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Is this the year? The Braves have won fourteen straight division titles and they are about to start chasing number fifteen. They have survived the loss of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Javy Lopez, Gary Sheffield and now Rafael Furcal is gone. But this off-season has brought a new concern, the loss of Leo Mazzone. Could his departure be the tipping point that ends the Braves run? The Braves players and management are confident about their prospects for 2006 but this could finally be the year when the streak ends.

It is hard to say who has received more credit over the years for the Braves success between John Schuerholz, Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone. John Schuerholz, the general manager, has been praised for his ability to make great trades for the Braves, and for his ability to pick up key free agents. Schuerholz, and the Atlanta talent evaluators, have a great reputation for knowing which prospects to trade and when to trade them. JP Ricciardi has stated he is reluctant to trade with Schuerholz for this reason.

Bobby Cox, the manager, is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, managers in baseball. Cox is credited with a great eye for talent. In 2005, when Kelly Johnson struggled on his promotion to the big leagues, Cox stayed with the hitter and Johnson came around and started hitting. Blue Jay fans should be familiar with Cox’s ability to develop young players as he did with the Jays teams in the early eighties.

Finally Leo Mazzone carries the unofficial title of best pitching coach in the majors. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz got him noticed. The resurrection of Mike Hampton, John Thomson, Jaret Wright, Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and others gave him his unofficial title.

Cox and Mazzone have been a team for fifteen years and they have been lauded both as a team and individually. But now the team has split, Mazzone is an Oriole, and the Braves and Orioles 2006 seasons might now show the relative value of Cox and Mazzone.

Mazzone’s departure from the Braves was understandable on the surface but puzzling below. Mazzone’s desire to return home, to coach with a good friend, and to be paid more money, are all good reasons to leave Atlanta. But people generally don’t leave good jobs, for a lateral move, unless there are other factors at play. If Schuerholz, Cox and Mazzone were a cohesive team, that really enjoyed and respected each other’s company, then I don’t think it would have come to this. If Mazzone was looking for more money the Yankees job would have provided that. Sam Perlozzo, the Orioles manager, might have been a childhood friend, but Cox and Mazzone have managed and lived side-by-side for the last fifteen seasons, spending eight months of each year together. Could a childhood bond be stronger than that, unless there was another reason? I remain suspicious, and I believe something developed between Cox and Mazzone that precipitated this split.

To continue the conspiracy theory for a moment consider “Scout’s Honor”, a book published in 2005 in praise of the “Bravest way to build a winning team”. The author, Bill Shanks, is a long time Brave fan and obviously had excellent access to the organization as he wrote the book. The index at the back of the book has 85 page references for Schuerholz, 56 for Cox and only 6 page references for Mazzone. Any contribution by Mazzone to the “Braves way” is not recognized in the book, the six references to him are all in passing. Mazzone would be considered by most fans to have been an integral part of the Braves winning ways. Mazzone’s lack of acknowledgment in the book suggests that the organization knew that Leo was on the way out and they were already positioning his departure in the media.

It is undeniable that Cox and Mazzone have contributed to the Braves success. With Mazzone gone the spotlight will be on the Brave’s pitchers as baseball fans gauge how they fare without their mentor. Will Cox continue to follow the “Mazzone way” of pitching, keying off the low and away fastball, which isn’t all that revolutionary? Mazzone, or Cox, was responsible for some reclamation projects, Jaret Wright, Mike Hampton (second time through), John Thomson and Jorge Sosa. In 2006 the Braves are not looking at reclamation projects, Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Thomson, Jorge Sosa and Horacio Ramirez are experienced pitchers who know their own way, or who already know the Mazzone way. The next starter in line is Joey Devine who would be more familiar with new pitching coach Roger McDowell. The Braves starters should be well positioned to survive without Mazzone.

The Braves do not have many on-the-field changes for 2006. Rafael Furcal is gone, replaced by Edgar Renteria. Johnny Estrada is gone, replaced by Brian McCann. And Kyle Farnsworth is gone, after two months with the Braves, replaced by a selection of relievers.

The Braves starting lineup will be:

C     Brian McCann, backed by Todd Pratt
1B   Adam LaRoche
2B   Marcus Giles
SS   Edgar Renteria
3B   Chipper Jones
LF   Kelly Johnson and Matt Diaz
CF   Andruw Jones
RF   Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Langerhans

The substitution of Renteria for Furcal is the major change from the end of last year. McCann and Francoeur were mid-season additions in 2005 and helped propel the Braves to the division title. The change at shortstop could be interesting, Furcal was the Braves best player in 2005, measured by Win Shares, while Renteria was a disappointment in Boston. The loss of your best player is not easily compensated for. A return of the Edgar Renteria from 2003 or 2004 would mask the loss, but if Renteria delivers similar numbers to those in Boston last year it could cost the Braves a couple of wins compared to Furcal. Some scouts fell that Renteria added weight in 2005 that slowed him by a step, I haven't seen any 2006 reports to update his status.

Elsewhere Andruw Jones will be hard-pressed to have as good a year in 2006 as 2005. Last season Jones set a career high for home runs at age 28, it might have been his career year. McCann, Francoeur and Johnson might be hit by the sophomore slump. LaRoche will play full-time this season, as opposed to a platoon role the last few years. Will his production against lefties be enough? The pickup of Todd Pratt was excellent as he has always hit left handed pitchers better than righties, setting up a platoon with McCann.

The starting pitching is the same as 2005 other than the loss of Mike Hampton’s twelve starts. Hudson and Smoltz are the studs and, barring injury, will anchor the rotation. John Thomson, Horacio Ramirez and Jorge Sosa are the favourites to fill out the rotation.

The bullpen features three new pitchers, Oscar Villareal, Wes Obermuller and Lance Cormier. None of those guys make you say “wow” but they fit a Braves profile. Trade for average pitchers, indoctrinate them in the Braves way, then see them turn into studs. Villareal has a chance to be the closer. The bullpen also features Canadian closer Chris Reitsma who saved fifteen games last year, and a couple of rookies, Blaine Boyer and Mackay McBride.

The Braves success in 2005 was due, in part, to big seasons from some rookies and career years from Andruw Jones and Furcal, and a return to form, and the starting rotation, by Smoltz. Once again it is hard to imagine all those things going right for the Braves in 2006, plus the Mets and Phillies are getting better. Can the Braves continue to succeed based on the failures of their closest competitors? The Mets and the Phillies might not have the pitching to hang with the Braves. 2006 could be the year the Braves finally slip out of first place but the challengers are not perfect and who wins money betting against the Braves?

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The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Cristian - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 08:42 AM EST (#142432) #
Last spring, when the Braves were openly lusting after Gabe Gross, does anyone remember what player(s) were rumoured to be coming Toronto's way?
3RunHomer - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 09:57 AM EST (#142434) #
Mazzone said for many years that he'd be Perlozzo's pitching coach if Perlozzo ever became a manager. Perlozzo did and Leo was as good as his word. What's so hard to believe?

Anyway, I doubt that Leo is a miracle worker. He's got 2 excellent young pitchers to work with in Baltimore (Cabrera and Bedard), and a couple more on the way from the minors (Penn, Loewen). Throw in the quite decent Rodrigo Lopez and Bruce Chen -- that staff is going to make Leo look good over the next couple years. If he can get much out of Benson, then maybe he is a miracle worker.

If the Braves' staff stumbles it's more likely a result of age than coaching. Smoltz is an old dude and Thomson is a marginal talent who might burn out quickly. Hudson isn't exactly dominant anymore either.
eeleye - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 11:47 AM EST (#142436) #
I just don't see how the Mets can't win the division with additions of Carlos Delgado, plus David Wright, Pedro Martinez, a returning to form Carlos Beltran, etc etc. The Braves will finally not come in first, second if they are lucky, but definitely will not even come close to making wild card.
Sister - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 12:06 PM EST (#142437) #
I'm still blown away by the 14 straight titles, spanning the 4 and 6 division alignments, in the major league sport where getting into the playoffs is most *numerically* difficult.

It really is quite a feat.

However, this is the year that streak ends.
david wang - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 12:12 PM EST (#142438) #
They said it last year, and the year before and the year before that.

This Braves team has a lot of solid pieces and Cox makes it work.
Geoff - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 12:51 PM EST (#142440) #
14 straight titles is enormous. More remarkable given that it didn't cost them a billion dollars in player salaries to do it.

As a pet project for anyone who feels so inclined, perhaps someone could gather a comparison of player salary spent by the Braves and, you know, those other asses who've been going to the playoffs every year for a while now.
Geoff - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 12:53 PM EST (#142441) #
I notice that Mike Hampton is listed twice as having been resurrected by Mazzone.

I heard that Mazzone performs miracles, but did he really bring Hampton back from the dead twice?
Jim - TBG - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 02:31 PM EST (#142448) #
As a pet project for anyone who feels so inclined, perhaps someone could gather a comparison of player salary spent by the Braves and, you know, those other asses who've been going to the playoffs every year for a while now.

Not even a pet project, just a little cutting and pasting.

The numbers here start in 1995 - in part because I'm one of those who doesn't like the 14-straight number - the Braves would have been hard pressed to win in 1994.

Also, 1995 marked the introduction of wild cards and realignment.

I've only included the payrolls for the division and a certain other team with a penchant for spending, as I didn't want to clog the thread.

95-2004 numbers are Associated Press taken from a spreadsheet offered at

2005 from


Atl	47,023,444
Fla	22,961,781
Mon	13,116,557
NYM	13,097,944
Phi	30,333,350

NYY	58,165,252


Atl	53,797,000
Fla	25,311,000
Mon	17,264,500
NYM	29,890,167
Phi	30,403,458

NYY	61,511,870


Atl	53,111,000
Fla	52,465,000
Mon	18,010,500
NYM	34,985,330
Phi	31,102,439

NYY	73,389,577


Atl	61,840,254
Fla	19,141,000
Mon	8,317,500
NYM	58,660,665
Phi	29,922,500

NYY	73,963,698


Atl	79,256,599
Fla	14,650,000
Mon	15,015,250
NYM	71,510,523
Phi	30,441,500

NYY	91,990,955


Atl	95,010,734
Fla	25,864,697
Mon	27,970,273
NYM	89,745,275
Phi	36,683,832

NYY	113,365,877


Atl	91,851,587
Fla	35,504,167
Mon	34,774,500
NYM	93,174,428
Phi	41,664,167

NYY 	109,791,893


Atl	93,786,065
Fla	40,822,536
Mon	37,901,032
NYM	94,395,575
Phi	59,593,741

NYY     133,429,575


Atl	104,622,210
Fla	48,368,298
Mon	51,949,000
NYM	116,868,613
Phi	70,780,000

NYY	149,710,995


Atl	88,507,788
Fla	42,118,042
Mon	43,197,500
NYM	100,629,303
Phi	93,219,167

NYY	182,835,513


Atl     86,457,302 
Fla     60,408,834 
NYM     101,305,821 
Phi     95,522,000
Was	48,581,500

NYY	208,306,817

The Braves certainly can't be accused of being cheap, but when you compare their spending to the Mets, they're bargain hunters.

Geoff - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 02:44 PM EST (#142450) #
Not to worry, this is the year that all the Mets' spending comes together to make a division champion.

Doesn't matter if you've heard that before.
CaramonLS - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 06:16 PM EST (#142465) #
What impresses me the most about the Braves line up is the strength they have up the middle.

McCann projects to be a very solid catcher. Giles/Renteria could easily be one of the best 2B/SS combos in terms of Offense in all of MLB. Andruw Jones, well, don't really need to say much about him.
Andrew - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 07:17 PM EST (#142471) #
I wouldn't put anything past the Braves. Their lineup looks a lot better than last year. I wouldn't be surprised if Renteria outperformed Furcal this year, and with all of their rookies having a year under their belt, they should get some pretty solid production out of RF, LF, 3B, C, 1B... you get the picture. The loss of Mazzone looks like it'll hurt, but the club (Cox especially) doesn't seem to mind as far as I've read.

All in all, there are a lot less "ifs" for the Braves this year than last, and there are a lot of "ifs" for the Mets this year. The Mets still have bad pitching and some injury questions; the Braves' only real "if" is Renteria, who I think will bounce back to his NL form rather nicely.
Magpie - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 07:26 PM EST (#142472) #
the Braves would have been hard pressed to win in 1994.

On the one hand, they were six games behind the Expos, with almost 50 left to play when the strike hit.

On the other hand, exactly one year earlier, they were nine games behind the Giants. And they caught 'em and passed 'em.

They're the Atlanta Braves, people! You know...

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You need a silver bullet. A stake through the heart. Extraordinary measures.

6-4-3 - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 07:37 PM EST (#142474) #
If starting a season with Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan as corner outfielders didn't end the streak, a silver bullet would certainly be inadequate.
Magpie - Monday, March 13 2006 @ 08:14 PM EST (#142475) #
If starting a season with Raul Mondesi and Brian Jordan as corner outfielders didn't end the streak

Not to mention "Danny Kolb is our closer."

Oh, and three starting pitchers went on the DL. At the same time.

You're right. A silver bullet wouldn't even slow them down.

Anders - Wednesday, March 15 2006 @ 01:48 AM EST (#142565) #
Just so were clear - the Braves have won 14 straight division titles in years in which the season was finished.
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