The new millennium came crashing into the world’s history as people felt both a sense of hope and a sense of fear. In the political world, George W. Bush and Barack Obama found The White House. In the music world, boy bands like NSYNC ruled the radio charts. Meanwhile, groups like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock helped found a new sound blending rap and metal. In the sports world, the NHL found itself without a dominant team. In contrast, the NBA was dominated by the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs. Furthermore, the NFL saw the rise of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. In the world of baseball, the New York Yankees continued to hold some sway. However, new teams began to rise to the occasion.
For the Atlanta Braves, the decade was a tale of two halves. The first half continued their absolutely crushing performance in the NL East. Unfortunately, the playoffs were their worst enemy. The spiral continued unchecked until 2006. That year began the demise of the once great powerhouse. They fell a very long way in a very short amount of time. The reason for this is highly questionable. After all, it’s not as if the team did not have any good players. Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew, and multiple others saw time in Atlanta. However, when it comes to the 2000 Atlanta Braves teams, lady luck always has a hand to play. In this decade, she wound up trumping the franchise.
Braves by Decade: 2000s, Part 1
The 2000s Braves See More Success
The year 2000 saw the Braves win their ninth consecutive division title. Manager Bobby Cox once again guided the team. After the departure of left fielder Gerald Williams in the offseason, Reggie Sanders was brought in. The move was not unwarranted. He’d hit .285 with 26 homers in San Diego the previous season. Unfortunately, Atlanta seemed to be kryptonite to his bat (.232, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 79 H, 76 OPS+). Thankfully, baseball is a team sport and the rest of the squad did well. Andruw and Chipper Jones both posted 36 homers and .300-plus averages. Young shortstop Rafael Furcal won Rookie of The Year honors (.295 avg, 134 H, 40 SB). They were supported by one of the league’s best pitching staffs. However, once more, the team stalled out in the postseason. They were swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
2001 and 2002 held more of the same. Terrific seasons followed by disappointing playoffs seemed to define Atlanta at this point. It’s not as if they weren’t trying, either. Chipper Jones continued to make baseballs look like ping-pong balls. He pounded his way to a .329 average with 64 homers between the two seasons. Not to be outdone, Andruw Jones belted 69 homers. In addition, other names like Brian Jordan, B.J. Surhoff, and Gary Sheffield all posted good to great statistics. The pitching continued its terrific work, with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux leading the way. John Smoltz returned from injury in 2002 to save 55 games as the team’s closer. Alas, none of this regular season success translated to the postseason. They were defeated by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS in 2001. In 2002, after winning 101 games, they were ousted in the NLDS by the San Francisco Giants.
A Divisional Powerhouse
In 2003, the Braves unlocked something of a monster, going 101-61. The team bashed 235 homers and batted .284 collectively. Nobody out of the regular starters had fewer than 10 home runs. Catcher Javy Lopez led the way, batting .328 with 43 dingers and a 169 OPS+. The dynamic duo of Jones and Jones combined for 63. Sheffield hit 39, Vinny Castilla had 22, and Marcus Giles had 21. Thankfully so, because the pitching took a major tumble. A 4.09 ERA put them ninth in the league. Maddux won 16 games and newcomer Russ Ortiz won 21. Smoltz saved 45 more games, but he was the lone bright spot in the bullpen. So, in a reversal of roles, it was the offense that took the team to the playoffs. Unfortunately, this was where the party ended. They were taken out by the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.
In 2004 and 2005, the team captured two more division titles. More terrific offensive work from the Jones’s, Furcal, and Giles helped them do so. Newcomers like J.D. Drew, Adam LaRoche, and hotshot rookie Jeff Francoeur sparked the team. However, the pitching began to experience a roller coaster effect. This would plague them for the rest of the decade. The staff posted league leading numbers in 2004. Furthermore, Ortiz and Jaret Wright both posted 15 wins and an ERA in the mid-3s. John Thomson and Mike Hampton finished in the double digits in wins. Finally, the bullpen was outstanding. Smoltz saved another 44 games. Antonio Alfonseca, Juan Cruz, and Kevin Gryboski all posted ERAs under three. Chris Reitsma became a reliable setup man. All of it worked together to help push the Braves back to the playoffs.
2005: A Good Season?
The next season, the pitching took a turn for the worse. The bullpen broke down quickly. Alfonseca and Cruz both departed for other clubs and Smoltz moved back into the starting rotation. This left a major hole in the back part of the bullpen. Reitsma attempted to settle in and saved 15 contests. However, a 3-6 record and an ERA near four left a lot to be desired. Newcomer Danny Kolb also tried his hand at the position. The move was not unwarranted, as he had saved 38 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in the previous season. His time in a Braves uniform was severely different. His ERA rocketed to 5.93 and he only saved 11 games.
The starting rotation was only marginally better. Smoltz, Hampton, and new Brave Tim Hudson all had respectable seasons. Horacio Ramirez also posted double digits in wins. However, the struggles of John Thomson and Kyle Davies were well documented. The offense that year was solid. Andruw Jones posted a whopping 51 homers. Francoeur hit .300 in his first 70 big league games. Chipper Jones hit .296 with 21 homers, and LaRoche had 20 of his own. That being said, pitching ultimately wins championships and the Braves were caught in a downward spiral. The once feared staff had been dashed to pieces. For the second straight year, they were eliminated by the Houston Astros in the NLDS.
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Players Mentioned: Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew, Gerald Williams, Reggie Sanders, Chipper Jones, Rafael Furcal, Brian Jordan, B.J. Surhoff, Gary Sheffield, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, Marcus Giles, Russ Ortiz, Adam LaRoche, Jeff Francoeur, Jaret Wright, John Thomson, Mike Hampton, Antonio Alfonseca, Juan Cruz, Kevin Gryboski, Chris Reitsma, Danny Kolb, Tim Hudson, Horacio Ramirez, John Thomson, Kyle Davies, Andruw Jones.
Manager Mentioned: Bobby Cox.