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So Close, Yet So Far: The Atlanta Braves and the World Series

If you are reading this article, you may remember a lot of sports items from the 1990s. The 1990s Chicago Bulls winning a record 6 championships in one decade. The OJ Simpson Trial in 1994. Tiger Woods winning his first major in 1997, The Masters. However, I’ll bet, even with being an Atlanta sports fan that you do not remember the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series. The year was 1995 and the Atlanta Braves had won their division yet again. Although this time it was not the same division with the same teams as usual. Baseball had realigned its division recently and formed them into the mostly modern ones that we see in the game today. The Atlanta Braves were once again at the threshold of baseball but as usual, everyone predicted that they would fall short. Well, unlike 1991-1993, they did not face the Pittsburgh Pirates on their way to the World Series. They faced off against the newly formed Colorado Rockies; who they swept mighty handily. Following them, they faced off against the Cincinnati Reds, who had former Braves outfielder Deion Sanders on their squad. Atlanta also swept them handily. Onto the World Series, they faced the Cleveland Indians, who now hold the longest World Series drought in the game (they haven’t won since 1948). They closed them out in 6 games to secure the franchises 3rd World Series title. Under Manager Bobby Cox and on the backs of a pitching staff that all are Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, the Braves secured their place in history as one of the greatest individual teams to ever win a World Series.

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The problem arose as the Braves would not appear in a World Series since 1999. They have been in contention almost every year since but not being able to finish the big one hurts more and more each year. As someone who resides in an Atlanta Braves neighborhood, not in Atlanta; it is astonishing to watch the hopes and dreams of the Braves be dashed away each season by yet another miracle story. In 2019, the Washington Nationals won the World Series, a divisional opponent for the Braves. In 2003, the Florida Marlins won, and in 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won. Each team in the division has at least played in one World Series since the Braves have last won theirs. Today, we look at what exactly is going wrong in Atlanta when it comes towards the Fall Classic and why 2021 might be the year that they get over the hump.

Following 1995: Better, but not quite enough

Yankees 3B, Charlie Hayes makes the last out of the 1996 World Series.

Yankees 3B, Charlie Hayes makes the last out of the 1996 World Series.

Coming off the World Series in 1995, the Atlanta Braves were favored to win the whole thing all over again. Now, seeing the value in their young infielder, Chipper Jones. The Braves now needed to make some key moves to stay at the top of baseball. However, a team well North of Atlanta would destroy that dream forever. We have not gotten that far yet though. The Braves won their division between 1991-2005. The only year that would have broken that streak was 1994 when the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) were leading the division by 6 games. However, it never counts in the record book as no one won the 1994 World Series. Atlanta was coming in hot though in 1996. They had no doubt that they were destined for a dynasty and who could blame them. They had the three best pitchers in the game up to that point and had utilized their play in order to secure a place amongst one of the greatest years in the game’s history.

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The 1996 season was a breeze to be a Brave. They won 96 games and were ahead by 8 games in the NL East. However in 1996, having secured the division already they slipped a little bit in September losing 13 away games and winning just 4. At home though it seemed as though they were unbeatable. That year they had eventual great Jermaine Dye and had sent up eventual Braves household name Andruw Jones up. They also beefed up their starting pitching core with Jason Schmidt who was just beginning his career at the time. Making their way back to the World Series that year though the Braves faced off against the dynasty that they could have been. That team from up North (who I wrote an article about last month) was the New York Yankees. Long story short, whatever the Braves were throwing at the Yankees the Yankees just battled back. It was a supreme series that featured notable Hall of Famers on both sides. However, the Yankees would be the winner ultimately and the Braves hopes seemed to be dashed at that moment as America’s favorite sports franchise was once again at the top of the mountain. Atlanta kept on moving forward and gaining ground in the latter part of the 1990s. They kept all of the pieces together, Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux stayed with the team for a very long period of time. The Braves though did not get what they came for. The pitchers won individual awards and the bats kept flying. Yet, the golden prize never returned to Atlanta.

Chipper Jones (Right) and Andruw Jones (Left).

Chipper Jones (Right) and Andruw Jones (Left).

Well, 1999 rolls around and the Braves are again off to the races. This year they plan to enact revenge on the Yankees who had won in 1996 and 1998. Their time it appeared was over. However, in 1997, the Florida Marlins, a division opponent won the World Series as an expansion franchise, proving that just about anyone can do it. The Marlins winning seemed to show that the Braves were no longer the force they thought that they were. However, 1999 proved that they were still relevant. Racing towards the World Series again, facing a similar opponent that they had in 1996. The Braves looked more prepared. They had won the NL East by 6 ½ games. They swept the Astros in the Divisional Round and defeated the Mets in 6 games to secure their spot. However, going from one side of New York to another seemed to prove to not be the best. The Braves were ready for a rematch it seemed and they were the preseason favorite to face the Yankees again. However, 1999 was the most overhyped World Series by two of the best teams in the league.

Games 1 and 2 were ALL New York. The Yankees won 4-1 in the first game despite a solo home run from Chipper Jones in the 4th inning. Atlanta had two errors in that game which could have been key outs to secure a victory. Game 2 was much worse. The Yankees won 7-2 with 14 hits. Atlanta had 5 hits in that game and did not score a run until the 9th inning. Behind David Cone’s stellar performance the Yankees had defeated the Braves in a place where no one was thought to have beaten them. Turner Field was reduced to rubble after the Braves, down 2-0 in the series had to play up north in the cold Bronx air. Atlanta played its best game in Game 3 with 14 hits and 1 error. However, getting the most hits does not mean you win the game. The Braves left a lot of souls on base during that game and the Yankees capitalized on that slowly churning away the lead. The Braves scored in the 4th inning and that was it. It seemed that they were out of steam. Mariano Rivera closed them out and the Yankees won 6-5. Now down 3-0, the Braves were desperate. Arguably, their best pitcher was up and the Yankees threw a massive curve towards them by playing their best pitcher that year, Roger Clemens. It was not even a pitching dual. The Braves gave up 3 runs in the 3rd and the Braves did not score until the 8th. The Yankees had secured their place in baseball history as one of the few teams to repeat as champions. They would go on to win in 2000 as well, three-peating. Atlanta would never play in another one again.

How close they came recently: 2018-2020

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The Atlanta Braves currently have one of the best rosters in baseball. Behind the hitting power of Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Marcel Ozuna, they have a roster that is arguably better than most of the teams that they have lost too in the playoffs. They however, had to play against the 2018 Dodgers. A loss that has taken its toll on them. Then in 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals, who looked poised to take the crown, defeated them pretty handily in the NLDS. It seemed that the Braves could not finish the job. They won the regular season but the playoffs seemed to be the kryptonite for them. That year the Washington Nationals (my team) won the World Series to make matters worse they defeated the Cardinals in a sweep in the NLCS and beat the Dodgers. The 2020 Braves had a little bit more to play for as they could not escape the first round. The playoffs expanded however and this left the Braves in a bit of a spot as it would be more challenging to reach the World Series.

They swept the Reds in the opening round and then swept the Marlins in the NLDS. Very similar to how they had done in the years that they had gone to the World Series. However, the team that stood in their way was once again the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers were lights out in 2020 as they had a 43-17 record. Add the fact that Clayton Kershaw had playoff demons of his own and you have a roster that is very similar to the Braves. The Dodgers went to back-to-back World Series, got cheated in 2017 and lost to the Red Sox in 2018. They were just as anxious as the Braves if not, more so. Atlanta struck early giving itself a cushion with a 2-1 lead through 3 games. Game 4, they won again, now 3-1. Atlanta was literally 9 innings away from playing for a World Championship for the first time in 20 years. Then, the baseball Gods struck and decided that it was Los Angeles’s time to ride the wagon. Atlanta lost, not 1, not 2, but 3 games in a row to lose the series. A collapse of epic proportions that seems to be happening a lot in recent sports history. Atlanta watched as the Dodgers cruised to an easy World Series as they sat at home in agony.

2021: Possibly It

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The Atlanta Braves are primed for the World Series. They have fixed their key issues with their batting and most importantly they have a better supporting pitching staff than in recent years. 2020 was a huge letdown because of the effective play of the Braves towards September into October. At the moment, the Braves are 21-24 in a division that is “tighter than a blood oath” according to Chinese author Sherry Thomas. 2021 may be the last year that we see Freddie Freeman in a Braves uniform as well though.

The Braves have the tools to utilize but getting past the playoff hump is something that some of the game’s greats never did. The Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 1990s could never get past the Atlanta Braves. The Red Sox could never get past the New York Yankees and many more. The Atlanta Braves need to ensure that they can keep everything together in the long season that is unfolding. How they do that is up to them though. Their biggest opponent right now would be the New York Mets who have a squad of their own to contend with. Atlanta needs to get past themselves in the playoffs and get over whatever drought they are encountering cause its not helping their case into the future.

Comments

Ellis Distefano (author) on May 22, 2021:

I think that may be one reason. However, I think it also is because All-star teams don't seem to make it in Major League Baseball. The Braves had way too many Hall of Fame talented players. Not only that, they kept the band together for a very long time.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on May 22, 2021:

Well we beat a AL team last night 20 - 1 so maybe this is the year! (If none of our other starters get mad and break a hand! About as smart as getting hurt riding an off-road bike. Who was that? Gant? I know it wasn't a pitcher.) Go BRAVES!

(I know this is heresy, but I think we didn't win more World Series games because Bobby Cox was a great regular season coach, but didn't seem to know how to coach post-season games. He had so much talent in his dugout. It's hard to see another reason we didn't win more beyond our division.)

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