Money Pit in Atlanta
by Mike Hayes - 06/26/2006
As hard as it might be to believe, the Kansas City Royals have been a stronger bet than the Atlanta Braves this season. So have the Orioles, Marlins, Cubs and in fact every team in MLB with the exception of the Pirates, thanks only to the fact that the woeful Bucs have dropped 11 in a row while the Braves managed to take two-of-three from the D'Rays over the weekend.
A $100 moneyline bet on the Braves through each of their 76 games this season has produced deficit of $1,936, second only to the Pirates at minus $2,213. The Royals, who rank 23rd at minus $776, seem like a sure thing in comparison.
Entering this season, the Braves had shown a moneyline profit for four consecutive years, ranking 12th, fourth, third and sixth, respectively, in all of baseball during that span. Although they were consistently winning before that, profitability was tougher to secure on the moneyline thanks to a pitching staff that featured the almost always heavily favored Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
As the Braves losing ways continue, there appears little doubt that one of the greatest runs in the history of professional sports - their 14 consecutive division titles -- is coming to an end.
At the conclusion of the weekend the Braves were in last place in the National League East at 32-44 -- 15.5 games behind the Mets -- and not only will they not win a division title, but they appear unlikely to even sniff the 500 mark the rest of the season. Just three teams, the aforementioned Royals, Cubs and Bucs have a worse win-loss record this year.
While pitching was always a key to the Braves success, a lack of it is contributing heavily to their undoing as the Braves are currently ranked in the bottom half of all of MLB in E.R.A., at 4.73. Led by Andruw Jones, who has emerged as a true power hitting superstar, the Braves are not awful offensively, though they rank near the bottom of the league in on-base percentage.
How bad have the Braves been? So bad that rumors are beginning to circulate that they would be willing to part with Smoltz, perhaps to the Tigers, and do not be surprised if teams in playoff contention start to inquire about Chipper Jones. The Braves do have a decent nucleus of young players but they could use some pitching prospects to revamp their rotation.
The Braves run of 14 consecutive division titles is unprecedented in sports, but a failure to win more than their one World Championship has resulted in the team not getting as much credit as their streak deserves. To put their success in some perspective, consider that they have been winning division titles for so long now that the first three to start the streak occurred as members of the National League West and they are the only team to win the National League East since realignment and the move to three divisions in 1994.
The last time the Braves didn't win a division title was 1990, when the Reds won the NL West before going on to win the World Series. That's a long time ago when you consider that it was in 1990 that Nolan Ryan tossed the sixth of his seven no-hitters; James "Buster" Douglas knocked out the previously undefeated Mike Tyson, Barry Bonds won the first of his seven MVP awards; and a first-class stamp was a quarter and a gallon of gas was $1.16.
After finishing last or second-to-last from 1985 to 1990, the Braves won the NL West in 1991 and haven't looked back. During their reign as perennial division champions the Braves have appeared in five World Series, winning their only title in 1995 when they defeated the Indians in six games.
The Braves didn't win the division title in '94, but nobody did thanks to the strike that not only ended the season but cancelled the World Series. At the time of the strike the Braves were in second place, six games behind the Expos.
They won 100 games six times during their run, with a high-water mark of 106 occurring in 1998. Of their four World Series losses, they were swept just once, by the Yankees, in 1999, and their only seven game series loss was to the Twins in 1991.
In addition to their five NLCS wins, the Braves have appeared in and lost three championship series, most recently to the underdog Padres in 1998.
In recent years the Braves have had some tough luck in the postseason, having lost in the first round in each of the last four years, with three consecutive loses in a decisive fifth game from 2002-04.
Prior to the Braves winning 14 consecutive division titles, their last winning season was 1983 when they went 88-74 under manager Joe Torre, who replaced Cox as manager in 1982 and led the Braves to a division title. Cox managed the Braves for four seasons, with just one winning campaign (81-80) in 1980, before being replaced by Torre and managing the Blue Jays until he was rehired by Atlanta to replace Russ Nixon during the 1990 season.
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