1979, even has said publicly that one thing he'd like to do before he retires is be Perlozzo's pitching coach. Mazzone is a sensitive topic to Orioles officials because their current pitching coach, Ray Miller, is under contract until the end of the month.


--CD

Sporting News salutes Andruw, Bobby


Just out today, the Sporting News named Andruw its major league Player of the Year -- NL and AL -- and Bobby the Manager of the Year. Both are well deserved. Here's the news release. The Sporting News site has a longer story and more lists.


Player of the Year, Andruw Jones
Managers of the Year, Bobby Cox & Ozzie Guillen
Rookies of the Year, Huston Street & Willy Taveras
Plus N.L and A.L. All-Star Teams

ST. LOUIS, MO [October 18, 2005] - The Sporting News has selected Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones as the 2005 Major League Baseball Player of the Year. This year 498 MLB players (221 A.L., 277 N.L.) cast their votes for the annual awards, including Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Pitcher of the Year and All-Star Teams. The awards will be featured in the October 28th issue of the award-winning magazine,
on sale October 19.

A candidate for MVP honors, Jones finished the 2005 season hitting
263/.347/.575 with a major league best 51 home runs and an N.L.-high 128 RBI. The center fielder collected at least seven homers in every month since May. Jones received 194 1/2 votes over Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee (126) and St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols (63).

"Andruw Jones put together one of the most amazing individual performances we've seen in a long time when he carried the Braves for a couple of months in the middle of the season," said Sporting News Senior VP and Editorial Director John Rawlings. "He did it without the benefit of Chipper Jones for a long stretch and that makes Andruw's accomplishments even greater."

Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox was named Sporting News National League Manager of the Year for the fourth consecutive season. As the Braves' all-time winningest manager, Cox, 64, led the charge as his Braves captured their 14th consecutive division title.

The Sporting News American League Manager of the Year honor was awarded to Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Behind Guillen, 41, the White Sox clinched the A.L. Central with a league-best 99 wins. Instilling an aggressive approach in his team labeled Ozzieball, Guillen guided the White Sox to their first trip to the A.L. Championship Series since 1993.

Bartolo Colon of the Los Angeles Angels and Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals were honored as Pitchers of the Year. Rookie of the Year accolades were awarded to Huston Street of the Oakland Athletics and Willy Taveras of the Houston Astros. Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees and Ken Griffey Jr. of the Cincinnati Reds were selected as the Sporting News Comeback Players of the Year.

Ooops plays catch-up

AJC scribe David O’Brien today finally got around to writing about the Yankees getting permission to talk to Leo Mazzone.

He’s just three or four days behind the Washington Post, various New York tabloids and even the Office. O’Brien can crib from other papers same as we do. In his story, Oops attributes the news to “a person with knowledge of the request.”

My guess is one of his editors called him and implored him to get something, anything, on this story. Hey, it’s only one of the three architects of the best run of any team in Atlanta history possibly leaving. Maybe readers would be interested.

Like Oops, the local sports radio stations hadn’t bothered scanning the Web the past few days. So they are treating his story as if it’s breaking news. Given the evil empire’s “culture of blame” and “dysfunctional hierarchy,” descriptions widely used in reputable newspapers, I would not think Leo would go.

But money can be a powerful lure. I’d hate to see Time Warner let Leo walk over a few hundred grand. He is probably the best coach of any sort in the bigs and obviously a huge part of the Braves’ success since 1990. Let’s hope we see Leo rocking next to Bobby for a few more years. And let’s hope we see a new byline over Braves stories in the AJC soon.

While we’re bashing the AJC – it’s so easy, but such fun – here’s the leave option in the online poll of whether Leo will stay or go: “Leave - he wants to coach for a team that can win, unlike the Braves.”

Ridiculous.

-- CD

Monday, October 17, 2005

Headhunters descend on the ATL


You knew they'd come after Leo. And Fredi Gonzalez has been a fixture on the managerial interview circuit the past few years. Frankly, I'm shocked it's taken this long for other teams to finally consider Terry Pendleton a worthwhile managerial candidate. As longtime Braves fans know, he's been ready for the job since 1991.

His resume is ideal. Never a superstar, TP led by example, at bat, in the field and in the clubhouse, welcoming the responsibility of being that '91 team's veteran guru. In addition, he spent most of his career playing under two of the game's all-time best: Bobby and Whitey Herzog.

Need some anecdotal evidence? You don't if you were watching back in '91, when TP quietly diffused a contentious mound squabble between Smoltzie and Greg Olson during a pivotal late season contest against the Expos.

After the inning was over, TP spoke to both players individually, then, within minutes, pitcher and catcher were spotted shaking hands in the dugout. There were no more public spats between the two.

Simply put, TP is one of those rare people who gets respect without having to ask for it, and Braves fans know this incredible run of success would've been delayed a few years if, say, Jim Presley were manning the hot corner.

So while few are as deserving of the opportunity, my selfish instincts are encouraged that circumstances will likely preclude TP from landing either the Devil Rays or Dodgers job. L.A. is mired in an ever-worsening P.R. meltdown, compounded by the success of that other L.A. team just down the freeway. Orel Hershiser has emerged as a candidate who'd make sense on many fronts for 'dem Bums.

(One side note: reports from L.A. media speculate that twice-fired Terry Collins is the leading candidate to replace Jim Tracy, truly baffling considering the underwhelming former Astro skipper was fired by the crosstown Angels after a near mutiny by the players. Of course, L.A.'s GM, Paul DePodesta, was schooled in an Oakland organization that, despite considerable merits, places much too little value on managing, viewing skippers as mere caretakers whose input isn't welcome. And God help you if you want to steal a base or sacrifice a runner to third. Thus, a retread like Collins makes sense).

Tampa, meanwhile, is reportedly ready to pounce on Yankee bench coach Joe Girardi, but so is Florida. As impractical as this admittedly sounds, I wish the Braves could try to encourage TP to stay by guaranteeing him Bobby's job once our Hall of Fame skipper retires (which could be 10 years down the road). I doubt I'd agree to something like that, but the offseason is the time for grandiose dreams.

Besides, there's no one I can think of better suited to pilot a seamless transition from Bobby than another gimpy kneed former third baseman. While it's hard to imagine some team not eventually making the easy decision to hire TP, consider this: Jimy Williams was hired, and fired, three times, while former Brave Cito Gaston (who replaced Jimy in Toronto and proceeded to win two World Series titles) remains an afterthought, never given a second chance to win a third ring.

---CB

Big Stein seeks to justify Jaret Wright contract


And the only way to do that, based on Wright's track record, is to reunite the burly righthander with the one pitching coach who tutored him to consistent success (until October, that is). According to the Washington Post (still no mention of any of this in the AJC, although in today's edition our boy O'Brien has an insightful piece about how the Braves are going to have competition in signing Furcal. First I've heard of that ...), the Braves have granted a "small window" allowing the Yankees and Leo to speak about replacing Mel Stottlemyre.

I'd be really surprised if Leo left to join the latest incarnation of the Bronx Zoo, but it would come as no surprise if Steinbrenner offered to double his salary, and who wouldn't be tempted by that? (Though I'm sure Leo savors his job security; ironically, one could argue Stottlemyre had one of his finest seasons as the Yankees PC, cobbling together a makeshift staff from the likes of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon, both of whom far exceeded expectations).

As for the Orioles, their pursuit of our Yoda is complicated by the uncertainty over the health of their current pitching coach, Ray Miller (whose Baltimore roots trace back to Earl Weaver). Miller is under contract until November.

If Steinbrenner or Peter Angelos do end up offering Leo "manager type" money to skip town, it would be the best investment either has made on the free agent market in a long time. Again, I'm confident Leo will stay, and now, more so than any time in his tenure since the early 90s, his presence will be needed.

Over the next few years the Bravos will be incorporating their next wave of young pitchers into the rotation, guys like Kyle Davies and Chuck James. When you see what's happened to so many of the Braves' promising young arms once they've been dealt away from this organization, the idea of anyone but Leo sitting aside Bobby in the Atlanta dugout is frightening. If given the choice of retaining our pitching coach or signing a premium closer like Billy Wagner, I'd go with the former. And I bet I'm not the only one.

---CB

Friday, October 14, 2005

Dame Eddings


This isn't the embattled ALCS umpire's first brush with controversy. Braves fans will remember him from a rainy night in Miami back in June, when Paul Eddings ejected Johnny Estrada, Bobby Cox and the injured Mike Hampton during a game against the Marlins.

Eddings doesn't come from the Doug Harvey school (allowing the players and managers to vent, within reason). You'll recall how he practically goaded Estrada into a confrontation after the two had been battling over the ump's strike zone. This was how the AP reported it:

Both Cox and Estrada insisted Eddings escalated the argument with coarse language.

"At one point, I said, 'Why are you yelling at me?' " Estrada said. "I don't think it's right, he can say what he wants and I can't."

Said Cox, referring to Eddings: "He did all the yelling and he did a real bad thing."


Listen to Bobby, throwing down the gauntlet! Regadless, Eddings is emerging as one of those umps you don't want anywhere near home plate. Like Eric Gregg.

---CB

Loyal fans show, Braves brass doesn't


Elaborate it wasn’t.

About two dozen people, including a baby, and a Boston terrier gathered on Friday afternoon around what was once home plate at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. They were there to commemorate the 13th anniversary of one of the most exciting moments in Atlanta Braves history, the ninth-inning comeback win over the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.

On the holiday list, “Sid and Frankie Day” won’t soon threaten the Fourth of July. But a small band of the most loyal of Braves fans ate a home plate-shaped cake, reminisced and watched that magical play on a little TV sitting in the back of a minivan. For the millionth time, Frankie Cabrera lashed a single to left and Sid Bream made his lugubrious way around to slide in at home and Skip Caray screamed “Braves win!” over and over. The slide, immortal to any Braves fan, happened a few feet from where these people mingled on Friday.

Among the many who were not on hand were any members of the Braves front office or PR staff, who had been invited to the event by one of the organizers, Chop Talk magazine publisher Gary Caruso. There was a guy from the Braves mailroom and a guy who is a club liaison to the Braves 400 Club, a fan club formed in 1965 that along with Caruso co-sponsors S&F Day.

I’m probably naïve to think so, but it would seem that at least a flak from the Braves could walk across the street to have a slice of pizza and cake with people who care so much about the team that they’re hanging out in the middle of a parking lot at lunch hour on a Friday to watch a tape of a 13-year-old ball game.

Many of these people have supported the team literally from Day One in Atlanta. In fact, 400 Club member Johnny Tallant, a magistrate judge from Cumming who has a small baseball museum in his home, wore a shirt commemorating the Braves first game in Atlanta, against the Pirates on April 12, 1966. The 400 Club formed before the Braves actually played a game here. These fans are what baseball is supposed to be about.

Let some corporate sponsor stroll by with a big check and the Braves brass will escort them to the Turner Field mound to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. That’s not hyperbole. Sadly, that’s who actually throws out the ceremonial pitch at a lot of signature games at Turner Field – not Henry Aaron or Phil Niekro or Dale Murphy or a charter member of the 400 Club, but some regional VP for Wachovia or Kroger.

It'd be refreshing if it didn't have to be about money once in a while.


-- CD

Sid slid 13 years ago today


The anniversary of Francisco Cabrera's series-winning hit in the 1992 NLCS reaches puberty today. I was there, along with CD. I'll never forget the drama on the diamond, nor the extras who shared the moment.

There was "drunken schoolteacher," among the partial season ticketholders who surrounded us in the Fulton County Stadium bleachers. And "detached father," who'd come with his kids and his Walkman. He never took those headphones off.

To our right sat the bandwagon yuppies, always quick to criticize any Brave mistake (when they were paying attention).

We never got to know their names, but they provided almost as much entertainment as the team playing below. Befitting her moniker, drunken schoolteacher would typically get sloppy ("nice ass, Gant!") by the third inning, at which time she'd turn her charm towards our pimply faced usher, Sonny. They would often disappear to parts unknown during the game.

They were all strangers ... until Sid Bream crossed home. Without hesitation, we all hugged, none more enthusiastically than that inebriated grade school marm.

Except for detached father. The guy we assumed shared our devotion to the Bravos left early. After the 7th inning. In Game 7. Still, not a word for the kids.

-- CB

There was gloom all around.

The feel-good vibe that had infused Atlanta Fulton County Stadium for two seasons was wilting that night. The Braves had returned home to what was then known as the Chop Shop with a three games to two lead over the Barry Bonds-Andy Van Slyke-Jay Bell Pirates in the 1992 NLCS.

But in Game 6, Glavine was brutalized, knocked out in the second inning of a 13-4 loss. The pre-steroids Bonds had been handcuffed all series, but in that Game 6 exploded with a long homer and another hit, showing signs of carrying his team to a comeback series win. The next night, Pittsburgh’s momentum continued with a first-inning run, which became a 2-0 lead in the sixth.

Doug Drabek was shutting out the Braves on one hit through five. Then in the sixth inning, with the bases loaded and no outs, Blauser lined into a double play, snuffing out a rare chance to tie or take the lead. A guy a few rows in front of us in right field screamed that Blauser was a selfish hitter.

I couldn’t take it. Blauser had hit a line drive to the third baseman, who caught it and stepped on the bag. It was one of the few balls the Braves had hit hard all night, so I told the guy it ain’t slow-pitch softball. You can’t place it where you want it, Blauser had hit it hard and that’s all he can do.

The guy insisted he should’ve hit the ball to the right side. I said I thought the guy was confused and that you hit the ball to the right side with a man on second and no outs, not the bases loaded, that the first baseman could just as easily catch a line drive as the third baseman.

Anyway, three innings later, all was forgotten as the gloom lifted and euphoria swept over the packed, round stadium. Strangers hugged strangers and we all jumped up and down and screamed our heads off and loved our Braves. The good feeling lived.

Now, the spot where Sid Slid is remembered with a marker in a parking lot. The place where CB and I sat in right field is a parking space, actually just a spot in the air above a parking space. There is a brick path that traces the old field.

FulCo was mostly charmless and utilitarian. Sportswriters derisively called it “the mausoleum by the interstate.” But for a few years in the early 1990s, it was baseball heaven. Anyone who was a regular didn’t want to be anywhere else on earth. I know I didn’t.

When I watched the old stadium implode on a gray morning in 1997, a flood of memories rushed through my head. But Oct. 14, 1992 stands as a transcendent night.

-- CD

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Eric (insert epithet here) Gregg


Anyone else reminded of that guy in the wake of Doug Eddings' screw-up Wednesday night?

While most of the televised flashbacks of poor October umpiring focus on Don Denkinger (rightly so) and Jeffrey Maier (because it happened in Yankee Stadium), Gregg's rightful place among the bottom of the blues is sometimes forgotten. His contribution to the final outcome of the '97 NLCS was not insignificant.

Livan Hernandez struck out 15 that day Gregg rested his gut behind home plate; about half of those punchouts were legitimate. Yes, Greg Maddux also benefitted from a strike zone bigger than the ump's belly, but not as much. High hard stuff a foot off the plate is more difficult to combat than a change-up in the same spot.

Maddux gave up two runs that day. A fair strike zone could very well have led to a Braves win, and a 3-2 series advantage, with Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) at home.

So it wasn't one instance of incompetence from Gregg; his was spread over nine innings. I'd say that matters at least as much as a botched call at first base, or an overzealous kid reaching into the field of play. Not that I'm biased or anything.

---CB

The senior circuit


Thursday's NLCS Game 2 provided a clinic on many fronts. Of course, every time David Eckstein (who hit. 371 with RISP this year) steps to the plate, baseball fundamentalists rejoice. Mark Mulder was rock solid, Jim Edmonds dived legitimately, Albert Pujols offered more proof that he's the new Frank Thomas (don't overlook the former Auburn TE's early numbers) and Roy Oswalt showed once again he's the most underrated starter in baseball.

Pitching in a bandbox, he's won 40 games over the last two years. Braves fans know how dominant he's been in October, and last night displayed further evidence. His stuff is incomparable (on second thought, A.J. Burnett can't throw a knockout 68 MPH curve) and his mound composure is Smoltz-ian. When Oswalt's on the hill, it's hard to imagine an Astros loss, particularly when Brad Lidge lurks in the 'pen.

This postseason may lack the historical melodrama of the last two years, but the baseball is solid. And in an offensive era, it's interesting to note that only one of the four teams remaining (the Cards, natch) has a line-up that would qualify as above average.

And, as an added bonus, we saw a new member initiated into the postseason fraternity of unlikely stars.

Chris Burke, have you met Francisco yet? Friday's a big anniversary for him.

---CB

If there’s no more Nomar, will Little Bears chase Fuky?


The Chicago sports media is rife with speculation that Rafael Furcal will be snatching grounders out of Wrigley Field’s tall grass next season.

Sun-Times columnist and TV loudmouth Jay Mariotti wrote a couple weeks back that the Cubs should sign Fuky. The Tribune has raised the possibility numerous times. Even ’05 Cubs second baseman Todd Walker told the Tribune he figures the team will make a run at our shortstop and leadoff hitter. And the highly trafficked blog Cub Reporter has all but measured Raffy for a little bears uniform.

It makes sense. Corey Patterson was the Dan Kolb of leadoff hitters for the little bears this season, and no one else did much better for them. Their shortstop this year was Nomar Garciaparra, who was hurt all season and on a one-year contract. And the Cubs have become a reasonably big spender, with a 2005 payroll of about $90 million.

Of course, I’d hate to see Fuky wearing a little bears uni next season. And the Braves can free up enough money to keep him, at least to pay him next season, simply by dumping Reitsma, Thomson and Kolb. Those three combined to make $9.35 million this year. Throw in Farnsworth and Estrada – with McCann, we can get something decent in a trade for Johnny E. – and that’s another roughly $1.3 million, just including the time Farnsworth was here this season.

Someone else will fill their roster spots and won’t play for free. But keeping Furcal seems doable, at least according to my crude calculations. In a couple more years, we’ll be free of Hampton’s fat contract. I of course revere Smoltzie, but I think it’s an open question whether he can pitch next season, and his contract expires after ’06.

So the home team should have at least a little financial flexibility, and JS as we know can be a creative numbers cruncher.

One other interesting Cubs note with a Braves connection. The Chicago Tribune recently reported this about Greg Maddux:

Sources say at least one Cubs official was floating the idea of asking veteran Greg Maddux to serve as pitching coach, as well as resuming his Hall of Fame career on the mound if Larry Rothschild had accepted an offer from the Detroit Tigers. It certainly would have been a way for the club to save some money. Maddux’s brother, Mike, is the pitching coach for Milwaukee.

-- CD

Don't go, Leo


You may recall the rumor about Leo Mazzone taking a job with the Yankees. That one was a "creation" by one of the New York tabloids, fueled by local sports talk radio. This report, however, comes from a more credible source, the Baltimore Sun:

"One name that (Sam) Perlozzo couldn't discuss was that of Leo Mazzone, who is under contract with the Atlanta Braves and is widely considered to be the game's best pitching coach. Perlozzo and Mazzone grew up in Western Maryland and remain close friends."

The Washington Post also has mentioned Mazzone as an Oriole target, calling him Perlozzo's "best friend."

Perlozzo was just rewarded with a three-year contract to manage the Orioles. I can't imagine the Bravos letting Leo go, and from what I've heard, Mazzone is totally loyal to Bobby. But friendship --- and crab cakes --- can be tempting.

---CB

P.S. This is why Rowland keeps D.C. correspondent, Larvell Capra, on the payroll. Keep us updated on the Leo "buzz." (Sorry for the junior wordplay.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Speaking of Bono ...


Anyone catch this rather surprising news, reported by CNN: U2 is scheduled to appear at an upcoming fundraiser for Pennsylvania demagogue Rick Santorum, a potential GOP candidate for president in 2008.

Wonder if Paul Hewson is aware of these comments made recently by "the Ricker":

"We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does."

---CB

Is Reggie Mr. October?


Look no further than Reggie Sanders to figure out who’s going to win the World Series.

The Cardinals are on a serious roll. Swayed by their three seemingly impregnable starters, I originally picked Houston to win it all. I don’t think so now. They’ll lose to St. Louis. St. Louis looks destined, maybe, for a Series title.

I hope not because I dislike the egotistical, bitchy Tony LaRussa. But the Cardinals might win it because Reggie Sanders is having a Beltranian postseason so far. This is akin to Michael Bolton putting out an interesting, innovative record.

Before this season, Sanders, whose middle name is Laverne, had hit .188 with 13 RBI in 56 postseason games. He had hit .129 in four League Championship Series. Now Bolton is Bono. He has 12 RBI, as I write, this postseason, and they’re halfway through Game 1 of the LCS. He hit a two-run homer in the first tonight to ignite the Cardinals.

I remember this guy flailing haplessly, even helplessly against the Braves in the ’95 LCS. Helooked as bad as any hitter I can ever remember in a playoff series. Of course I relished every flail, but it was so bad I almost pitied him. He was 2-for-16 in that four-game Braves sweep, with 10 strikeouts and 0 RBI. If a guy with that history is hot enough to carry you, it just might be your year.

-- CD

Breaking the rules


Conventional wisdom states that you must have power pitching to succeed in the postseason. I plan on doing some further research on this, but Mark Buehrle showed Wednesday night that one need not throw high 90s heat to dominate.

Buehrle's performance reminded me of another crafty lefty we all remember well. While some have dismissed Tom Glavine as an underachiever in October, the numbers (particularly from his prime) don't back that up.

Glavine was 12-10 with a 3.58 overall in the postseason. Decent stats, ones that are much better when you consider he gave up 20 earned runs in three NLDS starts (11 innings, against St. Louis and San Francisco) since the 2000 season. Take those away, and his ERA was right around three in 29 other playoff outings (pretty much the equivalent of a full season).

When it counted most, Glavine compiled a 2.47 ERA in eight World Series assignments; in 15 league championship starts, his ERA was a respectable 3.41. His one-hiter against Cleveland in Game Six of the 1995 Fall Classic will likely never get its just due. For those who've forgotten, Manny Ramirez hit sixth in that Indians line-up, followed by a young Jim Thome ... a bit more imposing than Jason Lane and Adam Everett.

So, as we search for that elusive formula to another championship, remember two words: Kyle Farnsworth. Meanwhile, the epitome of the finesse lefty, former Blue Jay and Yankee Jimmy Key, was 6-4 with a 3.15 ERA in the postseason. (Granted, Glavine was no slopballer in his early days, but he was never considered a "power starter.")

There will always be a bias in favor of dominant stuff, but the evidence is spotty, at best. Good pitchers don't take a vacation in October just because they don't throw hard.

---CB

P.S. Doug Eddings, meet Don Denkinger. Good to see Mike Scioscia not blaming the O.C.'s loss on the blown call (which was certainly more costly than anything Steve Bartman did).

CB dons the suspenders


In all likelihood, my offseason wish list will change by the week, and by circumstance. But here's a preliminary take on how I'd reconstruct the Bravos:

1.) Re-sign Raffy. It won't be easy, and it will take some sacrifice. Trading Marcus Giles, whose salary will likely jump to the $5-$6 million level next season, would be step one. Partly because of his woeful postseason play, and partly because second basemen are easier to replace than shortstops, keeping Fukey over Gilly seems a no-brainer. I would think the Minnesota Twins would be in the market for a power hitting second basemen (considering Nick Punto --- a weaker offensive version of Keith Lockhart --- was their everyday second sacker in '05). The Twins have one of the deepest bullpens in the league, and one of the tightest wallets (despite the fact their owner is the richest man in baseball). Joe Nathan is as dominant a closer as there is, but he's about to get expensive. And they have replacements ready in the minors: Travis Bowyer, 22, converted all 23 save opportunities in '05, while striking out 96 batters in 74 innings at Triple A Rochester. Sure, you're not satisfying the necessary payroll cuts to keep Fukey, but the money that would've gone to Giles would get you the closer you need (see ya later, Kyle Farnsworth). To get Nathan, I would even give up;

2.) Andy Marte. Sure, he ranks near the top of virtually every prospect list, but there's nowhere for him to play in the bigs. And who knows, really, if he's as good as advertised. I suspect he is, but his trade value may never be higher. I'd throw him into the mythical Nathan deal (asking for a Lew Ford-type in return; he's a decent righthanded bat for the outfield). Kelly Johnson might also be expendable, considering he and Langerhans basically offer the same thing in left.

3.) Trade Johnny Estrada (for pitching), preferably a cheap lefty out of the pen, one a bit more dependable than John Foster. Solid catchers are tough to come by, so Estrada should fetch what we need.

4.) Non-tender Reitsma and Kolb. For obvious reasons.

5.) Don't pick up Thomson's option. Fifth starters aren't worth $5 mil.

By mid-season, we should have some extra change to play with, once insurance picks up half of Hampton's salary. With that, we could acquire the veteran starter we might need. The bullpen, with Nathan and the kids (watch out for Anthony Lerew in the late innings next year), should be fine, as should Betemit as our second baseman. Either Wilson or Langerhans seem capable of producing in the number two hole in the line-up.

Perhaps some creative bookkeeping is in order (restructing Chipper's contract would help), but the above can be done within the parameters of the $80 million payroll, allowing us to keep our igniter while fixing a bullpen that cost the Braves plenty in '05.

---CB

The write stuff


Baseball has produced more literature than any other sport. Among those writing about the game regularly, no one does it better than Tom Boswell of The Washington Post.

He never just trots out a bunch of stats, or simply analyzes whether a manager should’ve yanked a pitcher sooner. Rather, Boswell truly conveys the psychology and human frailty of the game, the mood of a team and an organization.

There aren’t many like him. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, like most dailies, has no one who comes close. In fact, sadly, the only AJC sports columnist who seems to really care about baseball, Terrence Moore, is extraordinary only for wearing out the same tired phrases and clumsy wordplay.

Anyway, today’s Boswell column is a jewel. You have to register to read it on the Post’s site, so I’m taking the liberty of posting the whole thing here. Enjoy, and don’t tell the Post Co. lawyers.

-- CD

Red Sox, Yankees: They're History

The Red Sox and Yankees will always despise each other, thank goodness. The hook is sunk far too deep now ever to come loose. Their fans will spend their winters rehashing the lore of a rivalry that, after the past three seasons, threatens to produce more books than all the wars of the Caesars. But, for those of us who don't wear pinstripes to bed or wake up in red socks, it's a bit of a relief to be rid of baseball's self-appointed Greece and Rome, at least for a while. Come back, but not too soon.

We've just seen the end of an era. The AL Championship Series between the White Sox and Angels is the first installment of a period in which the Red Sox and Yanks, for all their money, will blend back into the sport, not stand astride it, beating their chests and thumbing their noses at each other, while ignoring the other 28 teams as if they were beneath notice.

Though it will come as a great shock to the citizens of New York and Boston, in just a few weeks baseball will crown a new champion. And for the fourth time in five years, it won't be the Yankees or Red Sox. The Rivalry, at blast-furnace heat, was fabulous to watch. For three years, it overshadowed everything in the sport, even the last two World Series, which seemed anticlimactic to the ALCS. But in the last few days, all that changed.

Despite all their rich sluggers, their everyday lineups that look like all-star teams, both the Red Sox and Yanks are broken and will probably take years to fix. The Red Sox' flaw is their old or injured starting pitching. The Yanks' problem, far deeper, is the franchise's dysfunctional Culture of Blame. Pity Alex Rodriguez, who now symbolizes this whole witch's brew of self-defeating "Are You a Real Yankee?" foolishness.

A-Rod may be a bit plastic around the edges, but he hardly deserves what he's already heaping on himself after a 2-for-15, no RBI series against the Angels in which he played scared every minute. Joe Torre called him "anxious." Right. Whether the $252 million man was getting hit in the head by a chopper, lollygagging a throw to first or grounding into a double play in the final inning, he was so close to hyperventilating somebody should have given him a paper bag.

"I need to take a long look in the mirror. . . . I just didn't show up. . . . I played like a dog the last five days," said Rodriguez.

No, Alex. Like Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and so many others who've come to New York in recent years, you were lured by the extra millions and the chance at a couple of cheaply won World Series rings on an ersatz all-star team. All of you were greedy. Be suspicious when you see a job placement ad that reads: "Big bucks, glory and baseball immortality, no heavy lifting required." Yet, year after year, they can't "just say no" to this devil's bargain in the Bronx.

While both the Yanks and Red Sox will continue to spend and contend, their days of dominance have probably ended. No trend could be better if you value the health of the sport. This season, the Yanks and Red Sox were Nos. 1 and 2 in salary. The sum of their payrolls ($330 million) is roughly the same as the combined salaries of the four teams now left in the playoffs. As the Red Sox and Yanks exited the stage, they left in completely opposite fashion. Boston was at peace with its year. From players to fans to front office, they thought they got what they deserved: 95 wins, a playoff spot and a quick exit at the hands of a better team. By August, the whole Red Sox Nation knew that Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke would not be themselves again until '06 -- at best. So, everybody lowered his expectations, chilled out and practiced New England stoicism. After generations of self-flagellation and offseason discontent, the Red Sox and their fans finally went into a winter with a sense of peace.

In a disturbing contrast, the Yankees showed no such self-knowledge. They won the same 95 games as the Red Sox and exhibited the same decimated pitching. But because of a late-season hot streak built on the humble efforts of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon (combined 17-3), they kidded themselves that they could win it all. Or, to be more honest, they mindlessly bought into George Steinbrenner's annual memo from Olympus that -- for $200 million -- anything less than a world title was a disgrace.
If that attitude doesn't define some basic form of mental illness, some fundamental distortion of the core of competitive athletics, then what does? No wonder sensible people, with normal feelings, like Rodriguez, Mussina and Johnson, perform in the Bronx as though they have just escaped from, but will soon return to, some bizarre torture chamber.

A few hyper-competitors can apparently thrive in this environment. But who knows what feeds Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera? And how on earth can you expect to find 25 of them?

After five years, it's now time to tell the truth. For a century, the Yankees had mystique. Now, they are just pathetique. In '01, they blew a lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series. In '02, they sent out a rotation in the ALDS of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mussina and David Wells -- more than 900 career wins now; but the Angels raked the Yanks for 31 runs in a four-game rout.
In '03, only a blunder by the Red Sox manager helped the Yanks reach the Series where they promptly took the wild-card Florida Marlins for granted and lost in six games, losing the finale at "The Stadium." Of course, '04 was merely the most embarrassing postseason defeat ever, blowing a three-games-to-none lead.

And now this. The Yanks lost to the Angels even though Jarrod Washburn was too sick to start Game 4, Bartolo Colon was too injured to go more than one inning in Game 5 and New York lost a winner-take-all game to a 22-year-old rookie. No, don't look for the Yankees, who may start losing key parts this winter, to regain their swagger after those five postseasons.

This glorious insanity between the Yankees and Red Sox has been tremendous fun. Blow the budget. Mortgage the future. We couldn't take our eyes off them -- until now. It's time to move on. But, what an understatement, thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Leave us alone


Being a Braves fan, it’s well established, carries the unique burden we’ve nearly buckled under these last few days.

I struggle with the disappointment, while resenting on some level the criticism hurled at the team. Some of the barbs are justified. They made a couple of defensive gaffes, the bullpen was gruesome, LaRoche didn’t hustle – he was sick, maybe that covers it, maybe not – they left 18 runners on Sunday, and so on.

Still, what bugs me is when people who watch four innings all season, and never buy a ticket, all of a sudden think they’re Tom Boswell and start spewing blame. They’re offended, outraged, can’t root for a team like that. “Where’s the accountability?”, they fume, as if they’re talking about the Congress. As if they are inherently owed something for the few hours a year they watch baseball from their couch.

Scurry back to that Falcons bandwagon and leave us Braves fans be. Find another way to compensate for your failures in life. We can stew amongst ourselves perfectly well without you.

At least those yayhoos can’t point to the Yankees anymore as the supposed anti-Braves. You remember -- they always come through when the pressure is greatest. They find a way. Steinbrenner, the Yankees and the New York fans wouldn’t stand for October performances like those of the Braves. Remember all that?

Well, the bloated payroll boys from the Bronx are going home now, just like us. Since Big Stein starting writing checks to any flash-in-the-pan 15-game winner in sight – they had $46.5 million in pitchers not even on the postseason roster -- they haven’t won a World Series. Say what you will about the Braves’ attitude, approach and management, but would you want to root for a club described by its major hometown paper, The Times, like this:

“….the pervasive negativity and culture of blame that Steinbrenner creates around the team …. a dysfunctional hierarchy in which some moves originate in New York but many come from Tampa, Fla., where Steinbrenner lives. Neither side trusts the other, but Cashman - not Steinbrenner's Tampa advisers - is the public front man for all moves, a position that is often humiliating.”

Sounds like fun, huh?

Like many Bravos fans, I long for the days when Ted perched in the dugout-level seats, gave clubhouse pep talks, made the occasional outrageous statement and was willing to spend some dough to bolster the home team. But if you think the Yankees are the model, you can have them.

-- CD

Chipper steps up


Disappointing postseason aside, Chipper has emerged as a real leader over the past few seasons, and he's doing so again, saying he would rework his contract (he's due, gulp, $17 million next season) to help the Braves retain Furcal.

"I'd be willing to do whatever [it takes], if it helps. I know my contract is a big drag on the overall picture," Jones told the Braves' official site. "What trumps everything is that I don't want my contract to keep us from winning. If we need to address something so that we can sign a Furcal, Giles or whoever on the free agent market, I'll listen. We'll talk about it."

---CB

Being John Schuerholz


I thought it might be fun for Office readers to put themselves in J.S.' suspenders, letting us know what you'd do if you were the GM. A little interactive Strat-O-Matic, if you will.

Let's try to keep it realistic, within the parameters of the $80 million payroll the Braves are likely to maintain. Do you keep Fukey? If so, who goes to pay for him? What do you do about the bullpen? The rotation? Where do you put Andy Marte? Trade him? How about Estrada?

Lots of questions, plenty of (potential) solutions. Let's see if we can build a better Braves team: bigger, stronger, faster ...

Shhhh!


While the talking heads may want to chat about anything but baseball, ratings for the sport continue to rise.

According to USA Today, Sunday's Game 4 of the Angels-Yankees series was the most viewed Game 4 since Fox began covering baseball in 1996 (more than doubling a comparable Dodgers-Cardinals playoff game a year ago). Likewise, the Game 4 between the Braves and Houston scored twice the ratings as a similar game between those same teams in 2004.

Sure, football is still king, but interest in the national pastime is growing. (Although it will be interesting to see how the absence of the Yankees and Red Sox affect ratings for the remainder of the postseason).

Of course, when discussing the business of baseball, there's always some bad news. As history has shown, the lords of baseball don't handle success too well (attendance was at an all-time high prior to the 1994 lock-out) indicating some sort of work stoppage is likely after the current labor deal expires (following the 2006 season).

Maybe by then the players will wise up and give Fehr and Loathing the boot.

---CB

Monday, October 10, 2005

Ha ha! (squared)


This may come as a shock to Terence Moore (Gary Sheffield's biggest cheerleader), but Brian McCann had more than twice as many RBI in league division series play as did the alleged Mr. Clutch (remember, he gets it). Moreoever, McCann started in only three games to Sheffield's five. Better than that, the Yankees lost.

Nothing soothes another Braves first round exit as much as a premature end to the Yankees season. Despite costing twice as much, Steinbrenner's mercenaries were defeated by the Angels, who will now face the team with the lowest payroll in the playoffs.

CD and I were both three-out-of-four in our postseason picks; he took the Fenway mystique too seriously, and I let my heart trump my brain (choosing the Braves over the Astros). Made clear, yet again, is the importance of pitching in October: All four LDS winners had superior hurlers.

As for the remainder of the playoffs, I'll go with Houston in the National League, though I'm doubting my selection of the Angels as the AL representative. As is usually the case this time of year, I've found a new team to adopt: the White Sox. But, since I picked them last week to win the ALCS, I'll stick with the O.C. in seven, though I wouldn't mind a mulligan.

Regardless, I'm calling for the 'Stros to win it all, in seven. Disappointment aside, it's admittedly more enjoyable watching baseball without an emotional investment. Enjoy it while you can, because in a few weeks the only daily boxscores available will be those from the NBA. The long, cruel winter awaits.

---CB

Office space


Rowland wants us to remind our small but loyal readership that we'll still be blogging through the offseason, perhaps expanding our entries beyond Braves news, though featuring plenty of hot stove items, some nostalgia and other nonsense.

Apologies to Adam, looking ahead

We learn today that LaRoche had the stomach flu and threw up all day. So apologies for the roasting. And I have to agree with what he said about preferring not to go to the postseason if it means losing in the first round yet again.

On a different topic, after another torpid postseason showing for Giles, CB has proposed trading the usually superb second baseman for pitching help and presumably freeing up some cash for Furcal. I would have no problem with that. Furcal is a dynamic leadoff hitter and Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. You can't get those anywhere else.

For his part, Giles is an excellent player. I think his postseason slumber is mostly an aberration that'll change one of these years. Still, it's easier to find a competent second baseman than a leadoff hitting shortstop. Betemit, in fact, could play second next year. He probably won't be as good as Giles in the field or at the plate.

But I think you miss Giles less than you'd miss Furcal. If the Braves do try to move Giles, the question then becomes do you get a front-line starter -- thus sucking up some of the money that might to to Raffy -- a lower-priced starter, or reilef help? The bullpen conceivably could be much improved just by the maturation of Boyer and Devine.

On the other hand, as easy as it is to think you can always pick up a passable middle reliever-setup guy during the season, those pitchers were scarce this year. And of all the theories about what works in the postseason -- small ball, starting pitching, good defense -- this series made it clear that an awful bullpen equals an awful postseason.

So it'd be chancy to go into next year pinning the bullpen hopes on the rookies. Again, though, if you spend big money on, say, Billy Wagner, can you keep Furcal?

Strangely, the Braves had good starting pitching in three of four games, but as we know won just once. Yes, clutch hitting was a problem yesterday, but the pen was the far bigger problem in the series.

As for next season's rotation, Hudson and Horacio are there. We hope Smoltzie is, but with a 38-year-old arm that's been sliced up three or four times, who knows how long he can go. There are good young candidates -- Davies, Chuck James, Jake Stevens. I'm guessing Thomson is gone, either via declining his option or picking it up and trading him. Like the pen, the rotation might need help from outside.

It'll be another complicated offseason for the Bravos' brass. Though the priorities seem clear -- deciding on Furcal and bolstering the bullpen, assembling the rotation could also be tricky because of Smoltz's health.

-- CD