Back at it again here in the Best Braves Team Tournament, brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 20. No, OOTP 20 is not actually sponsoring this, but it would be cool if they did. Have your people call my people. Also, I need some people.
But at a distance. I don’t know where you’ve been.
So far, half of the slots in the Elite Eight have already been claimed. The 1957 Milwaukee Braves, who were named the #1 seed before the tournament, will meet the #9 seed, the 1948 Boston Braves. Meanwhile, the 15th-seeded ’94 Braves, fresh off an upset over the 1914 Miracle Boston Braves, will take on the ’99 Braves, who came into the tournament as the #7 seed.
Two more teams will join them. So, let’s get to the action.
#3 – 1995 Atlanta Braves vs. #14 – 2003 Atlanta Braves
Ah, the 1995 Braves. For many of us, they are the only Braves team we’ve seen win it all. Hell, many of you were born after that magical season when everything finally worked and the “Team of the 90’s” got its ring. At the time, we thought it was the first of many. But that wasn’t to be.
Now, there are a few things of note here. One of the key contributors to that team won’t be in the mix. I’m not really sure why outside of how close the deal was to the season, but Marquis Grissom won’t be involved. He should be since I’m using opening-day rosters and he played on opening day. Instead, Mike Kelly will get the call. Another weird thing is Tony Tarasco is labeled as a third catcher and Mike Mordecai is the starting shortstop. This could stack the deck against the team that also has to deal with a pre-prime Chipper Jones. On the bright side, they do have the Big Three plus a still capable Steve Avery.
What the ’03 Braves are a weird match-up for the former World Champs. Offensively, this is one of the greatest Braves teams ever assembled. Javy Lopez at his best, Marcus Giles before everything went wrong, and Year 2 of the outfield of Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield.
But the difference between this team and the 2002 Braves that just got bounced by the ’99 squad is that pitching is an even bigger issue for the ’03 team. Greg Maddux is 37 and the rest of the staff (Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz, and Horacio Ramirez) is a far cry from the excellent pitching staffs that came before it. The pen also isn’t good, though John Smoltz is dominant if they can get the game to him with the lead.
But let’s see how it goes for these two mismatched squads.
Game 1: 1995 Braves 10, 2003 Braves 2
In our last update, we saw 1999 Greg Maddux and 2002 Greg Maddux match up twice. Today, it was 1995 Maddux and 2003 Maddux and the younger version definitely had the better outing today. It wasn’t even a prototypical Maddux effort for the 1995 team member, who went 5.1 innings, allowed five hits and walked three. But he kept the damage to a minimum and allowed one run. Meanwhile, the ’03 Maddux gave up five runs in 3.2 innings.
Some shoddy defense led to three more runs, all unearned, off Kevin Gryboski and after Roberto Hernandez kept the ’95 team at bay, Jung Bong got blasted for two more runs on Ryan Klesko‘s second homer of the day. Klesko finished 3-for-5 with 5 ribbies to go along with the two homers. Mike Kelly, Marquis Grissom’s stand-in, also had a big day with a 3-for-5 day, including a double and a steal. Even 1995 Maddux helped out as he added two hits and two runs driven in.
2003 Maddux got a little revenge as he singled in Chipper Jones to briefly tie the game in the second, but outside of Marcus Giles’ solo homer off Steve Bedrosian in the seventh, the 2003 Braves offensive attack was limited to singles and walks.
Game 2: 1995 Braves 4, 2003 Braves 1
1995 Braves lead the series 2-0
If the first two games of this series are any indication, the lack of starting pitching could crush the 2003 team’s hopes. Russ Ortiz surrendered a pair of fourth-inning homers, leading to three of the four runs scored by the 1995 squad, as they pull out to a two games-to-zero lead. Before the bottom of the fourth, the two teams had traded runs with Ryan Klesko doubling ahead of a David Justice single in the second and 2003 Javy Lopez tying the game in the fourth by driving in Rafael Furcal, who also doubled.
But in the fourth, after Klesko walked, Fred McGriff hammered a homer to put the 1995 team up 3-1. An out later, Justice hit a homer of his own to extend the lead.
1995 John Smoltz didn’t need much help. Because of an error, the one run scored by the 2003 team was unearned so that meant Smoltz left the game after seven innings with a 0.00 ERA. He scattered four hits, a walk, and struck out a dozen. Brad Clontz and Mark Wohlers breezed through their innings with both facing the minimum. Wohlers secured the save.
Game 3: 2003 Braves 5, 1995 Braves 0
1995 Braves lead the series 2-1
In a matchup of lefties, the 2003 version of Mike Hampton shutdown the opposition while his teammates got to Tom Glavine often. Over four innings, Glavine gave up five hits and walked five. The 2003 Braves made the hits count, too, with three doubles and a Javy Lopez homer on Glavine’s final pitch to open the fifth. All five runs were charged to Glavine.
Hampton cruised inning-after-inning, facing just two over the minimum during his eight scoreless innings. He struck out eight batters, including 1995 Javy Lopez twice. Jung Bong lowered his ERA to 9.00 with a perfect ninth to finish up the game.
Robert Fick was the only player on the 2003 team to get a pair of hits as he singled and doubled. Marcus Giles and Andruw Jones each drove in two. The 1995 bullpen did its job with Brad Woodall, Kent Mercker, and Terry Clark pitching four combined scoreless innings.
Game 4: 2003 Braves 7, 1995 Braves 3
Series tied at 2
With the score 2-2 in the bottom of the third, the 2003 Braves loaded the bases with a double and two walks against Steve Avery. Chipper Jones struck out swinging, but Gary Sheffield lined a homer to the left-field bleachers at 105.6 mph for a Grand Slam. It would be the game’s biggest knock and helped the 2003 squad tie up the series at two games each.
Sheffield went 3-for-3 with 2 walks and 5 driven in. Andruw Jones added three hits and Mike Hessman – yes, Mike Hessman – went 2-for-4. That was more than enough for Horacio Ramirez, who limited the 1995 team to just two runs over six innings. He gave up five hits and walked two while striking out seven.
Avery’s outing was abysmal. Six runs, four walks, and six hits allowed over 3.2 innings will often lead to losses and they did today. Brad Woodall gave up a run over an inning, but the foursome of Pedro Borbon, Terry Clark, Steve Bedrosian, and Greg McMichael kept the game from being a route. Unfortunately, the 1995 squad could only get one run against the trio of Jason Marquis, Darren Holmes, and Ray King.
Game 5: 1995 Braves 7, 2003 Braves 5 (10 innings)
1995 Braves lead series 3-2
For the first time, the road team gets a win in this wild one where the bullpens had a day of it. The game was rolling along with some pretty normal stuff happening. In the first inning, Ryan Klesko hit a two-run homer off 2003 Greg Maddux and Fred McGriff followed for back-to-back jacks. The 2003 Braves broke up the shutout bid in the fifth when Rafael Furcal singled in Robert Fick to slow down 1995 Maddux’s effort. Still, things were going pretty normally until the 8th.
In the top half, the 1995 team extended their lead to 4-1 with a single, a walk, and a second single – the last coming off the bat of Mark Lemke. Brad Clontz came in to try to keep the lead with Mark Wohlers ready to take over in the ninth. With two outs, Gary Sheffield singled. Then, Javy Lopez put a charge into one, homering off Clontz to get the 2003 squad within a run. 2003 Chipper Jones followed with a homer to tie it up.
In the top of the tenth, the 1995 Braves answered with a three-run barrage of their own. Three consecutive walks – including one intentional – set the stage for David Justice and he delivered a tie-breaking infield single off Jung Bong. Mike Mordecai added his own infield single, which scored another run. And after Mark Wohlers somehow beat the relay on a 4-2-3 double play attempt to extend the inning, a Jason Marquis wild pitch scored 1995 Justice.
Wohlers gifted the 2003 team a run with a wild pitch of his own in the bottom of the tenth but got 2003 Chipper to fly out to Justice to end the game.
Game 6: 2003 Braves 10, 1995 Braves 4
Series tied at 3
At the onset of the series, I thought it would be the 1995 total team balance versus the ’03 offense. The latter didn’t really show up as expected until Game 6. Javy Lopez homered twice off 1995 John Smoltz, including a three-run bomb in the third, as the 2003 Braves force a Game 7. They banged out ten hits, walked eight times, and Chipper Jones and Vinny Castilla also homered.
Funny enough, 2003 Chipper Jones’ sixth-inning homer was immediately matched by 1995 Chipper Jones in the bottom of the sixth, but outside of Mike Mordecai’s three ribbies, the 1995 squad just couldn’t put up enough offense.
Russ Ortiz went 5.1 innings and did his best real Russ Ortiz impression by putting on runners, but limiting the damage to just two runs. Jung Bong again got lit up, giving up a two-run double to Mordecai in the ninth, but it was too little, too late for the 1995 squad.
Game 7: 1995 Braves 7, 2003 Braves 6
1995 Braves win series 4-3
Mark Lemke and David Justice had a lot of big postseason moments and the duo combined for another one as the 1995 squad advances to the Elite Eight in a do-or-die Game 7. The 2003 Braves were trying to hold onto a 6-4 lead as they went to Roberto Hernandez to navigate through the 8th. Fred McGriff, held hitless before the at-bat, singled to open the frame.
That brought up Lemke, who had homered off Trey Hodges two innings before to get the game within two runs. Lemke worked the count full before elevating a Hernandez delivery 406 feet to deep right-center field for a game-tying knock. Rattled, Hernandez’s next pitch went only 332 feet, but found the seats in right field as Justice jogged around the bases.
1995 Mark Wohlers gave up a leadoff single and uncorked a wild pitch, but got the pinch-hitting Mark DeRosa to fly out to Justice to end the series.
Ryan Klesko, who doubled in four trips to the plate before being lifted for defense, was named the series MVP. He had 7 hits, including three jacks, drove in 8 runs and scored 7.
The southpaw matchup of Mike Hampton and Tom Glavine ultimately didn’t make much of a difference. Hampton outpitched him slightly, but Kevin Gryboski immediately blew the lead that Hampton gave him. No worries as Steve Bedrosian blew the lead 1995 Glavine gave him. But the third player to blow a save in the game, Hernandez, wouldn’t get a reprieve.
#6 – 1997 Atlanta Braves vs. #11 – 1953 Milwaukee Braves
There’s no telling if the Braves would have been able to do more during than the 1997 NLCS if there was competent umpiring, but the team was built to do some big things. The lineup was built around the still-young Javy Lopez, Chipper Jones, and Ryan Klesko with veterans like Fred McGriff and Kenny Lofton – plus contract year Jeff Blauser (which is the best Jeff Blauser). 20-year-old wunderkid Andruw Jones was used mostly as the fourth outfielder.
The quartet of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Denny Neagle, and Greg Maddux made up for the fact that they couldn’t find a competent fifth starter and the bullpen, helped by midseason additions like Mike Cather, Chad Fox, Joe Borowski, and Kerry Ligtenberg, was much deeper.
On the flip side, the ’53 Braves team was the first in Milwaukee. It was also the only Milwaukee-based Braves team not to have Henry Aaron. Nevertheless, build around Joe Adcock, Eddie Mathews, and Del Crandal, they also had a young offensive nucleaus with veterans like Sid Gordon and Andy Pafko helping out. Warren Spahn was amazing that season and Johnny Antonelli and Bob Buhl were more than respectable. Lew Burdette played the swingman role perfectly, pitching 46 times with 13 games started, a 15-5 record, 3.24 ERA, and 9 saves.
Will the ’97 Braves find redemption in this tournament? Or will the ’53 Braves advance to take on the ’95 Braves? Let’s find out.
Game 1: MIL 2, ATL 0
Warren Spahn vs. Greg Maddux. Do I need to say more? The lefty got the best of Maddux, though, going eight scoreless innings in which he allowed just five hits and struck out nine. He didn’t walk a batter. Meanwhile, Maddux, while not as dominant, matched him goose-egg for goose egg until the sixth.
Johnny Logan ripped an 0-2 single before reaching third on an Eddie Mathews base hit. That brought in Mike Bielecki to replace Maddux. Andy Pafko elevated the first pitch he saw, lifting it to center field and deep enough to score Logan. Joe Adcock followed with a single that advanced Mathews to third and Jack Dittmer brought in the Hall of Fame third baseman with a two-out single.
That was all the scoring either team would muster. Mathews finished with three of Milwaukee’s ten hits – all were singles, by the way – while Dittmer had a pair. Ernie Johnson finished up for Milwaukee with a perfect ninth for the save while Bielecki, who allowed the two runs charged to Maddux, worked two “scoreless” frames before Alan Embree and Brad Clontz kept the game close.
Game 2: Atlanta 5, Milwaukee 3
Series tied at 1
Johnny Antonelli got no help from Dave Jolly as the ’53 Braves fail to put the ’97 Braves in a 2-0 hole. Milwaukee built a 2-1 lead into the sixth when Antonelli was lifted for Jolly with one out and a runner on first. The runner, Michael Tucker, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. None of that was really needed as Javy Lopez hit a two-run homer to put Atlanta ahead. They would add two more runs in the inning when Tony Graffanino singled in Chipper Jones and Fred McGriff to make it 5-2.
John Smoltz was dominant. He did give up two runs, but over eight innings, he limited the ’53 Braves to just five hits, no walks, and five K’s. Milwaukee scratched a run across in the ninth against Mark Wohlers, who navigated through a two-hit, one-walk frame to secure the save.
Chipper Jones had three hits, including two doubles, and stole a base. In addition to Chipper and Tucker, the Braves got two more steals in the game via the legs of Andruw Jones. McGriff also added a solo homer that got Atlanta on the board in the second.
Game 3: Atlanta 4, Milwaukee 1
1997 Braves lead the series 2-1
Kenny Lofton had three hits and Michael Tucker homered off Lew Burdette as the ’97 Braves pull ahead in their series following a 4-1 win. Young Andruw Jones stole two more bases in this one as the Braves keep running often on Del Crandall.
Meanwhile, Denny Neagle pitched wonderfully, allowing just a run on eight hits and zero walks. In his eight innings, he struck out seven. Burdette was pretty good as well, allowing just three runs and two earned in five innings with six K’s. But the Milwaukee offense couldn’t string hits together despite four doubles during the game. Four times, they left a runner in scoring position.
Mark Wohlers had a much quieter ninth, shutting down Milwaukee with eleven pitches, as he saves his second game.
Game 4: Atlanta 4, Milwaukee 3 (10 innings)
1997 Braves lead the series 3-1
First inning troubles once again got to Tom Glavine, who gave up three runs in the first, including a two-run homer by Eddie Mathews. But he settled in and Javy Lopez tied it up with a three-run jack off Bob Buhl in the third. As both pitchers were lifted following the fifth inning, it became a bullpen game. And the Atlanta pen was just a little better on this day.
33-year-old Vern Bickford, who had a troublesome 1953 season, replaced Ernie Johnson to open the tenth and Jeff Blauser welcomed him with a single. After retiring Lopez, Bickford walked Chipper Jones. That set the stage for Fred McGriff, who pulled a ball passed Jack Dittmer at second and into right field. Blauser held up at third and Ryan Klesko stepped in. Klesko had one job and aced it, getting under a Bickford pitch and taking it to center field. Blauser beat the throw home for a tiebreaking sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the tenth, Mike Bielecki replaced Wohlers after the latter had been pinch-hit for. Johnny Logan immediately singled off the righty, but Bielecki set Dittmer, Jim Pendleton, and Sid Gordon down in order to pick up a save.
Kenny Lofton, Blauser, Lopez, and Chipper all had two hits apiece during the game while Joe Adcock and Logan matched that total for Milwaukee in a losing effort.
Game 5: Milwaukee 4, Atlanta 1
1997 Braves lead the series 3-2
Spahn-Maddux 2 once again went to the Hall of Fame lefty. Over seven innings, Spahn allowed just two hits, an unearned run, one walk, and struck out 12 hitters from the 1997 Braves. Maddux was better this time than he was in Game 1, but still got charged with six hits and four runs – three earned – over 7 innings. He struck out two and allowed the only homer of the game, a solo bomb by Eddie Mathews.
The ’97 team actually led this game, however briefly. On the first pitch of the game, Kenny Lofton reached on an error by Spahn. With one out, Mathews misplayed a grounder and Lofton advanced to third. Chipper Jones brought him in with a two-out single. But the lead quickly vanished. Bill Bruton singled to open the bottom of the first and after a fielder’s choice, Milwaukee had runners on second-and-third following a Mathews double. That’s when Tony Graffanino muffed a grounder, scoring both runners. Joe Adcock followed with a run-scoring base hit and Milwaukee had all the runs they would need as they built a 3-1 lead.
Andruw Jones gave the ’97 Braves some hope in the second when he doubled to open the inning, but Graffanino, Maddux, and Lofton struck out in order. The only other time Atlanta had a runner on against Spahn was when Andruw walked with two outs and stole second in the fourth. They tried to threaten in the eighth, but Ernie Johnson took over for Dave Jolly and threw 1.2 scoreless for his second save of the series.
Game 6: Atlanta 2, Milwaukee 1
1997 Braves win the series 4-2
The ’53 Braves needed Warren Spahn to pitch more often to apparently win this series. He won both his starts and didn’t allowed an earned run in 15 innings. But the ’97 Braves won every game Spahn didn’t start and advance in the tournament to play the ’95 version.
John Smoltz remained effective for the ’97 team. After giving up a single to Johnny Logan with one out in the top of the first, he set down the next dozen hitters as his teammates built a 2-0 lead. He ran into a little trouble in the fifth, giving up back-to-back singles with one out to Del Crandall and Jack Dittmer, but worked around it. After surrendering a solo homer to Crandall in the seventh, he set down the next four batters to close out an eight-inning, five-hit outing with no walks and six strikeouts.
Javy Lopez singled and doubled and was named Series MVP with a .333 average, two homers, and five driven in. Tony Graffanino added a solo homer in the third as part of the nine-hit attack by the ’97 Braves. Mark Wohlers picked up his third save of the series with a one-hit ninth with a strikeout.
After a monster upset yesterday when the #2 team went down, both higher seeds advance today as the #3 1995 Braves will meet the #6 1997 squad in the Elite Eight. Only two more slots are left and in the next iteration of this series, we’ll see who can advance as the #4 1998 Braves face the 1956 Milwaukee squad, who is ranked #13. Finally, can the 1993 Braves beat the 1958 Milwaukee team in the always fun 5-12 matchup?
Thanks for reading!