WHAT'S KEEPING THE ALTANTA Braves COMPETITIVE THIS SEASON:
1. Mark Kotsay and Gregor Blanco have made Andruw Jones a passing thought. Not only have they made us forget Andruw, they remind us of what it’s like when a Braves centerfielder comes to the plate, takes some pitches, then turns in a good at-bat. I can’t remember a time I thought that with Andruw at the plate for the Braves last season. Andruw’s at-bats consisted of him staring down the left field wall, then corkscrewing himself into the dirt trying to smash one into the Coke bottle out past the stands. It’s amazing his back and ankles are holding up to this day. … Oh wait, not only has he not panned out for the Dodgers, he’s made his way to the DL already. Not bringing A. Jones back is incredibly understated in regard to the success of this Braves’ season.
Blanco probably takes more pitches than he should, as it gets him rung up on some close calls at times, but he gets his money’s worth during each at bat. Blanco also gets credit for making this team when nothing was expected of him. Kotsay came in with some expectations (including an expected back injury during his run), and he’s not disappointed. Even though he’s getting paid decently, and his demeanor would make you think he’s not a team guy, he really seems to care about doing the things necessary for the team to win.
2. Even though Chipper Jones hitting .400 to start the season has obviously carried this team more than anything else, it’s almost overlooked. He’s expected to get two hits a game now, and even with his frustrating quads, he hardly disappoints. It’s amazing really. I’d like to give more credit to Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson making the middle of the infield solid, but Chipper’s been more valuable than anyone else, by far. I’ve often viewed his lack of expression as a player looking to just get paid, but his calming influence is actually helpful to some of these young guys. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like watching Francouer and McCann beat each other up after one of them hits a home run.
3. Even though it’s a shadow of what the starting rotation was at the beginning of the season, the pitching has been great. Smoltz, Hudson, Glavine, Hampton, and Jurrjens were on the slate to start the season, and now they are running with Hudson, Jurrjens, Reyes, Campillo, and Morton. This group is carrying their weight like they were probably carrying those other guys’ bags in spring training. Now it’s surprising how easy it is to be lulled into believing that each of these guys have a good chance to take the team into the 6th inning without giving up more than about three runs. Bobby Cox probably sees his young pitching staff the same way I think about my kids. Once I start getting comfortable with their bedtimes, I expect that things will go well until about 9 P.M. before I need to race home an put them in bed. Next thing I know, it’s 7:30 and my two year-old is having a meltdown in the middle of a nice restaurant because she can’t do laps around our table and poke her head in the kitchen. Let’s hope Jurrjens, Reyes, Campillo, and Morton are able to stay up past their bedtime.