Yesterday, I started a sixteen-team tournament. Coronavirus thinks it can kill March Madness? Well, kill this!
(Please don’t, though.)
If you missed it, please give the first piece a read just to catch up on what I’m doing here. The TL/DR version of it is that I ranked what might be the sixteen best Braves teams of all time. With the help of Out of the Park 20, I have set up a tournament to find out who really is the greatest squad in franchise history. Two teams, the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the 1948 Boston Braves, have already punched their ticket to the Elite Eight where they will meet to decide who joins the Final Four. Both were the higher seed in their matchup. Will that continue with today’s two matchups.
Just a reminder – each series can go up to a maximum of seven games.
Sweet Sixteen Matchup
#2 – 1914 Boston Braves vs. #15 – 1994 Atlanta Braves
Eighty long years separate the two teams in our next matchup as we move to the bottom quarter of the bracket. The Miracle Braves of 1914, led by team captain Johnny Evers, face the strike-shortened Braves of 1994. You probably know the basics of the 1914 Boston Braves. They were in last place on July 18, but jumped from eighth-to-first by the beginning of September. After running away with the pennant, they swept the A’s in the World Series.
Led by Evers, outfielder Joe Connolly, and a young mix of position players – most famously Rabbit Maranville – Boston’s true strength was in its rotation. The trio of Dick Rudolph, Bill James, and Lefty Tyler was hard-to-beat, especially down the stretch.
The 1994 Braves might surprise you since they were behind the Expos by six games when play was suspended on August 11th for the strike. But the Braves still had a PythW-L% of .586, good for the third-best mark in the National League. Still, without the strike, there is a good chance they don’t catch the Expos, miss the playoffs, and “The Streak” doesn’t become a thing. Baseball’s future in Montreal may have been forever altered, as well.
The Big Three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz was great with Maddux downright unhittable that season. Steve Avery and Kent Mercker finished out the best staff in the majors. The bullpen, as was often the case for Atlanta in the 90’s, was a mixed bag. Greg McMichael was the closer and had a decent year, but control issues plagued most of the rest of the pen. Offensively, 1994 was the year Javy Lopez and Ryan Klesko joined the mix. Mark Lemke somehow hit .294, Fred McGriff was around for the full season, and David Justice was his usual sweet-swinging self.
Game 1: ATL 3, BSN 2
The idea of Greg Maddux and Dick Rudolph pitching against one another is really fascinating. Both went six frames. Both allowed just two runs. Rudolph kind of out-pitched Maddux, striking out nine Atlanta hitters while Maddux only struck out three. But the final results were all the same. It became a battle of the bullpens and Atlanta’s held up in a way that Boston’s couldn’t. Of course, this may be one of the problems the older teams will have in this sim – they didn’t really have “bullpens.” Rudolph completed 31 of his 36 starts in 1914.
With the score still tied at 2 entering the top of the 12th, pinch-hitter Jose Oliva drew a walk against Gene Cocreham. That brought in the Swiss-born lefty Otto Hess to face “Neon” Deion Sanders. Sanders hit a grounder to second and beat the relay back to first for a fielder’s choice. He then moved to second on a wild pitch. That set up postseason hero, Mark Lemke, to deliver an RBI single. It was Lemke’s fourth hit and second ribbie of the game. Mike Stanton got the win while Milt Hill, who appeared ten times with the Braves in ’94, got the save.
Game 2: BSN 7, ATL 3
Series Tied at 1
Atlanta jumped out to an early lead after Deion Sanders singled and Mark Lemke drew a walk before David Justice hit a three-run bomb. Tom Glavine cruised into the seventh, allowing just run one. Wilson Collins singled off the lefty to open the inning, which brought Steve Bedrosian into the game. But the reliever was short on relief as he walked Johnny Evers, allowed a hard single to Butch Schmidt, and walked Les Mann on four straight. Mark Wohlers got the call and after a fielder’s choice cut the runner down at home, Milt Hill surprisingly was brought in next.
It got real ugly from there. A wild pitch scored Schmidt and later in the at-bat, Hank Gowdy singled in Mann. Behind for the first time in the game, Atlanta’s odds to win the game cratered after Larry Gilbert took Hill’s first pitch to him deep out to right and gone. Mike Bielecki mercifully ended the six-run inning shortly after that.
Game 3: ATL 5, BSN 2
1994 Braves lead the series 2-1
Fred McGriff came to play today, smashing a pair of homers at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Both came off Lefty Tyler – first a two-run shot in the first and then a three-run homer in the fifth. That helped Steve Avery secure the win despite a shaky five hits and three walks allowed in five innings. Greg McMichael got the save.
Boston had pressure on the Braves throughout the game. Of the eight hits they had, five were doubles and only one of them came with two outs. Despite adding five walks to the mix – plus a Terry Pendleton error – Boston couldn’t scratch across more than two runs.
Game 4: ATL 3, BSN 1
1994 Braves lead the series 3-1
John Smoltz outdueled Dick Rudolph, striking out eight Boston hitters, and Atlanta finds themselves a game away from upsetting the #2 seed. Boston pulled out to an early lead in this one as Larry Gilbert singled and eventually scored a base hit by Jack Martin, but the second-inning lead didn’t last long. Back-to-back walks by Jeff Blauser and Ryan Klesko got a rally going in the bottom half. With one out, Terry Pendleton singled and later, Deion Sanders hit a sacrifice fly. Sanders would also be a part of the third run Atlanta scored. In the seventh, he singled with one out, made it to third on a Mark Lemke singled, and trotted home after Fred McGriff flew out to deep center.
Smoltz wasn’t his best but worked around four hits and three walks to leave with the lead after five. The bullpen shut the door from there with Greg McMichael saving his second game of the series.
Game 5: ATL 4, BSN 3
1994 Braves win the series 4-1
A #15 seed, the 1994 Braves have punched their ticket to the Elite Eight behind the hot-hitting of Deion Sanders, power of Fred McGriff, and shockingly good work from the much-maligned bullpen. Sanders, who was named Series MVP, added three hits to his series total, giving him ten total. He hit a robust .435 for the series and scored five times. McGriff hit another homer, his third of the series, and drove in nine runs.
Boston got four hits from Butch Schmidt while Les Mann added three of his own, but wasn’t able to score again after Mann singled in Joe Connolly to tie up the game at 3-all. Two innings later, Javy Lopez singled in Jeff Blauser to reclaim the lead and Atlanta wouldn’t give it back.
Greg Maddux went six solid for the Braves in the victory. Gregg Olson pitched the ninth and gave up a hit to secure the save.
Sweet Sixteen Matchup
#7 – 1999 Atlanta Braves vs. #10 – 2002 Atlanta Braves
Only three years separate our next two teams. So, you might be wondering what is the real differences between the two – beyond the fact that the 1999 one went to the World Series. Well, one difference is at shortstop. 1999 had Walt Weiss while Rafael Furcal manned shortstop in 2002. Gary Sheffield had also replaced Brian Jordan in right field by 2002. And in left field? That was Chipper Jones rather than Gerald Williams or Ryan Klesko.
Another pretty big difference was the starting depth. In 1999, the Braves were four deep with Kevin Millwood joining the Big Three. By 2002, all the same figures were involved, but Smoltz was now the closer.
What will that do for this series? Let’s find out.
Game 1: 1999 ATL 3, 2002 ATL 1Shockingly, it was 2002 Millwood vs. 1999 Smoltz rather than Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine getting the ball for either team. The result was a strong pitcher’s dual In the sixth, 1999 Andruw Jones homered off Millwood to break a scoreless tie, but an inning later, 2002 Mark DeRosa was driven in by pinch-hitter Matt Franco to tie it up. 2002 Millwood went six innings and allowed two hits, a run, two walks, and struck out seven. 1999 Smoltz matched him with one run allowed over 6.1 innings. He gave up three hits and walked three to match his three K’s.
The game was in the hands of the bullpens, but it would be the hands of a non-pitcher that would be remembered the most. In the bottom of the eighth, with Brian Hunter on third and one out, 1999 Andruw Jones hit a grounder to third. 2002 DeRosa bobbled it. The run may have scored regardless, but it was ruled unearned. Later in the inning, 1999 Ryan Klesko brought another unearned run home when he singled, scoring Jones. 2002 John Rocker entered and worked around a leadoff single before striking out 1999 Julio Franco to end the game.
Game 2: 2002 ATL 3, 1999 ATL 1
Series Tied at 1
It was Maddux vs. Maddux and the elder version came away with the victory. 2002 Maddux went seven innings, scattering just three hits including a Bret Boone solo homer. That would count for the only one he allowed. He walked one and struck out five before being replaced by Darren Holmes. John Smoltz finished up in the ninth for the save. 1999 Maddux wasn’t quite as sharp, walking three and giving up five hits over six frames. He struck out two and was charged with two runs.
Boone’s homer put the 1999 squad ahead in the second. In the fourth, with two outs, a rally started strangely with a 1999 Maddux walk. Mark DeRosa followed with a double, scoring Andruw Jones and tying the game. Javy Lopez kept the offense coming with a base hit to give the 2002 team the lead. Not that they would need it, but Julio Franco gave them some insurance in the 8th as he followed a Rafael Furcal double with a base hit, scoring the speedy shortstop against Kevin McGlinchy.
Game 3: 2002 ATL 8, 1999 ATL 6
2002 Braves lead the series 2-1
Only four of the game’s 14 runs scored off the two starters – shared equally between 1999 Kevin Millwood and 2002 Tom Glavine. The game ultimately would come down to which closer could have a clean inning. One did. The other, not so much.
Plenty of offense from both sides in this one. For the 1999 team, Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Walt Weiss, and Brian Hunter each had two hits with Hunter homering off 2002 Glavine. Weiss led the squad with two RBIs. The winning team also got big days from Chipper Jones, who had three hits, while Gary Sheffield and Rafael Furcal both homered.
In the bottom of the ninth, with the 1999 Braves up 6-5, John Rocker got the call. 2002 Chipper singled, reached second on a passed ball and got to third on a groundout. 2002 Andruw Jones followed with a game-tying base hit. Rocker worked around a Weiss error to escape the ninth. 2002 Smoltz had a quiet top of the 10th, striking out Keith Lockhart along the way. He even stayed in the game, working a walk against Rocker who was lifted for Micah Bowie. The first pitch from Bowie went 351 feet to deep left off the bat of Furcal for a walk-off jam.Game 4: 1999 ATL 1, 2002 ATL 0
Series tied at 2
In need of a big game from their starter, 1999 Tom Glavine delivered. Facing his future prodigy, 2002 Damian Moss, Glavine shut down the 2002 offense over 7 shutout innings, scattering five hits to go with two walks. He also struck out five. His fifth hit allowed came on the last pitch he threw. Vinny Castilla doubled to open the eighth. Kevin McGlinchy and Rudy Seanez navigated through the rest of the inning before Russ Springer pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
2002 Moss was good, too, striking out 7 in 5.2 innings, but he made one huge mistake to open the sixth and 1999 Brian Jordan jumped on it, hitting his first homer of the series to give Glavine a lead he didn’t surrender. All in all, 2002 Braves pitchers picked up 13 strikeouts, but the offense couldn’t give them enough support.
Game 5: 2002 ATL 4, 1999 ATL 1
2002 Braves lead the series 3-2
It took a great start to tie up the series for the 1999 squad. The 2002 team got a great start of their own to pull back ahead. Over 6.1 innings, 2002 Kevin Millwood didn’t allow a run on five hits and a walk. He struck out nine. Jason Marquis gave him a little boost, stranding 1999 Bret Boone on second after he chased 2002 Millwood with a double the following the first out in the seventh. Marquis retired the next two before 2002 Albie Lopez ran into trouble in the 8th, giving up a run to spoil the shutout. 2002 John Smoltz pitched a quiet ninth for the save.
That version had a better day than 1999 Smoltz, who gave up four runs in 6.1 innings. Two came off the bat of 2002 Javy Lopez when the catcher belted a homer in the 4th. 2002 Chipper Jones and 2002 Gary Sheffield hit back-to-back sacrifice flies in the first to put the team ahead.
Game 6: 1999 ATL 6, 2002 ATL 4
Series Tied at 3
The 1999 squad went to Greg Maddux and hoped he could win his rematch with his 2002 version. This time, he did, though it took a lot of luck. 1999 Maddux gave up ten hits over six innings, but only four runs – three earned. The 2002 version matched the four runs, three earned, part of the equation, but did it in just five innings. In the bottom of the sixth, Tim Spooneybarger gave up a two-run homer to 1999 Walt Weiss to propel the younger squad to victory.
1999 Weiss’s big knock gave him three ribbies on the day. It also helped to make up for the fact that the 1999 squad only had a half-dozen hits. Brian Jordan and Chipper Jones also doubled for the 1999 squad while Ryan Klesko added a surprising steal. For the 2002 team, Mark DeRosa had three hits and an RBI while Andruw Jones had two singles, but all ten hits by the team were singles.
After 1999 Maddux was lifted, Rudy Seanez, Kevin McGlinchy, and John Rocker each worked hitless innings.
The series will come down to 1999 Millwood facing 2002 Glavine. The bullpens decided this matchup back in Game 3.
Game 7: 1999 ATL 2, 2002 ATL 0
1999 Braves win the series 4-3
In 1999, Kevin Millwood was masterful in the NLDS versus the Astros. Yes, kids, before they were cheating bastards, the Astros also played in the National League. In Game 2, he gave up a solo homer and nothing else while striking out eight over a complete game. Two days later, he picked up a save as the Braves won in 12 innings.
He won’t be needed for a save in this series, but he dominated this game even more than he did in Game 2 of the NLDS. He scattered three singles and three walks while striking out eight to lead the 1999 Braves into the Elite Eight. His opponent, 2002 Tom Glavine, was nearly as good. He went eight innings in a complete-game effort, only allowed four hits, and didn’t walk a batter while striking out three. But two of the hits he allowed came in one inning and they were both big.
1999 Walt Weiss opened the third with a triple, the ’99 squad’s first hit of the day. The next batter, Brian Hunter, hit a groundout that scored Weiss. After Millwood was retired, 1999 Andruw Jones bashed a homer to left-center to stake Millwood to a 2-0 lead. He didn’t even need that many runs.
Despite the loss, 2002 Mark DeRosa was named MVP of the series. He hit .417 during the seven-game set, though went 0-for-3 in this one. He was on deck to hit next when 2002 Andruw Jones hit a soft flyball to the 1999 version of Andruw to end the game.
Another Elite Eight matchup has been confirmed as the #7-seeded 1999 Braves will face the #15-seed, the 1994 strike-shortened Braves.
Next time, we’ll look at our last remaining World Series winner, the #3-seeded 1995 Braves who will take on the only team still alive who experienced Y2K, the 2003 Braves. In the other matchup, the #7 seed 1997 Atlanta team will get the #13 1956 Milwaukee Braves.