Best Braves Team Tournament: First Round (Part 4)

Best Braves Team Tournament: First Round (Part 4)

It’s time to punch the final two tickets into the Elite Eight as we move closer to deciding who the best Braves team ever is. Of course, I kid. There’s no possible way to really know, but man, Out of the Park is a fun game if we want to try to figure it out.

In the first three issues of this series, we have seen my rankings hold up pretty well. Remember, I ranked based on PythW-L% – first for the three World Series winners and then for the remaining 13 teams that filled out the rest of the bracket. Through six series, the higher-ranked team has won all but one time with the 1994 Braves’ upset of the #2-seeded Miracle Braves as the big outlier. As we decide our final two teams to join the ’94 squad and the other six teams already in, will that trend continue? Will the ’98 and ’93 teams overcome challenges from a pair of Milwaukee-era squads? Let’s dive right in.

Sweet Sixteen
#4 – 1998 Atlanta Braves vs. #13 – 1956 Milwaukee Braves

The 1998 team built on the success we saw with the ’97 club, which took down the ’53 Braves. That said, there were changes. They replaced Fred McGriff with Andres Galarraga, installed young Andruw Jones in center field, and saw Kevin Millwood break out as a true fifth starter. The bullpen, anchored surprisingly by Kerry Ligtenberg and hot-headed 23-year-old John Rocker, struggled to find consistency. Ultimately, the ’98 team ran into a buzzsaw as the San Diego Padres sent them home early in the NLCS.

Meanwhile, the ’56 Braves are known as the team that said, “enough is enough,” and fired Charlie Grimm. He won three NL pennants with the Cubs, but after taking over the Boston Braves for the final 120 games of 1952 and continuing as their manager in Milwaukee, they had not won a pennant despite having a winning percentage of .552 or better every year since the move to Wisconsin. After a 24-22 start to open 1956, Grimm was fired and replaced by Fred Haney. The latter would oversee back-to-back World Series appearances starting the next season, including a championship in 1957.

This team’s core remains largely the same as the ’57 champs. Del Crandall behind the plate, Joe Adcock at first, Eddie Mathews at third, and Hank Aaron in right. All four were in their Age-28 season or younger including a 22-year-old Aaron. The staff, led by Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Buhl, was very good as well.

But will they keep the 1998 hitting attack at bay and will that young core of powerhouse offensive talent get to the five-headed monster Atlanta had in 1998? Let’s find out.

Game 1: Atlanta 7, Milwaukee 3

Curtis Pride

Twice the Milwaukee Braves had a one-run lead, but they couldn’t hold it as the 1998 team, who shockingly hit Chipper Jones leadoff, pull away for a 7-3 win. Chipper played a big role in the victory, hitting a solo homer off Spahn in the fifth that tied up the game and adding a three-run homer against Ernie Johnson in the sixth. That last homer came right after Curtis Pride, hitting for John Smoltz, lofted a sacrifice fly to put Atlanta ahead 4-3. Chipper’s homer put the cherry on the top.

Smoltz finished with a quality start, allowing three runs in six innings, but needing to navigate around nine hits. He walked nobody and struck out four. Dennis Martinez, Rudy Seanez, and Mike Cather combined for three scoreless innings of relief. Offensively, Michael Tucker also homered while Bill Bruton had four hits in a losing effort.

Ultimately, this game would come down to what if for Milwaukee. After Warren Spahn pitched five innings, Johnson came on in relief. He struck out Ryan Klesko and got a weak grounder off the bat of Javy Lopez. However, Danny O’Connell misplayed it. Tucker followed with a double and Keith Lockhart was walked intentionally to load them with one out. Of course, it should have been a runner on second and two outs when Lockhart stepped in. Instead, after he walked, Pride hit the sacrifice fly and Chipper followed with the final blow.

Game 2: Atlanta 5, Milwaukee 1
1998 Braves lead series 2-0

Greg Maddux was excellent while Lew Burdette struggled with control as the 1998 team now has a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Maddux worked into the ninth before allowing a runner and being removed. He went 8.1 innings, gave up four hits, a walk, and struck out eight. Denny Neagle, moved to the pen for the series, attempted to finish the game. Unfortunately, he allowed a pair of singles to load the bases. Another single by Hank Aaron off Kerry Ligtenberg broke up the shutout bid – the run charged to Maddux – but Ligtenberg struck out Del Crandall and Bobby Thomson to end the game. He gets the save.

Andres Galarraga got the scoring going in the third when he followed an Andruw Jones single and Walt Weiss walk with a two-run double to put Atlanta ahead. An inning later, Javy Lopez smacked his first homer of the series. In the sixth, Ryan Klesko picked up an RBI single and in the seventh, Andruw Jones homered to make it 5-0. Both of the Jones boys, Andruw and Chipper, stole bases.

Burdette walked four over six innings and allowed six hits. Four of Atlanta’s runs were charged to him, though he did strike out eight. Dave Jolly gave up Andruw’s homer in his one inning of work.

Game 3: Milwaukee 9, Atlanta 2
1998 Braves lead the series 2-1

Some home cooking did the Milwaukee squad good as they pounded Tom Glavine and get their first win of the series. After Andres Galarraga put the visiting Braves up 1-0 in the first, Glavine’s effort in OOTP brought back flashbacks to the old saying we used to have about the lefty – if you don’t get to him in the first inning, you might be in for a long day. The 1956 Braves got to Glavine in the first. It led to a pretty early dismissal for the southpaw.

Bill Bruton | Baseball Digest (Public Domain) via Wikipedia Commons
Bill Bruton

Bill Bruton immediately doubled to open the frame while Johnny Logan singled. After an RBI single by Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron followed a RBI groundout with an RBI single of his own. Del Crandall struck out and Glavine had a pathway out of the first with limited damage, but consecutive singles by Bobby Thomson and Danny O’Connell brought in Aaron. Glavine then committed a pretty big oopsie by hitting the opposing pitcher with a 1-2 count. That brought up Bruton again and he delivered a two-run single to chase Glavine. In 2/3’s of an inning, Glavine was charged with six runs.

Ray Crone worked around some trouble here-and-there in his five innings, but also K’d 5. The only runs off him came on two solo bombs, the Galarraga blast in the first and Javy Lopez’s second homer of the series in the fourth. Humberto Robinson and Gene Conley each threw two scoreless frames in relief. John Rocker shockingly pitched 3.1 innings after replacing Glavine. Bruce Chen gave up two runs in his two innings before Denny Neagle finished with two scoreless.

Game 4: Atlanta 5, Milwaukee 4
1998 Braves lead series 3-1

What a crazy ending to what was a pitcher’s duel. For eight innings, Bob Buhl and Kevin Millwood – along with some bullpen help – pitched wonderfully. Millwood went seven, allowed one run on seven hits and no walks, and struck out seven. He even added a double at the plate but was stranded as Buhl pitched six shutout innings, allowing four hits and a pair of walks. He struck out six. Red Murff, Ernie Johnson, and Gene Conley combined to work two innings and get the game to the ninth. Meanwhile, Rudy Seanez threw a quiet eighth inning to keep it 1-0.

But things quickly picked up. Lefty Lou Sleater came on to pitch the ninth. As you might expect for the time period, the ’56 Braves didn’t really have a “closer.” Sleater saved two games and was one of three pitchers to finish at least 11 games in relief – Dave Jolly had 18 while Johnson led the way with 23. So, Sleater was a reasonable choice – especially with a lefty-dominant lineup coming up. But it started with two righties. The switch-hitting Chipper Jones walked and as did Javy Lopez. After Ryan Klesko hit a flyball to deep left-center, Jones advanced to third.

But Sleater had two more lefties due up and the pitcher’s spot. He still had a chance to navigate through the damage or, at minimum, limit things. He did neither. Michael Tucker singled in Chipper to tie it and Keith Lockhart worked a nine-pitch walk. Pinch-hitting, Eddie Perez struck out. But Andruw Jones delivered a two-run single to put Atlanta ahead. Then Walt Weiss beat out a groundball to load them. After Andres Galarraga worked a bases-loaded walk as the ninth hitter of the inning, Chipper Jones welcomed new reliever Taylor Phillips with a single of his own, plating Andruw Jones to close the scoring. Five runs on four singles and four walks.

The game wasn’t over, though. Down by four, Joe Adcock welcomed Mike Cather into the game with a homer. Kerry Ligtenberg was quickly brought in with the game now a save situation and Hank Aaron blasted a homer against him. Del Crandall kept the good times rolling with a 410 blast to the left-center bleachers and suddenly, it was a one-run game with no outs. Bobby Thomson flew out, but Danny O’Connell singled. After another flyout, Bill Bruton kept hope alive with a base hit. It was all up to Johnny Logan, but with Eddie Mathews on deck, Logan hit a grounder to Lockhart to end this wild game.

Game 5: Milwaukee 3, Atlanta 1
1998 Braves lead the series 3-2

Talk about coming up big when you needed it.

Down 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Milwaukee was two outs away from elimination when Johnny Logan drew a walk against Rudy Seanez. Eddie Mathews followed with a base hit that sneaked through the infield and put runners on the corner. Mike Cather entered to face Joe Adcock just like he did the previous day. And just like the previous day, Adcock took the submariner deep, blasting a 412 foot homer to force a Game Six.

John Smoltz was nearly unhittable. I’m serious, he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning before Bobby Thomson singled with one out. That brought Kerry Ligtenberg in and he finished off the 8th, standing Thomson at first. But because they didn’t do a double switch, Atlanta pinch-hit for their closer in the ninth, forcing them to go with a different pitcher to try to finish the 1-0 game. All-in-all, Smoltz allowed one hit in 7.1 innings. he walked one and struck out five.

Warren Spahn wasn’t great, but the 35-year-old kept the ’98 Braves at bay. He allowed a first-inning sacrifice fly by Andruw Jones, but nothing else in six frames. He gave up eight hits, walked two, and struck out four. The win goes to Ernie Johnson, who walked a batter in a quick ninth.

Game 6: Atlanta 3, Milwaukee 3
1998 Braves win the series 4-2

I’m sad this one isn’t going the full seven games after the drama of the last couple of games. Lew Burdette and Greg Maddux matched up again and once again, Maddux came out victorious as the 1998 Braves will advance. Maddux finished with a pretty nice game score of 69 after throwing seven innings and allowing just two hits, a walk, and picking up five K’s. The second run actually scored after he allowed the first batter of the 8th to reach and was lifted for Rudy Seanez, who technically didn’t allow a run. Kerry Ligtenberg struck out the side in the ninth despite having to go through Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, and Hank Aaron in order. It was his third save.

Chipper Jones finished off an MVP of the series effort with a 2-for-4 day, including his third homer of the series. It followed a game-tying homer by Andres Galarraga in the fourth. Atlanta led the rest of the way, scoring a third run after Dave Jolly mishandled a grounder that scored Michael Tucker in the seventh. Chipper Jones went 7-for-20 in the series with the three homers, 6 RBI, and a 1.300 OPS.

Personally, I would have given Maddux the MVP. In 15.1 innings, he allowed two earned runs on six hits, walked two batters, and struck out 13.

Sweet Sixteen
#5 – 1993 Atlanta Braves vs. #12 – 1958 Milwaukee Braves

Both teams are all about unfulfilled promises. The ’93 Braves not only brought Greg Maddux to Atlanta, they also traded for Fred McGriff. Contract-year Jeff Blauser (again, the best Jeff Blauser), hit 15 jacks and had a .837 OPS while the outfield of Ron Gant, Otis Nixon, and David Justice – plus a resurgent Deion Sanders – was incredibly good. The memorable race in their final year in the NL West included the Braves behind in the standings for much of the year, pulling ahead for a couple of weeks in late September, and then holding on to win the division on the final day.

As was pretty much always the case in the early 90’s, the pen, at times, was a question mark. Mike Stanton, the closer, lost the job to Greg McMichael. The veterans Jay Howell and Steve Bedrosian were mostly solid and Kent Mercker and Mark Wohlers were finally beginning to establish themselves, but it was dicey when Bobby Cox went from his vaunted starting staff and called to the bullpen for help – even as they often went with four starters down the stretch to try to get to the playoffs. Fun fact – Atlanta used only 13 pitchers all season that season. The 2020 Braves, should they ever take the field, will almost definitely have at least 13 pitchers on their opening day roster.

Despite all their moves, the exhausted 1993 Braves came up short in the NLCS, losing to the Phillies. Perhaps had they been able to take it a bit easier down the stretch, their starting pitching would have matched up better against the hard-hitting Phils. And unfortunately for them in this tournament, because I’m using opening-day rosters, McGriff won’t be available.

Conversely, the reigning World Champion Milwaukee Braves took over sole possession of first place in the division-less National League on July 30 and took off, cruising to a pennant where they finished the year eight games up. A lot of the offensive performers remained the same, though Frank Torre took over a bigger role from Joe Adcock in real life. Pitching-wise, Bob Rush was picked up from the Cubs and spent much of the year as the #3 starter as Bob Buhl fought injuries.

In their World Series re-match with the Yankees, Lew Burdette – who was so good in the ’57 series – struggled and lost both Game 5 and 7 as Milwaukee blew a 3-1 lead in the series.

Who will get their redemption in this matchup?

Game 1: Atlanta 13, Milwaukee 6

Lew Burdette | Baseball Digest (Public Domain) via Wikipedia Commons

Lew Burdette didn’t get any help from his defense, nor from the bullpen, as Milwaukee gets blasted in the first game of this series in Atlanta. Milwaukee even got to Greg Maddux pretty often with Joe Adcock and Wes Covington each hitting two run bombs off the ace, but the David Justice-led Braves took advantage of every Milwaukee mistake.

Justice had a huge day. In the fifth, he hit a Grand Slam against Joey Jay, who replaced Burdette with the bases loaded, two outs, and trying to keep a 4-3 lead alive. Three innings later, with Atlanta leading 9-6, Justice delivered again with a second Grand Slam, this time off Juan Pizarro.

In addition to Justice, Sid Bream added three hits, including a double. Also picking up a double was Deion Sanders, who added a single, a walk, and a steal to his solid day at the plate. All told, Atlanta only had two more hits than Milwaukee but made them count.

In addition to homers by Adcock and Covington, Mel Roach homered off Kent Mercker in the 7th and Bill Bruton drove in a Roach in the ninth against Mark Wohlers.

Game 2: Milwaukee 4, Atlanta 2
Series tied at 1

RBI singles by Jeff Blauser and Ron Gant put the Atlanta Braves up 2-0 in the first, but they couldn’t score again while Warren Spahn racked up goose egg after goose egg. Meanwhile, his teammates eventually figured out Steve Avery to come from behind and tie up the series at one-a-piece.

Joe Adcock drew first blood against Avery, homering off the southpaw in the fourth. But it took a few more innings for them to really turn the game around. Hank Aaron opened the seventh with a base hit. With one out, he stole second and scored on a single by Del Crandall to tie it up. Avery got a grounder to get within one out of escaping the jam, but two-out hits by Carl Willey and Felix Mantilla – the latter a double – plated two more runs.

Willey, who replaced Spahn to open the fifth, worked around four hits and a walk to throw five scoreless innings in relief with six strikeouts to both save the bullpen and earn the win. His big RBI single and run scored on Mantilla’s double were simply the icing on the cake for his fine outing.

Game 3: Milwaukee 6, Atlanta 3
1958 Braves lead the series 2-1

David Justice and Sid Bream each homered in the seventh to give Atlanta a 3-1 lead, but the bullpen went to pieces shortly after as the 1993 Braves lose back-to-back games following their Game 1 victory.

John Smoltz and Bob Rush pitched to a draw with each going six innings and allowing one run. Smoltz struck out six while Rush K’d 7. It was up to the pens from there and Pizarro giving up two solo homers put Milwaukee into a hole, but it would quickly disappear.

Eddie Mathews reached on a Mark Wohlers error to open the seventh on Wohlers’ first pitch. After a flyout, Mel Roach drilled a 1-1 pitch to deep left and out to tie it up. Milwaukee wasn’t done, though, as Red Schoendienst singled. Kent Mercker got the call and Bill Bruton beat the platoon with a base hit of his own. With runners on the corners, Joe Adcock put Milwaukee ahead with a single.

An inning later, Milwaukee added some insurance. With one out, both Del Crandall and Mathews singled off Mike Stanton. Jay Howell came in and got what should have been a double play to end the inning, but Mark Lemke bobbled it to load the bases. After a strikeout, Frank Toree delivered a two-run single as a pinch hitter to put Milwaukee up 6-3. Don McMahon made it stick in the ninth, striking out Lemke to end the game.

Game 4: Atlanta 8, Milwaukee 3
Series tied at 2

Lew Burdette’s series is resembling the 1958 World Series and that’s a bad thing for Milwaukee. Burdette gave up eight runs, including seven earned, in 4.1 innings. His final pitch came against David Justie, who singled in a pair to put Atlanta up 6-1. Joey Jay came in to try to limit the damage, but after Ron Gant stole third and scored on a Del Crandall throwing error, Justice would trot home on a surprising triple by Damon Berryhill to close out a six-run fifth that also included a Deion Sanders two-run jack.

Tom Glavine wasn’t that noteworthy, but avoided the big inning. He gave up one run – surprisingly in the second inning and not the first. In five hittings, he allowed six hits, a walk, and struck out two. Pete Smith and Marvin Freeman each got tagged for one run while both threw two innings.

Berryhill and Gant both had three hits with the former driving in three.

Game 5: Milwaukee 6, Atlanta 5
1958 Braves lead the series 3-2

The 1993 Braves built a 4-2 lead. All they needed to do was keep it. That proved too difficult and now they are staring at a possible elimination. Down 2-0 entering the fifth, Atlanta tied it up a two-run Sid Bream homer off Warren Spahn. An inning later, Jeff Blauser homered off Bob Trowbridge to put Atlanta head. It was then up to Greg Maddux to make it stick. He. Did. Not.

In the sixth, with two outs, Johnny Logan tied up the game with a two-run double to plate Wes Covington and Eddie Mathews. An inning later, again with two outs, Del Crandall singled in Red Schoendienst and Joe Adcock to push Milwaukee ahead.

The game wasn’t over as Don McMahon entered to pitch the ninth. Blauser singled and Ron Gant walked. After a flyball moved Blauser to third, Mark Lemke singled in Blauser with Gant taking third. The infield came in and the tying run was 90 feet away. But Bream grounded out to second and Gant stayed at third, leading to the second out. Damon Berryhill put a charge into a ball, but Bill Bruton tracked it down to end the game. The win goes to Juan Pizarro, his second, while McMahon saved his second game.

Game 6: Milwaukee 3, Atlanta 2
1958 Braves win the series 4-2

For the second time in the series, Carl Willey came out of the pen to throw five scoreless innings and Milwaukee advances to the Elite Eight with a 3-2 win.

Milwaukee drew first blood as Del Crandall hit an RBI double in the second. Later in the inning, Milwaukee starter Bob Rush singled in Crandall to give the visitors a 2-0 lead against Steve Avery. Atlanta bounced back when David Justice singled in Ron Gant in the bottom of the second and Deion Sanders tied it with a homer to open the third, but Atlanta would waste a bases-loaded, no one out situation that followed the Sanders dinger. In the sixth, Joe Adcock put Milwaukee on top with a homer and Willey made that count.

It was Adock’s third homer of the series and he hit .360 with a half-dozen ribbies to take home the MVP of the series. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that we got a #12 seed taking down the #5 seed in March, right?

And that does it for the Sweet Sixteen. Here is how the Elite Eight is shaping up.

#1 1957 Milwaukee Braves vs. #8 1948 Boston Braves
#4 1998 Atlanta Braves vs. #12 1958 Milwaukee Braves

#7 1999 Atlanta Braves vs. #15 1994 Atlanta Braves
#3 1995 Atlanta Braves vs. #6 1997 Atlanta Braves

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