Nov. 12, 2017
Greatest Teams Never to Win a World Series in the Last 30 Years-93 Braves
Most of the times you normally have one team each year that was so great that you wonder how did they not win. This time around, it was two.
The Atlanta Braves were starting to flex their muscle in the early 1990's that would propel them to the 14 straight division titles that we religiously hear in the Atlanta area. But those first years were probably the most memorable on a lot of accounts. One of them being they were a regular participant in the World Series. So when 1993 rolled around, the Braves were still favored to win the old NL West and win the NL and have their third straight chance for a World Championship. After all, their NLCS foe Pirates lost Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek so it was bye-bye to Pittsburgh. So really the mindset may have been if the Braves won the NL West as it was the more competitive division (Reds, Astros, Dodgers, Giants with Bonds), they would win the NL.
And adding on, the Braves signed free agent Cy Young winner Greg Maddux away from the Cubs in the off-season. Everything was going to be perfect. You would have a Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Avery rotation that would have dominated foes. Then on the other side, you had an outfield of an all-around player in Ron Gant, electric player in Deion Sanders, and a up-and-coming power hitter in David Justice while you still had Terry Pendleton managing the hot corner.
Unfortunately, the Braves started off sluggish as they went 12-13 in April, found themselves 3.5 back of the Giants, and the offense was sputtering early on. (Gant was only hitting .208 by that point, Pendleton was well under .200 as was Justice). In fact the best hitters to start off the year were Damon Berryhill (.333) and Jeff Blauser (.330). It didn't matter if Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were pitching great, they were struggling. And you had Tony Tarasco cleaning up in a few games.
When May turned, Atlanta went 10-3 to start off, but the bats still remained cool as Pendleton, Justice, and Gant albeit increased the average (Pendleton and Justice just got above .200 while Gant was in the .240's). The Braves did turn it around in May going 17-10, but had LOST ground on the NL West to the Giants, who were being propelled by Barry Bonds and Matt Williams, tearing team limb from limb.
Despite the winning games, the Braves had never looked really dominant from May through the All-Star Break. They won games but it felt like the struggles of Gant, Justice, and Pendleton were just problematic and could never make a run. Adding on, the first base platoon of Brian Hunter and Sid Bream was a hot mess there as well. Neither one was performing up to snuff.
Despite being 50-39 at the All-Star Break, the Braves found themselves 9 back of San Francisco. The offense wasn't consistent and despite all the good outings by the starting rotation, the Braves were just "doing enough to get by." However, everything changed on July 20.
First and foremost, that day in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, a fire had broken out inside the stadium press box. Some believe it was an omen in a good way as the Braves earlier had traded for slugging first baseman Fred McGriff from San Diego. The game was still played as the fire was put out (obviously), but the Braves won that game thanks in part to a 2-run HR by McGriff that turned the entire game around. And hearing Pete Van Wieren call it when the Crime Dog homered I still remember it like it was yesterday "Welcome to Atlanta Fred McGriff!"
And at that point, the Braves season changed. McGriff smashed 2 more home runs the next day while Pendleton started to catch fire, homering that day as well, to give the Braves a 14-2 thumping of the Cardinals. But the guys who REALLY benefited from it were Ron Gant and David Justice. Now to be fair, Gant warmed up before the All-Star Break and just continued his pace, though it was his average that increased in the 2nd half. But for Justice, he was a different player once McGriff came on board. Justice had 21 HR when McGriff arrived (pretty good), but the .242 average stung as he was looking like an all-or-nothing kind of guy. However, when the Crime Dog arrived near late July, Justice belted 19 HR in really the final 2 months while hitting over .300 the rest of the way and an OPS that nearly rivaled Barry Bonds by the end of the season (.984 after the McGriff trade).
The Braves despite the torrid pace, was still behind San Francisco most of the way. And this goes to show how good the Giants were. From the time the Braves picked up McGriff until the first series in late August against the Giants, Atlanta was 23-8, and had only gained 1.5 games on the Giants. Any other team, the Braves would have gained 3-4 games at the worst. But the Giants kept chugging along.
But when the series against the Giants in San Francisco started, the momentum went Atlanta's way, sweeping the series on 2 close battles and then an exclamation point in the final series, roughing up Giants ace Bill Swift as the McGriff/Justice tandem was on full display hitting 2 back-to-back homers in a 9-1 stomping. A week later the Braves took 2 of 3 from the Giants to inch closer.
By mid-September, the Braves took control of the NL West lead, that was almost impossible to take over. And the Braves held a 4 game lead late in September However the Giants didn't say die and went on one final torrid pace to tie the Braves up. Heading into the final week of the season, the Braves faced off against the expansion Rockies (whom the Braves did not lose a game to all season) and the Giants squared off against the Dodgers. The Braves swept the Rockies with ease, and the Giants took the first three on Los Angeles, but the 4th and final game the Dodgers annihilated the Giants 12-1, which gave Atlanta the division (somewhat of a repeat of 1991 but with the roles reversed as it was the Giants who took down the Dodgers in 91 to give the Braves the title in the final weekend).
The Braves faced off against the Phillies in the NLCS. Atlanta lost the first game in a close battle, but then won Games 2 and 3, thumping the Phillies like they had been playing in the last part of the regular season with great pitching and hot hitting, outscoring Philadelphia 23-7 in those games. When Game 4 arrived, the Braves bats cooled off. They weren't hitting with runners on, going 1 for 15. In Game 5 Curt Schilling had the Braves number until the 9th and the Braves scored 3 in the bottom half before Lenny Dykstra had homered in the 10th to win. In the final game, the Phillies tagged Maddux for 6 runs, made sure McGriff didn't do much damage, and the Phillies ended Atlanta's dream season.
WHY WERE THEY GOOD? The Braves built their team around great pitching and you had Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Avery as the rotation. Sick. Believe it or not, while Maddux was still doing his thing that netted him a Cy Young in Chicago the year before (and then held on to the Cy in 93), it was Steve Avery that was the next best starter that season, having a 2.94 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, as only Maddux was better. And Glavine/Smoltz were still a tough tandem as well (Glavine went 22-6 with a 3.20 ERA and Smoltz won 15 games and had a 3.62 ERA). Combined the 4 Aces had 18 complete games as they would all be considered bulldogs for their efforts.
The hitting turned on the juice after the McGriff trade as Gant and Justice ended up with a total of 76 HR among them and were just feared. Shortstop Jeff Blauser had a career year hitting over .300 with 15 HR as he picked up some of the slack that Pendleton had left from the previous years. Of course, McGriff's efforts shouldn't go unnoticed here in his short 93 stint (and would be a driving force for those mid year Braves teams) hitting .310 with 19 HR and an OPS over 1.000 since joining Atlanta. While Nixon and Sanders weren't as stout as hoped, when they got on base, they were terrors on the basepaths. Nixon stole 47 bases and Sanders stole 19 bases. Ron Gant also was a pest on the paths as he had 26. So you had a very strong lineup especially after the trade of McGriff.
WHAT WENT WRONG? I mentioned in my 93 Giants blog that nothing went wrong with the Giants as it was more of the Braves. It may be the case of the Giants were what went wrong for Atlanta as well. Anytime when you are 10 back of a team over the halfway point and use nearly every resource to catch up and then you do, surpass them late, and then they come back on you before you win, it had to have taken a toll. The Braves may have just stalled out against the Phillies in the NLCS in part because they were in a dogfight the entire way with the Giants.
The other thing and I think it may have played into it was that the Braves, for all their "never say die" moments from 91-93, may have been too cool after being down to the Phillies in the NLCS. I felt like if there was a sense of urgency for Atlanta in this time period after what they did in 91 and 92. Because there are a few interesting facts here:, from 93-05, the Braves played only 4 game-deciding series in the playoffs and only one was a Game 7 (1996 NLCS). The other thing? The Braves were 7-11 in elimination games and if you pull out the 96 NLCS against the Cardinals, they would be 4-11. So maybe the "we can handle adversity just fine" mentality was not that great or it was lost in the shuffle after the 1993 regular season.
AFTERMATH: Despite NOT winning and thus ending their chance for 3 straight NL pennants, it felt like the Braves were going to be stronger with the additions of Maddux and McGriff. Adding on to the hope was the Braves had a few stars coming up the pipeline in Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez, and Chipper Jones, so there was plenty of hope. Adding on that 1993 was the Braves final year in the NL West as the realignment sent them to the NL East, squaring them off with the Phillies, Expos, Mets, and the young Marlins. The strike wiped out 94 for everybody as the Braves solidly held firm the Wild Card spot as they were a healthy distance away from the Montreal Expos. But when 95 rolled around, the young guns of the Braves as well as McGriff, Justice, Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz put it all together and won their first and only World Series title. Unfortunately for Ron Gant, Terry Pendleton, and Sid Bream, Atlanta had either said "bye" to after 93 or 94 and weren't a part of it. However, they are still remembered fondly by Braves fans to this day. This one stands out as somewhat of an exception to the Braves squads.
OTHER GREAT TEAMS NOT TO WIN A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat