Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
When you think of the 1990’s, what comes to mind?
Okay, sure, the likes of Friends, Seinfield, Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, maybe even goofy kids’ shows like Power Rangers, Rugrats, or All That!
Alright, I should have been more clear – when you think of the 1990’s in baseball, what comes to mind? That’s right – your Atlanta Braves.
The Braves built themselves an identity, and they built it off of the age-old adage: defense wins championships. They were the anchors of arguably the best pitching staff in baseball history, and in Smoltz’s case, the best middle of rotation arm the decade saw, or the best back-end-bullpen arm the game has seen (aside from Trevor Hoffman).
The Braves run from 1991-2005 of 14 consecutive division championships remains untouched today, and, with the past couple of seasons of watching the Philadelphia Phillies escalate to a World Series, to not even in playoff contention, shows just how hard it is to reach that feat–especially after 162 games year in and year out.
I’ve talked to good friends of mine about last year’s Braves squad, which for the time being, is my favorite Braves team of my 21 years on this planet (hey, give me a break, I was two years old in 1995), and how it reminds me of those 90’s and early 2000’s teams which were built for division championships, and a few World Series runs. Although, unlike in the 90’s where pitching was the forefront, the tides have changed a bit.
Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward could be perceived as this generation’s Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Instead of winning championships on the mound, the Braves are going to have success in the field and in the batter’s box. Sure, they have Julio Teheran, who we are all hoping for to be the next ace, and Craig Kimbrel, who could eclipse the aforementioned Smoltz and Hoffman to become the best closer the game has ever seen, but they aren’t the foundation of this team.
In fact, if you really really think about it, this team is the exact opposite of those 90’s squads.
In the 90’s, you saw three stand out pitchers, along with three star every-day players (Chipper Jones, of course, Andruw Jones and Javy Lopez). Now, you have three star every-dayers in Freeman, Simmons and Heyward, along with three star and key pitching components in Teheran, Kimbrel, and…unfortunately this year, perhaps Alex Wood can emerge, following the injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, as the guy you’ll take second behind Teheran.
Now, the wonderful thing about both eras of squads, is that the buck doesn’t stop there. The Braves didn’t have a shortage of great position players in the 90’s – David Justice, Rafael Furcal, Mark Teixeira (oh, no? I can’t mention him? Okay, that’s fine), Mark DeRosa, Marcus Giles…the list goes on and on. And, just like the plethora then of position players, the Braves have no shortage of pitchers – just in the last paragraph I threw out three guys who could take over the #3 star spot on the staff.
No matter the era, no matter the sport, it takes the right players at the right time in order to put together a streak like the Braves had, and with guys like Freeman, Heyward, Simmons, Kimbrel, Tehran, Justin Upton, Chris Johnson, even hot-and-cold hitters like B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla, and even the young guys like Joey Terdoslavich and Jordan Schafer, this squad seems like one that, on paper, is primed for a plethora of division championships, and theoretically, a few World Series trips.
The Braves, for whatever reason, went away from their roots for about six years, thus the playoff hiatus, but it looks like Frank Wren and company have their stuff together, and know how to build this team. I’m not kidding when I say, just like in the 90’s, I see three or four World Series runs out of this group of guys. Let’s just hope they can manage to put together more than one actual championship season. It’s getting old seeing championship caliber go to waste. Or to the Red Sox and Cardinals, which is kind of the same thing.