Braves call rare meeting, try to ‘get mojo back’

Mired in their first four-game losing streak of the season, the
Atlanta Braves called a rare team meeting Tuesday before facing the
Florida Marlins.

Third baseman Chipper Jones said the meeting was ”basically a
circling of the wagons” after a galling 12-inning loss to the
Marlins the night before. Atlanta had lost seven of nine overall,
reducing its lead in the wild-card race to 4 1/2 games over St.
Louis.

”The message was just go out and let the game come to you,”
Jones said. ”Do your job when the time comes, whether it’s
throwing a strike in a big spot, or making a big play, or getting a
guy in from third with less than two outs – all the little
things.”

The Braves were still in fairly good shape with only 14 games
left. Manager Fredi Gonzalez insisted there was no sense of panic
about possibly squandering what had been a much more comfortable
lead. In fact, the team’s position – even with the slump – came up
during the meeting.

”The goal in spring training was to make the playoffs,” he
said. ”Someone asked, ‘If I told you we would have a 4 1/2-game
lead in September with 14 games to go, would you take it?’ Yeah.
Everybody, to a man, raised their hands to say yes. ‘Well, that’s
where we’re at boys. Let’s go have some fun.”’

But even if they hang on to the wild card, the Braves will have
to play much better if they want to win a postseason series for the
first time since 2001. Atlanta has been eliminated in the opening
round in its last five playoff appearances.

”We’re in a good spot, but we’re not playing the consistent,
nine-inning baseball that we expect to play,” Jones said. ”It’s a
pitch here, an at-bat there, a play here, whatever. We need to get
our mojo back.”

A day earlier, Gonzalez said he didn’t see a reason to call only
his second meeting of the season. He changed his mind after the
Braves squandered numerous chances in Monday’s loss to the
Marlins.

”Coming in this morning I was saying to myself, ‘You know what,
I think it’s time to get the troops together,”’ Gonzalez said.

The Braves could go into the playoffs without two of their
leading starters. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, with 24 wins
between them, are both out with injuries and it’s not known if
they’ll be recovered in time for the playoffs, which begin in a
little over two weeks.

Without those two, the Braves will have to rely on rookies such
as Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio
Teheran.

That’s just fine with Gonzalez.

”You know what? Some pretty young pitchers have won some big
postseason games over the years,” the manager said. ”We feel good
about the kids we can run out there. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
These kids have no idea what to expect, and that might help
’em.”

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