1 Atlanta Braves The laid-back Braves hope a harder-hitting approach will lead to Series success

March 29, 1999

Ryan Klesko would like you to know that reports of his demise
have been greatly exaggerated. This season he'll have the chance
to prove it. Three years ago the Braves leftfielder hit 34
homers and drove in 93 runs, but in 1998 he slipped to 18 and
70, respectively. Things got so bad that for four weeks late
last season he didn't drive in a run. His declining production,
coupled with the Braves' recent signing of free-agent outfielder
Brian Jordan, caused the trade rumors involving Klesko that pop
up every winter to take on unprecedented vigor.

Then fate intervened. First baseman Andres Galarraga was
diagnosed with cancer in February, ending his season before it
began. The 27-year-old Klesko, who had played first throughout
his minor league career, would replace the Big Cat. He went from
the brink of being squeezed out of his job to becoming the
starter at one of the most important positions on the diamond.
"It's tough because Cat's such a good guy, and he had such a
good year," says Klesko.

That good year--44 homers and 121 RBIs--will be difficult for
Klesko to replicate, but he feels that if he can avoid the
injuries that have nagged him over the past two seasons, he
should be able to produce. "It's a given, if I can stay
healthy," he says. "The last year I was healthy, I hit 34 home
runs. I just played through it last year."

"It" was an early-season injury to his right wrist, followed by
an appendectomy at the end of June. "I came back from my surgery
in 12 days when I could have easily stayed out a month," he
says. "I wanted to get my swing right and start seeing pitches
and get ready for the playoffs. A guy hitting .220 can go into
the playoffs and be the MVP."

The Braves know that well. Year in and year out they put up
impressive numbers in the regular season. They enter the
postseason as prohibitive favorites to win the pennant, if not
the World Series, and then they run into someone with lesser
credentials on a hot streak. Last fall that someone was Padres
lefthander Sterling Hitchcock. He befuddled Atlanta twice in the
League Championship Series, the second time being in the
decisive Game 6. To one man in attendance at that game, the
Braves' inability to touch Hitchcock underscored their most
pressing problem. That man was former Rockies manager Don
Baylor, who since has been hired by manager Bobby Cox to be
Atlanta's new hitting coach. To Baylor, the Braves' offense, the
league's fourth-highest scoring, looked unprepared.

"Hitchcock would throw a fastball, and the Atlanta hitter would
take it," says Baylor. "Then he'd throw a sinker in the dirt,
and guys would swing. Then they'd take another fastball. You've
got to have some kind of approach. If the guy's throwing
first-pitch strikes, at some point you've got to say, We're not
going to take them."

Baylor is preaching flexibility to his new charges. He wants the
Braves to make adjustments, to approach each game differently
depending on who's on the hill. Atlanta struck out 1,062 times
last year, and Baylor wants the Braves to pare that number. "If
you put the ball in play more, you're going to score more runs,"
he says.

That's important to Baylor because for all their
slugging--Atlanta hit 215 homers, the league's second-highest
total--the Braves don't do a very good job creating runs. Like
Earl Weaver's Orioles of yore, they live on stellar pitching and
a steady diet of three-run homers. They've certainly got the
sluggers for that. Third baseman Chipper Jones and catcher Javy
Lopez each hit 34 dingers; 21-year-old centerfielder Andruw
Jones stroked 31; Jordan, who played last year with the
Cardinals, clubbed 25; and new second baseman Bret Boone slammed
24 for the Reds. Boone also batted .266 and drove in 95 runs,
which should mean a big upgrade at the position over last year's
platoon of Tony Graffanino and Keith Lockhart, who together hit
.237 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs.

Relying on the long ball works fine when you're facing average
arms, but... "in the postseason you run into guys who are
pitching well, and you're not going to get that three-run
homer," says Baylor. "When you get in a World Series situation,
you're going to face good pitching every day. You're going to
have to grind."

At least the Braves know the same can be said of their
opponents. Last year Atlanta became the first team since the
1923 Yankees to have five 16-game winners--Tom Glavine (the Cy
Young Award winner), Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood, Denny Neagle
(who was traded to the Reds in the off-season) and John Smoltz.
The bullpen, though, is less settled. In spring training it took
a hit when closer Kerry Ligtenberg partially tore a ligament in
his right elbow. He'll miss at least a month and possibly the
season. Taking his place will be hard-throwing lefty John Rocker
or righty Mark Wohlers, the former closer who mysteriously
couldn't find the plate for the last four months of 1998.
Wohlers, however, has had a decent spring. "I'm not saying I'm
back," he says, "but I'm pretty darn close."

The Braves are also solid defensively, meaning they can be
patient with Klesko as he reacquaints himself with a position at
which he is best known for having dropped a soft line drive in
Game 4 of the 1996 World Series. Boone is especially good with
the leather. He and former Falcons defensive back Jordan also
bring a little life to Atlanta. "They have a desire about them,
they bring a football mentality with them," says Baylor. "It
becomes infectious after a while." The Braves hope the infection
lingers into the last week of October.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Feisty and full of punch, Boone figures to shore up the Braves at second base and contribute a needed rah-rah spirit to the Atlanta clubhouse. COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA

By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (NL rank)
1998 record: 106-56 (first in NL East)

BATTING AVERAGE .272 (4)
RUNS SCORED 826 (4)
HOME RUNS 215 (2)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .240 (1)
ERA 3.25 (1)
FIELDING PCT. .985 (1)

Big Cat: Big Loss

Last year Andres Galarraga and Houston's Moises Alou, both of
whom will miss most, if not all, of 1999, were two of 11 players
to bat .300 or better with at least 35 homers and 100 RBIs.
Those benchmarks have been achieved 180 times in major league
history; in only eight instances did the player appear in fewer
than 80 games the next year, and only once did his team improve
its record.

Player Year BA HR RBI W-L

Jose Canseco, Athletics 1988 .307 42 124 104-58

Dick Allen, White Sox 1972 .308 37 113 87-67

Ted Kluszewski, Reds 1956 .302 35 102 91-63

Joe DiMaggio, Yankees 1948 .320 39 155 94-60

Ted Williams, Red Sox 1942 .356 36 137 93-59

Hank Greenberg, Tigers 1940 .340 41 150 90-64

Hank Greenberg, Tigers 1935 .328 36 170 93-58

Rogers Hornsby, Cubs 1929 .380 39 149 98-54

[Player] Year Games BA HR RBI W-L Circumstance

[Jose Canseco, 1989 65 .269 17 57 99-63 Broken wrist
Athletics]

[Dick Allen, 1973 72 .316 16 41 77-85 Broken leg
White Sox]

[Ted Kluszewski, 1957 69 .268 6 21 80-74 Back injury
Reds]

[Joe DiMaggio, 1949 76 .346 14 67 97-57 Foot injury
Yankees]

[Ted Williams, 1943 Did not play 68-84 Military service
Red Sox]

[Hank Greenberg, 1941 19 .269 2 12 75-79 Military service
Tigers]

[Hank Greenberg, 1936 12 .348 1 16 83-71 Broken wrist
Tigers]

[Rogers Hornsby, 1930 42 .308 2 18 90-64 Foot injury
Cubs]

Next Up...

If you want to fit into the Braves' rotation, you must have the
arm and the intelligence. Lefty Bruce Chen has both. Chen, a
21-year-old Panamanian who boasts a fastball that tops out at 92
mph and a precocious ability to work the corners with his curve
and changeup, bedeviled hitters at three levels last year,
winning 17 games, including two in four starts in the majors.
He's also a dean's-list student who's six semesters shy of a
civil engineering degree from Georgia Tech. "He's a quick
learner," says fellow Atlanta pitcher Kevin Millwood. "He's got
great stuff, and anytime you put great stuff with a great head,
you've got a chance to have a great pitcher."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Bobby Cox (10th season with Atlanta)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

LF Otis Nixon[1] S-R 113 .297 1 20 37
2B Bret Boone[1] R 104 .266 24 95 6
3B Chipper Jones S-R 23 .313 34 107 16
RF Brian Jordan[1] R 29 .316 25 91 17
1B Ryan Klesko L 56 .274 18 70 5
C Javy Lopez R 48 .284 34 106 5
CF Andruw Jones R 44 .271 31 90 27
SS Walt Weiss S-R 292 .280 0 27 7

BENCH

OF Gerald Williams R 216 .305 10 44 11
C Eddie Perez R 257 .336 6 32 1
OF Danny Bautista R 320 .250 3 17 1
IF Keith Lockhart L-R 332 .257 9 37 2
IF Ozzie Guillen L-R 416 .277 1 22 1

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Greg Maddux 2 18 9 7.4 0.98 2.22
LH Tom Glavine 9 20 6 6.9 1.20 2.47
RH John Smoltz 10 17 3 6.4 1.13 2.90
RH Kevin Millwood 55 17 8 5.9 1.33 4.08
LH Bruce Chen (R)* 201 13 7 5.8 1.11 3.29

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

LH John Rocker 54 1 3 2 1.16 2.13
RH Kerry Ligtenberg 122 3 2 30 1.03 2.71
RH Rudy Seanez 214 4 1 2 1.14 2.75
RH Mark Wohlers 232 0 1 8 2.51 10.18
RH Mike Cather 248 2 2 0 1.23 3.92
LH Mike Remlinger[1] 202 8 15 0 1.53 4.82

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Double A stats

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)