By Jack Armstrong
Chief Staff Writer
Two men defined a franchise for roughly two decades. Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones, the iconic faces of the Atlanta Braves, led the team to a record number of division titles and playoff berths, appearing in three World Series together, and capturing that glorious victory in ‘95.
Atlanta suffered a huge moral blow when Cox hung up his (managerial) cleats after a long, illustrious career with the Braves. As for Chipper, although his age took a toll on his game, not playing as many games as he normally was accustomed to, he still put up almost unrealistic numbers in his final season for his aging and near-decrepit body.
What Chipper and Bobby did for Atlanta is on the same level as what Brady and Belichick have done and continue to do for the northeast, what Marino and Shula accomplished in the Sunshine State, and just short of Grant and Lincoln’s level.
There was nothing quite like seeing Bobby Cox being ejected every other night, or yelling “Come on, Larry!” when that recognizable ten was at bat. The end of an era was over when both men were absent in the dugout, done spewing wisdom and encouragement on the other players, and charisma onto the tomahawk-chopping fans.
But those fond, storied days are behind us, and the Braves surge forward, leading the NL East (tied for the entire MLB for that matter), despite a disappointing three loss streak. Throughout Braves Country, people are looking for that new face of the franchise. But quit speculating; there is no face of the franchise in the post-Chipper days.
Instead, the Braves have a smattering of fresh talent. Arguably the best outfield in baseball coupled with THE best bullpen in baseball, a host of other youngsters, and a few vets have the power and potential to lead this team to the World Series in 2013
Bear in mind that Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann are still on the DL, and upon their return, the Braves will only be exponentially more lethal. Although hard to believe, McCann’s return poses a significant dilemma for the Braves: what to do with breakout star Evan Gattis.
Catcher Gattis, a power hitter with improving behind-the-plate skills, is a recent addition to the Braves, and he has been slapping homers as easily as Hank Aaron in corporate softball leagues. Gattis, with his troubled past behind him, has been that unexpected boon that has really aided the Braves in their fresh franchise, and will likely end up splitting time with McCann, when the Braves mainstay returns.
Furthermore, the dual Upton presence, although at the cost of giving up my beloved Martin Prado, has made the team unite and conquer opposing rotations like barbarians.
On the other side of the plate, the Braves have an incredible rotation, not quite as brutish as that fabled Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux trio, but still potent nonetheless. Tim Hudson, the “old guy” on the team, has been his usual self (except for his latest performance), and the acquisition of Paul Maholm has been fantastic, with him regularly locking batters by clocking pitches at sub-65 MPH.
I could talk about their bullpen all day, but let’s just leave well enough alone, with baby-faced hurler Kimbrel, Irish south-paw O’Flaherty, and high-socked, currently disabled Venters, headlining a deep, menacing bullpen.
The Braves, barring their last three games, are right where they need to be, and health holding up, will make a serious run down the stretch.
(Final, closing note: Racial insensitivity aside, Chief Noc-a-Homa needs to return.)