Oct. 29, 2017
Greatest Teams to Never Win a World Series in the Last 30 Years-92 Braves
Get comfortable (or uncomfortable) Braves fans. This will be the first of a few.
The 1991 Atlanta Braves had one of the most miraculous runs in baseball history. At the All-Star Break that year, they were 9.5 games behind the Dodgers, came back and won the division on the second to last day, in which the year before they were in dead last in the NL West. Then when they got to the NLCS against Pittsburgh, they avoided elimination in Game 6 and then won Game 7 for their first World Series appearance in Atlanta. The Braves lost in 7 to the Twins in what many view as one of the greatest World Series ever from beginning to end.
So the question begged in 1992, were the Braves for real or were they a flash in the pan?
For the first two months, Atlanta scuffled as the young Braves were a target in the NL, and went 20-27 to begin the year. However, the Braves turned it up with great pitching and great hitting and went on a 29-10 run to the All-Star Break, and being only 2 back of the Cincinnati Reds.
However, Atlanta was in the midst of a 13-game winning streak that when it ended, found itself being back in the driver's seat in the NL West. And to add on top, a week later the Braves went on another torrid pace, winning 9 in a row and slowly distanced themselves from the division. Add another 9-game winning streak in early September and the Braves all but clinched the division. No last weekend of the season drama unfolded there.
WHAT MADE THEM SO GOOD? The pitching staff was excellent. The Braves aces of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Steve Avery put up great numbers, and actually better than their numbers from last year (well, save for Glavine, but it was similar). Add in a veteran in Charlie Liebrandt and what you had was a young rotation mixed with a veteran and you had an extremely strong pitching staff (Liebrandt went 15-7 with a 3.36 ERA for Atlanta in 1992). It was tough to go against Atlanta's aces, who ranked #1 in ERA in 1992 and you had bulldogs all throughout the rotation (26 complete games by the rotation which also had a few contributed by Pete Smith and Mike Bielecki). It was flat-out sick.
The offense was not reminiscent of the Bash Brothers A's but were athletic in the outfield with Ron Gant in left field and David Justice in right field. And then a platoon in center with Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders, that made everything exciting, including preserving their 13-game winning streak with an impossible catch made by Nixon. Don't believe me? Watch. It is still one of the greatest moments in Braves history.
Anyway, with an outfield that was stout, and then adding in Terry Pendleton off his MVP year in 1991 and repeating his performance of hitting .311 and 21 HR while Jeff Blauser had a quality season, hitting .262 with 14 HR (but his OPS was .811) and another platoon at first with Brian Hunter and Sid Bream combining for 24 HR and 102 RBI.
The Braves faced the Pirates again in the NLCS. This time, many penned Atlanta as the favorite as the Pirates weren't as strong, losing John Smiley and Bobby Bonilla. But Barry Bonds was having a monster year in which would be his final season in Pittsburgh. The Braves took care of business at home for the first two games outscoring the Pirates 18-6 and split the first two games at Three Rivers Stadium, so the Braves needed to win one more game in either Game 5, 6, or 7. However, the Pirates thumped Atlanta's aces of Avery and Glavine in Games 5 (Pirates won 7-1) and 6 (13-4), sending concern for Braves fans in Game 7. And aces Drabek and Smoltz were on the mound. An early run in the first and later in the 6th for Pittsburgh gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead and Drabek was on his game for 8 innings.
But when the 9th arrived, the Braves refused to lose, getting to Drabek and then Francisco Cabrera hit a game-winning pinch-hit 2-run single that won the game in dramatic fashion as the slow-footed Sid Bream beat out the Bonds throw and the Braves went to their 2nd straight Series appearance. This time against Toronto.
But when the Series began, a glaring hole showed its way on the Braves: the bullpen. Noticed how I did not say anything on the bullpen when I mentioned why they were good? Because the bullpen was a mess. None of the major contributors save for Mark Wohlers (who was a reliever, not a closer at this point) had an ERA under 3.
The Braves blew a 4-2 lead in Game 2, a 2-1 lead in Game 3 and couldn't hold the Jays at bay in Game 6 that went 11 innings. In the first two games, those blown leads were after the 7th inning. It is the reason why Atlanta went 0-for-2 in the World Series and started getting the "Buffalo Bills of Baseball" moniker.
WHAT WENT WRONG? Obviously, the bullpen. It was their Achilles heel. And maybe the Braves weren't as strong with their offense like they would be later on in their run of 14 straight division titles. But I think that there were some questionable decisions made by Bobby Cox, especially in that Game 6 had he a chance to do it over he would. I felt like he played for the 1-run innings too much late when they needed two both in the 9th and the 11th and opted to give up an out in both innings. It was one of those things that I thought "well, maybe Cox is a great manager for regular season games, but not sure if you want him to do the same thing for October" even when I was far younger.
The other thing I always thought was had the Braves finished off Pittsburgh in either Game 5 or 6 of the NLCS, they could have rested up further and not have the whole "When Sid Slid" bit because that was the emotional high and when you are coming off of that, it is hard to replace sometimes.
AFTERMATH: Yes, the Braves shrugged it off, though probably disappointed, but the one thing I remember hearing after Game 6 was "don't worry, the Braves will be back again." And I always felt like maybe it wasn't the players who felt that, but the organization in general who had that feeling of "well, we'll be back again" and seemed relatively nonchalant in the process. And it had that vibe of being that way until the Braves run ended.
Now, the Braves re-tooled after the 1992 season and landed a major arm in Cy Young winner Greg Maddux to form what would be probably the greatest starting pitching trio this modern era at the very least of Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz (and early on Atlanta was penned the Four Aces with Steve Avery rounding it out) and then solved the 1st base platoon issue of getting Fred McGriff from San Diego. So yeah, the Braves loss in 92 didn't sting as it was just another step of their NL dominance for the 15 years, but it just also felt like maybe there wasn't a massive sense of urgency that never really hit the organization until it was all over in 2006.
OTHER GREATEST TEAMS:
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat