Put down your shovels. Stop writing your eulogies.
The Atlanta Braves dynasty is alive and well.
No matter how many times the "experts" wished to bury the Braves before this season or any other before it - or even when they were six games under .500 back in June - the now 13-time defending National League division champs (10 in the East, 3 in the West) have simply refused to give up their rightful position in the standings.
Chipper Jones - whose move back to third base from left field helped spark the Braves' resurgence in the second half of the season - said it was the "end of an era" chatter that motivated the Tomahawk Choppers.
"The master plan, according to all the experts, was that either Philly or Florida was going to knock us off," Jones said. "We talked during the season, and we wanted to ruin the master plan."
The Braves didn't just ruin the plan; they demolished it like David Wells going through a post-game spread.
And what happened to the supposed heirs to the throne?
Well, Billy the Marlin was given October off after the Braves swept the '03 champs last weekend - running their record against Florida to 14-5 this season - eliminating them from the Wild Card chase.
The Phutile Phils - the near unanimous selection to unseat the Braves - are currently second in the NL East...just 10.5 games back of the division champs.
So, just what is it that sets the Braves apart from the rest of the East?
As this season proved more than most, it's Atlanta's manager, Bobby Cox, who seems to make the difference.
As he closes in on 2,000 wins for his career - the 22-year skipper had 1,998 wins entering play on Tuesday - Cox has often had to trot out a lineup that wouldn't have looked out of place in Tennessee's Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Injuries ravaged the Braves this season, forcing minor leaguers to become major players in the big leagues almost overnight.
Constantly having to shuffle your lineup card is frustrating, and as one manager proved, it's enough to make you go crazy and let your team spiral out of playoff contention.
"It's getting old," Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa said of losing some of his starters to the injury bug. "I go out and do the best I can and that's it.
"Nobody wants to look at all the injuries we've had. That's part of the gig when you manage."
I guess "nobody" - read: Bowa - wants to look at the Braves' injuries and tip a cap to Cox for handling his roster with slightly more success and infinitely less complaining.
Sure, Bowa's rotation had all the depth of Britney Spears, but don't think for a second that he felt sorry for the Braves when Travis Smith, John Thompson and Jaret Wright took the hill early this season.
And if Bowa thought Cox was replacing injured Atlanta regulars Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles or Paul Byrd with All-Stars, he might want to take a second look at his lineup card.
If you had told me during spring training that Charles Thomas and Nick Green would help carry the Braves to a division title, I wouldn't have called you crazy ... I would have asked you who they were - and then I would have scheduled you a head exam.
Shame on us all for doubting the Midas touches of Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz and Cox. For it is through this foolishness that the second-longest streak - "the number of years in a row people have predicted our demise," according to Schuerholz - in sports will surely continue.
At least until they heed the advice of a certain former MVP who once again patrols the hot corner.
"You shouldn't ever pick against us," Jones said of the Lords of the NL East Rings.
Presumably, though, he meant only in the regular season.
- Austin Ward is a junior in journalism at The University of Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Braves' 13th division crown silences critics
Published: Wed Sep 29, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:25 p.m.