Baseball started in 1995 in a bit of turmoil; or, to be more accurate, a lot of turmoil. The cancellation of the World Series the previous year sparked a lot of questions. The next year was still up in the air. It got so bad that President Clinton had to get involved. He told the league and the union to continue negotiating, but those efforts went nowhere. The league even considered the use of “scab players. However, after 234 days, the strike came to an end and the game began anew. April 25th, 1995 saw the first big league action in months for every team including the 1990’s Braves. That season would also see the beginning of the Division Series round. The decade buzzed along as normal afterwards, adding interleague play in 1997.
For the Atlanta Braves, times were wonderful. Divisional titles reigned down upon them like gold doubloons. Unfortunately, they weren’t always able to close things out in the postseason. Atlanta reached their peak in 1995 and then history grabbed them by the neck. Their two previous World Series titles had similar epilogues. They would hang around the top for a couple of years before beginning a downward spiral. Although, the 1990s were different. This time, their downward spiral took place in the playoffs themselves.
Braves by Decade: 1990’s, Pt. 2
A World Championship
Fortunately, we begin on a decidedly joyous note. The 1995 season saw the team win their first World Series Championship since 1957. Led by Bobby Cox and a notoriously terrific pitching staff, they went 90-54. All things considered, the offense was very mediocre. A .250 team batting average planted them 13th in the league. Catcher Javy Lopez and outfielder Ryan Klesko were the only players who batted over .300. However, what the Braves lacked in average, they made up for in power. They bashed 168 homers, second only to the Colorado Rockies. First baseman Fred McGriff led the team with 27. Outfielder David Justice had 24. Klesko and young third baseman Chipper Jones each had 23. All in all, the Braves could definitely hit the ball over the fence.
However, it was the pitching that got the team over the proverbial hump. The three most recognizable pitchers of the era were at their peak. Greg Maddux led the staff with 19 wins and a stunning 1.63 ERA. His 260 ERA+ paced the league and he easily claimed his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award. Not to be outdone, Tom Glavine put up 16 wins, a 3.08 ERA, and a 137 ERA+. Finally, John Smoltz won 12 games with a 3.18 ERA and a 133 ERA+. The bullpen was just as impressive. Closer Mark Wohlers saved 25 games with a 2.09 ERA and a 204 ERA+. Greg McMichael, Brad Clontz, and Pedro Borbon backed him up with respectable seasons. Overall, the team led the league in many categories, including ERA (3.44). They also gave up 107 home runs that year which was the lowest amount in baseball.
The 1990’s Braves Successes…and Failures
Sadly, this would be the team’s highest success during the decade. Although, some might argue of the superiority of the 1996 team. They would not be without cause. The offense was much improved. A .270 batting average was second in the league. They swatted 197 dingers which gave them the second most in baseball. Jones and Klesko each notched 30 homer seasons. McGriff swatted 28. Marquis Grissom and Lopez each had 23. The pitching was equally as impressive. Smoltz had a breakout season (24-8, 2.94 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 1.001 WHIP, 276 strikeouts). Glavine and Maddux each posted 15 wins with sub-3 ERAs. The team swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. Unfortunately, they ran into the white hot New York Yankees in the World Series and fell short in six games.
1997 held a lot of promise as the team moved into Turner Field. They did not disappoint, posting a 100-win campaign. The offense continued to hold a place in the elite of the league. Lopez, McGriff, Jones, and Klesko all belted 20 or more homers. Newcomer Kenny Lofton hit .333 with 27 stolen bases in 122 games. Young outfielder Andruw Jones hit 18 homers with 20 stolen bases. Jeff Blauser hit .308 with 17 homers and led the team with a 130 OPS+. Furthermore, the pitching staff continued to shine. Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine combined to go 48-23 with a 2.74 ERA. Wohlers saved 33 games. However, the breakout hurler was Denny Neagle (20-5, 2.97 ERA, 140 ERA+, 1.084 WHIP, third in Cy Young voting). With that being said though, all of this talent was unable to stop their postseason woes. They were eliminated by the Florida Marlins in the NLCS.
Homers and Heartbreak
The next season was eerily reflective of its predecessor. The Atlanta Braves smashed their previous win total, posting 106 victories. An offense built on power delivered on that promise, crushing 215 homers. The dynamic duo of Jones and Jones combined for 65 of them. Lopez swatted 34. The driving force of the team was new first baseman Andres Galarraga. His statistics that season were second to none (.305/.397/.595, 44 HR, 121 RBI, 169 H, 157 OPS+). Double digit homer totals from Klesko and Michael Tucker helped the power surge. More terrific pitching backed up this gargantuan offense. Glavine won 20 games with a 2.47 ERA. Maddux notched 18 victories with a 2.47 ERA. Smoltz and newcomer Kevin Millwood combined for 34 wins. Once more though, the train was derailed in the postseason. They lost the NLCS to the San Diego Padres.
The 1999 campaign saw the offense take a tumble. The power was still there in doses, yet the team batting average fell to .266. However, for one Hall of Famer, it was truly a career year. Chipper Jones won the MVP Award with a .319 average, 45 homers, and 110 RBI. He also stole 25 bags and walked 126 times, posting an on-base percentage of .441 along the way. His OPS was 1.074 and his OPS+ was 169. Ironically enough, he was not selected to the All-Star team that season. He had been the previous three.
Furthermore, backing him up were Klesko, Andruw Jones, and newcomers Brian Jordan and Bret Boone. Each of these men banged out 20-plus homers. In addition, Jordan was the only other Brave to drive in 100 or more runs. Solidified once more by the league’s best pitching staff, the team made the World Series. Unfortunately, the celebration ground to a halt as they were swept by the Yankees.
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Players Mentioned: Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Fred McGriff, David Justice, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers, Greg McMichael, Brad Clontz, Pedro Borbon, Marquis Grissom, Kenny Lofton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Blauser, Denny Neagle, Andres Galarraga, Michael Tucker, Kevin Millwood, Chipper Jones, Brian Jordan, Bret Boone.
Manager Mentioned: Bobby Cox.