The streakiest Braves team

The 2013 Braves are a much more talented version of the ’80 squad, the streakiest Braves team of them all.

Despite coming off yet another last-place finish, there was reason for optimism entering the season, Bobby’s third as Braves manager. Oft-maligned GM John Mullen had pulled off two shrewd deals, acquiring Doyle Alexander from Texas and Chris Chambliss from Toronto. I was thrilled by the Chambliss acquisition — a  guy with World Series rings was actually going to play for the Braves.

The offseason’s best move was switching Murph to the outfield from 1B, where he had committed 35 errors in 206 games. He was even worse as a catcher. Murph’s comfort in the OF translated to a breakout season at the plate, hitting 33 homers with an .858 OPS.

Teammate Bob Horner led the team with 35 homers, giving him 91 before his 23rd birthday. Glenn Hubbard and Bruce Benedict also showed promise, with Gary Matthews and Jeff Burroughs providing veteran ballast.

So, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Braves entered a season with hope. That lasted about a week.

The Braves didn’t score their first run in 1980 until the 7th inning of the third game. That’s a 25-inning streak of futility. The Braves had their first lead of the season, 4-1, heading to the bottom of the 7th in Cincy. The Reds scored 2 off Gene Garber but the good guys still led by 1 entering the bottom of the 9th.

Al Hrabosky, signed to a huge contract in the offseason despite struggling the previous year with the Royals, promptly blew his first save opportunity, thanks to a Dave Concepcion two-run, walk-off  homer. The next day, the Braves were shut out for the third time in four games.

Two losses in Houston followed. The Braves returned to Atlanta 0-6, having been outscored 36-10 on the road trip. Only 15,742 attended the home opener, a 4-1 loss to Cincy. Rick Matula’s only career shutout gave the Braves their first win in 8 tries, but they would lose the next two games to the Reds, dropping 8.5 games behind the division leaders after 10  games.

Bobby’s boys maintained an uninspiring pace over the next three months. A 5-3 loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 4 dropped them to a season-worst 12 games below .500. But what appeared to be another lost year took a most unexpected turn.

Over the next three weeks the Braves would score 7 or more runs 9 times, and on Aug. 27 they reached the .500 mark for the first time. Shortly thereafter they rolled off a season-best 7-game win streak, followed by a three-game sweep at the hands of the Reds, who would go 16-2 vs. the Braves that year.

The local nine rebounded to win four in a row, and a 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Sept. 16 — their 30th win in 40 games — moved the Braves to within 6 of the division lead, at 76-68.

Alas, the faint whiff of a pennant race soon dissipated, as the Braves lost 11 of their last 15. The season would end as it started,  with  the Reds shutting out the local nine at Riverfront, leaving the Braves 81-80.

Nine who got away: #6, Duane Ward

Duane Ward was exactly what the Braves needed in 1992 and ’93. Had he been in the ‘pen Atlanta would’ve likely won the World Series each year.

Then again, those Braves teams would’ve probably not reached the postseason if not for John Smoltz, acquired from Detroit for the same pitcher, Doyle Alexander, received in the 1986 trade that sent Ward to Toronto.

Still, it was hard not to grind your teeth watching Ward make short work of the Braves in the ’92 Series — a match-up essentially decided by bullpens. Toronto’s was outstanding. Atlanta’s was not.

Ward entered Game 2 in the 8th inning with the Blue Jays, down 1-0 in the series, trailing 4-3. Ward retired Brian Hunter on a grounder to third and struck out Jeff Blauser and Damon Berryhill swinging. A half inning later, Ed Sprague went deep off Jeff Reardon and the series shifted to Toronto, tied at one game apiece.

Game 3 was a near facsimile, with Ward entering a tie game in the 9th. After allowing a lead-off single to Sid Bream, Ward retired Blauser on a double play and once again struck out Berryhill swinging. Candy Maldonado singled in the winning run off Reardon in the bottom of the 9th, a loss that pretty much clinched Toronto’s championship.

Ward pitched in all 4 of Toronto’s wins, allowing no runs and one hit in 3-1/3, striking out 6. He was so good the Jays let Tom Henke walk after the season, and the New Mexico native rewarded  their confidence, allowing just 49 hits in 71-2/3 IP in ’93, striking out 97 and saving 45.

He likely would’ve finished higher on this list if not for a serious case of bicep tendinitis that ended his career at age 31.


The 20 worst A-Braves players: #8 Craig Robinson

The Braves of the 1970s had a peculiar habit of trading for players they once discarded. Pitcher Adrian Devine, for example, was traded to Texas in 1976 then reacquired the following winter. Two years later, he was traded back to Texas. Coming to Atlanta in that last deal were Doyle Alexander and Larvell Blanks, who had two tours apiece with the Braves.

Craig Robinson was acquired from the Phillies prior to the 1974 season and was immediately christened as the starting SS despite an undistinguished minor league career. Robinson, who finished April with a .183 BA and slugging percentage, didn’t get his first double until June. He was a singles hitter who didn’t hit many singles, collecting but four doubles in 452 AB.

Robinson saved his worst for the home folks, batting .187 at Fulco with a .212 slugging percentage — numbers that would embarrass many pitchers. He wasn’t much better defensively, committing 29 errors in 138 games.

Robinson was traded to the Giants in June 1975. A year later, he was back in Atlanta, acquired along with Willie Montanez in the ill-fated Darrell Evans deal. He’d appear in 42 games over the next two seasons, finishing his Braves career with a .223 BA and .531 OPS.