Welcome back to the Best Braves Team Tournament. We started with sixteen teams and now we’re down to eight. Two more are going home today. But before we get to that, I wanted to take a look at the first round.
My worry coming into this tournament was that, with 2019 modern-day settings selected in Out of the Park 20, the older teams would be especially hurt. After all, their bullpens were either non-existent or much less defined. When this series started, 63% of the teams came from 1960 and up. That’s a bit of a misnomer because it’s really 1993-2013, but whatever. As we enter the Elite Eight, that rate has remained exactly the same with five of the eight slots made up of “The Streak” era teams.
To be fair, though, two of the matchups in the first round were between the modern-era teams, but to be equally fair, one of the matchups was between two Milwaukee clubs. While it would be impossible to argue that the settings benefit pre-90’s teams in this tournament, it’s pretty difficult to say it’s been a detriment either.
A couple of other observations. There were no sweeps in the first round. For that matter, only two series ended in just five games. They both involved the top two seeds with the ’57 Braves advancing while the ’14 Boston Braves were shockingly sent packing. Two series went the full seven games and both were the two matchups involving Atlanta teams. The other five went six games each. The higher seed advanced in all but two series with the ’94 Braves upsetting the ’14 Miracle Braves and the #5 1993 Braves falling to the #12 ’58 Milwaukee squad.
So, with that brief look at the first round done, let’s look at our matchups for today.
#1 1957 Milwaukee Braves vs. #8 1948 Boston Braves
’57 Braves beat ’54 Braves, 4-1
’48 Braves beat 2013 Braves, 4-2
The World Champion Braves of 1957 were one of two World Champions to advance to the Elite Eight. They cruised through the ’54 Braves, a team with a rookie Hank Aaron, losing only Game 4 before dispatching them in Game 5. Frank Torre took home the MVP of the series, going 7-for-19 with a .455 OBP. Other offensive leaders included Johnny Logan (.368 OBP) and Wes Covington (.350 OBP), but the offense wasn’t that impressive in general. Del Crandall homered twice while Eddie Mathews, Bill Bruton, and 23-year-old Hank Aaron each homered once. Of the quartet, Mathews had the highest OBP in the five-game series with a .286 mark.
Warren Spahn was decent, though Lew Burdette struggled Bob Buhl was their best starter, pitching into the eighth inning of Game 3 with a shutout. Don McMahon saved two games and threw four scoreless, picking up the win during Game One’s extra-inning affair. In fact, the bullpen was pretty stout with Taylor Phillips, Red Murff, Ernie Johnson, and Gene Conley combining to throw 9.2 scoreless innings, one walk, and 7 K’s.
The ’48 Braves lost the first game of their series but pushed the 2013 Braves to the brink before losing again in Game 5. They advanced in Game 6 despite two Freddie Freeman homers. A big reason was Tommy Holmes, who went 14-for-24 with a .958 SLG to take home Series MVP. Eddie Stanky, Bob Elliott, and Earl Torgeson also had big numbers at the plate. The duo of Johnny Sain and Warren Spahn picked up a lot of K’s against the All-or-Nothing Braves but also gave up five combined homers. Vern Bickford was the surprise hero, winning his only start and only allowing one earned run in Game 4.
Can the ’57 Braves continue to shine as champions or will the ’48 Braves and a 27-year-old Warren Spahn upset the #1 team and head to the Final Four? Let’s find out.
Game 1: Boston 8, Milwaukee 5
The second inning proved too difficult for Bob Buhl and the #1 seed drops the series opener. Buhl walked Bob Elliott to open the inning and gave up a one-out double to Tommy Holmes. Eddie Stanky pushed Elliott home with a base hit and after a strikeout, the opposing pitcher, Bill Voiselle, worked a walk against Buhl. Earl Torgeson beat out a grounder, scoring Holmes, and Al Dark delivered the biggest blow, clearing the bases with a double. Buhl’s day was over.
Elliott kept the pressure on, homering off Taylor Phillips to open the third. Milwaukee mounted a comeback bid with a two-run homer by Hank Aaron in the fourth and a solo bomb by Danny O’Connell in the fifth, but their pitchers couldn’t keep Boston down.
Holmes continued his hot hitting with another two-hit game. Dark and Jim Russell also had two hits. Voiselle worked seven and allowed three runs. The other two came against Red Barrett when Frank Torre hit a two-run homer in the eighth.
Game 2: Boston 8, Milwaukee 1
1948 Braves leads the series 2-0
Sound the upset alarms as the #1 team loses both games in Milwaukee and now heads to Boston needing to win at least two just to bring the series back to Milwaukee. It was an All-Spahn matchup as the 1948 version of Warren Spahn bested the older version. 1948 Spahn pitched seven, allowed an unearned run, and scattered five hits. He struck out four.
Meanwhile, the 1957 version got chased in the fifth after 4.2 innings and five runs allowed. He gave up six hits and three walks. The biggest hit was a Jim Russell Grand Slam in the fourth that busted up a 0-0 affair. Russell finished with two hits and 5 RBIs while the 1948 Spahn also went 2-for-3 at the plate with a double and a single – the former against the ’57 version.
Catcher Bill Salkeld also homered for Boston, who not only out-hit Milwaukee 12-5, they had all of the fireworks, picking up five extra-base hits to Milwaukee’s none.
Game 3: Milwaukee 5, Boston 1
1948 Braves lead the series 2-1
Lew Burdette has been disappointing for seemingly every Milwaukee team and while his effort today wasn’t super, he did navigate through trouble as Milwaukee makes it three straight games the home team has lost. Facing Johnny Sain, Burdette allowed one run over five innings. He gave up four hits, including two doubles and a triple. Burdette walked two and struck out two.
Sain struggled, allowing five hits and four runs over six. The four runs came on two-run homers by Hank Aaron in the first inning and Danny O’Connell in the fifth. Del Rice added a sacrifice fly that scored Bill Bruton in the 8th.
Game 4: Milwaukee 11, Boston 4
Series tied at 2
The alarms were sounded and the Milwaukee Braves of 1957 have woken up. They scored six times in the seventh to turn a 3-2 lead into a route and tie up the series at two-all. Danny O’Connell, who would be replaced in 1957 after yet another disappointing season, hit his third homer of the series in the seventh. In came after Johnny Logan hit a three-run bomb, his first of the tournament. O’Connell was the only Milwaukee player with more than one hit as he also doubled twice.
Bob Buhl outpitched Vern Bickford, but the latter only gave up three runs. It was the bullpen that couldn’t keep it close from there with Ernie White allowing all three batters he faced to reach (all would score and Al Lyons giving up three runs, including both homers in the seventh. Two more runs scored off Red Barrett.
Game 5: Milwaukee 5, Boston 4
1957 Braves lead the series 3-2
If the 1948 Boston Braves need a pick-me-up, it’s that through five games, the home team has lost every time. As the series shifts back to Milwaukee, that might keep hope alive for the Boston team. But on the negative side, Milwaukee has won three straight and is now a game away from advancing to the Final Four.
Neither starter was sharp as Bill Voiselle took on ’57 Warren Spahn. Milwaukee scored first as Bill Bruton doubled to open the game and scored when Eddie Mathews beat out a double-play ball. But in the bottom of the first, Al Dark was nicked by Spahn and scored on a double by Jeff Heath. Milwaukee re-grabbed the lead, this time for good, in the third. With two outs and Bruton on third and Hank Aaron on first, Mathews swung at strike three in the dirt, but it scooted away from Bill Salkeld. Bruton scored and Wes Covington brought in Aaron with a base hit to make it 3-1.
After Danny O’Connell scored on a Bruton triple in the 4th to make it 4-1, Boston had a rally to score two times in the bottom half. O’Connell scored again in the sixth, this time on a Joe Adcock double, and again Boston answered back in the bottom when Jeff Heath scored on a double by Tommy Holmes. Jim Russell also tried to score but was cut down on a relay started by Covington. That kept the score 5-4, which Milwaukee won by as the pen made it stick.
Game 6: Milwaukee 5, Boston 4
Milwaukee wins series 4-2
Hank Aaron hit a two-run homer off 1948 Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews hit a solo shot in the third, but it was Milwaukee’s work against the Boston bullpen late in this one that led to Milwaukee winning their fourth consecutive game and advancing to the Final Four.
With Boston on top 4-3, Bill Bruton doubled with two outs in the seventh off Clyde Shoun. Johnny Logan fell behind 0-2, but even the count and fouled off a few pitches before lining a base hit to left. Bruton scored easily to tie it up. An inning later, Wes Covington tripled off Ernie White to open the inning before Del Crandall hit a sacrifice fly. It was the first time Milwaukee led in the game.
Don McMahon made it stand. He walked a Bill Salkeld with two outs but struck out the pinch-hitter, Mike McCormick, to end the series.
Aaron took home the Series MVP. He was barely noticeable when Milwaukee played in the Sweet Sixteen but went 9-for-22 in this series with three homers and a .818 SLG. He made up for another lackluster outing by Lew Burdette. The ’57 postseason hero was chased in the third with all four runs charged to him. Taylor Phillips replaced him and threw 3.2 key innings. Phillips was pretty excellent through the series, giving up a solo homer over eight innings of relief.
#4 1998 Atlanta Braves vs. #12 1958 Milwaukee Braves
’98 Braves beat ’56 Braves, 4-2
’58 Braves beat ’93 Braves 4-2
The 1998 Braves got an amazing effort from their rotation – except for Tom Glavine who failed to get out of the first inning of his start. Greg Maddux allowed two runs in 15.1 innings, striking out 13. John Smoltz gave up just three runs in his 13.1 innings while Kevin Millwood gave up just one run in seven innings in Game 4.
Offensively, Chipper Jones took home the Series MVP by hitting .350 with 3 homers and reaching base half of his plate appearances. But Michael Tucker, Andres Galarraga, and even Walt Weiss did big things throughout.
The ’58 Braves upset the ’93 team behind a big series from Joe Adcock and he was named Series MVP for it. Adcock went 9-for-25 with three homers, making up for just a 9-for-48 series combined from Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. He got some solid help from Del Crandall and the center field platoon of Felix Mantilla and Bill Bruton.
Bob Rush led the starters, out-pitching more heralded arms like Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette. To be fair, Spahn was good, striking out 15 in 9.1 innings. But the secret weapon was Carl Willey. In ten innings split evenly over two relief outings, he struck out ten and didn’t allow a run – picking up the victory both times.
The ’98 Braves ran into a buzzsaw known as the San Diego Padres in the NLCS while the ’58 Braves blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series. Which team will keep their dream in this tournament after the Elite Eight. Let’s find out.
Game 1: Milwaukee 11, Atlanta 4
After Tom Glavine sailed through the first inning, it seemed like the Good Glavine of the tournament had shown up. But then the Milwaukee Braves scored seven runs off him over the next two innings to cruise to a rout in Game 1. Mel Roach went 3-for-5 with a two-run double to get the scoring started in the second, but Milwaukee had plenty of offensive heroes as Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, and Felix Mantilla all had three hits apiece.
Meanwhile, Lew Burdette had one of his best outings by any of the Lew Burdette versions in this tournament. He still gave up ten hits over six innings, but limited the damage to three runs by not walking anyone and only giving up one extra-base knock. He struck out four.
One of the seven runs charged to Glavine scored after he was lifted for Dennis Martinez in the third, but that hardly helps. Martinez went 1.2 innings, John Rocker went two innings, and Alan Embree tossed a frame as well – all scoreless. But Atlanta couldn’t crawl its way back into this game. They later loaded the bases off Mike Cather in the 8th before Denny Neagle entered and allowed all three runs to score – plus one of his own – to eliminate all doubt.
Game 2: Atlanta 7, Milwaukee 6 (10 innings)
Series tied 1-1
Mike Cather has a tough tournament and that only continued when, with one out, the submariner gave up a solo homer to Hank Aaron to break up a tied ballgame in the tenth. But Cather would get a pick-me-up from his teammates in the bottom half. After Walt Weiss was walked on four straight to open the inning by Don McMahon, Juan Pizarro got the call and gave up a single to Andres Galarraga. More trouble developed as Andruw Jones walked on four straight. But Pizzaro, a southpaw, had a little bit of a window. Three of the next four batters were lefthanded. He could pitch his way out of it.
It was the second time Milwaukee’s bullpen blew a one-run lead after the hitters put the team on the top. In the seventh, after Warren Spahn had left with a 4-1 deficit, Mel Roach put his mark on the game with a Grand Slam off Rudy Seanez to put Milwaukee on top. But Humberto Robinson quickly gave up a solo homer in the bottom of the 7th to make the brief lead disappear.
Wes Covington joined Aaron and Roach in hitting homers as he hit a solo homer off John Smoltz. The righty was charged with three runs, including the first two runs that scored on Roach’s dinger. He struck out seven. Spahn gave up four runs, one of which wasn’t earned because of a Roach error. He struck out eight, walked two, and allowed five hits including a Javy Lopez two-run homer.
Game 3: Atlanta 9, Milwaukee 2
1998 Braves lead series 2-1
Firepower has been on a frequent supply so far in this matchup. Andruw Jones, leading off, homered twice and scored three runs while Keith Lockhart hit a back-killing bases-loaded/bases-clearing double as Atlanta takes the series lead, 2-1. They were on base all day, combining nine hits and nine walks. Further, all but one of the hits were extra-base knocks, including homers by Javy Lopez and Ryan Kesko.
Milwaukee is left to wonder if they should have stayed with Rob Rush. He allowed just one run over four innings and struck out seven, but his dominance was muted by needing 87 pitches just to get through four frames. Lifted for Carl Willey, who was Milwaukee’s secret weapon in the first round, things quickly unraveled for the ’58 Braves. Willey gave up five runs while Buhl allowed two more. Gene Conley finished up, giving up Klesko’s dinger in the ninth to cap the scoring.
Meanwhile, Greg Maddux was tremendous. He scattered four hits over 7.1 innings. Maddux was charged with both runs scored by Milwaukee, but one was unearned due to a Chipper Jones error. He didn’t issue a walk and struck out. Bruce Chen entered with the lead safely in hand and retired the final five batters in order.
Game 4: Milwaukee 5, Atlanta 2
Series is tied at 2-2
Atlanta scored the first two runs of the game via a Chipper Jones RBI triple in the first and a passed ball from Lew Burdette that plated Michael Tucker in the second, but Milwaukee would score five unanswered runs to even up the series. Burdette wasn’t great – a common theme throughout the tournament – but left with the game tied after 4.2 innings. He gave up six hits, a walk, and struck out six.
Joey Jay stranded a runner for Burdette and then watched Hank Aaron break up the tied game with a two-run homer in the fifth. Jay retired all seven batters he faced with 3 K’s to pick up the win. Humberto Robinson and Don McMahon continued the perfect run by the pen, each retiring the three batters they faced with McMahon picking up his third save of the tournament.
Kevin Millwood gave up Aaron’s homer and also surrendered a solo homer to Wes Covington to open the bottom of the second. Later in the inning, Mel Roach delivered a two-out single to tie up the game. Covington would add a second ribbie on the day with a two-out knock in the seventh to make it 5-2.
Game 5: Atlanta 6, Milwaukee 3
1998 Braves leads the series 3-2
The ’98 Braves return home with a 3-2 lead and two chances to advance after Tom Glavine shrugged off a terrible Game 1 start to help lead his team to victory in Game 5. Glavine pitched into the 8th before being lifted with one out and a runner on. In his 7.1 innings, he scattered four hits, a pair of runs, and struck out four.
On the other side, Warren Spahn struggled to put away hitters and gave up seven hits, three runs, and walked two in just four innings before Carl Willey replaced him. After Willey gave up a run in his two innings, the Braves scored twice off Juan Pizzaro to pull away. Wes Covington homered off Mike Cather to open the ninth, but Kerry Ligtenberg entered and closed things out from there for his fourth save.
Everybody in the Atlanta lineup picked up hits, including Glavine who had an RBI single and scored a run. Andruw Jones singled and homered, driving in two, while Keith Lockhart singled and doubled. Andres Galarraga also picked up a double, his third of the tournament. Michael Tucker stole his second base.
Game 6: Atlanta 2, Milwaukee 0
1998 Braves win the series 4-2
The Big Three of the ’98 staff was excellent to finish the series, each leading their teams to victory in three of the final four games of this series as the ’98 Braves are advancing to the Final Four. John Smoltz kept the ’58 Braves at bay in this one, scattering four hits, a walk, and striking out a dozen hitters. Rudy Seanez replaces him and set down all six batters he faced with three strikeouts. Kerry Ligtenberg finished up things, striking out Hank Aaron to open the ninth and getting a pair of weak grounders for his fifth save of the tournament.
Bob Rush did well, limiting Atlanta to just a run over 4.1 innings. If Joey Jay had been able to strand Ryan Klesko in the fifth, Rush would have left with no runs allowed. But Keith Lockhart, who had a big series, delivered a one-out double to put Atlanta on top. In the 8th, Andruw Jones gave Atlanta a little insurance with his fifth homer of the tournament and fourth of the series.
For his part, Andruw Jones was named the series MVP. He went 11-for-26 at the plate with the four dingers and an OPS of .923. But you could have made an argument for Smoltz, who struck out 19 Milwaukee hitters in 12.1 innings while allowing just three earned runs.
So, two teams are headed to the final four – the #1-seeded 1957 Milwaukee Braves and #4 1998 Atlanta Braves. Next time, we’ll flip over to the other side of the bracket and see what two teams will join them as two All-Atlanta series take place as the ’95 and ’97 Braves go at it while the ’99 Braves and ’94 Braves duke it out.