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Let's not write off Cox, Braves just yet
Major League Baseball

Let's not write off Cox, Braves just yet

Published Sep. 24, 2009 9:00 p.m. ET

In the feel-good moments over Bobby Cox returning for (at least) one last season as the manager of the Atlanta Braves, much is being made about how in the second half of this season the Braves have put together a roster that gives him a chance to make one more postseason splash next year.

No arguing the idea that the Braves could reclaim the NL East title next year, thanks to a revamped rotation that is the deepest in the big leagues — anchored by the veteran presence of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Tim Hudson and flushed out by the developing strong arms of Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson.

One more year


After much speculation, the Braves have announced that longtime manager Bobby Cox will step down after the completion of the 2010 season.

But don't let the announcement this week that Cox will return for a 51st season in uniform next year distract from what could happen in the finals days of this season.

Odds aren't on the side of Cox and his Braves this year, but as the Rockies proved with their 14-of-15 race to the end of 2007, which opened the way for their first World Series appearance ever, Yogi Berra was right when he announced that "it ain't over 'til it's over."

With 10 games to play, Atlanta was tied with San Francisco, four games back of NL wild-card leader Colorado.

But ...

The Braves do have the arms and the schedule to make a season-ending dash.

Yes, the wild card is the Rockies' to lose. They play seven of their final 10 games at Coors Field, but back-to-back rotation ruptures on Tuesday and Wednesday forced the bullpen to work 11 of 18 innings. Is there any relief in sight for the relievers?

Jason Hammel, who has averaged 5 2/3 innings a start, will be on the mound Thursday night against San Diego. Aaron Cook, who hasn't pitched since Aug. 21 because of right shoulder tendinitis and will be on a 70-pitch limit, will get his shot on Friday in a series opener against St. Louis.

And while the Rockies are hoping that Cook might step into the fifth spot in the rotation, there is growing concern about Jason Marquis and a repeat of his career-long late-season fades. He has failed in three consecutive shots at a career-best 16th win, walking 14 batters in 16 1/3 innings, and has only one victory in his last seven starts, compiling a 5.49 ERA.

It's a pattern that has led to Marquis having played for teams that advance to the postseason in each of his first nine years in the big leagues, but having been a part of the postseason action in only four of those. And it is something that has to have the Rockies weighing their potential postseason rotation options, particularly if Cook returns with a flurry.

What's more, not only do the Rockies have the Cardinals coming to Coors Field for a weekend visit, but they finish the regular season with a trip to Dodger Stadium on the final weekend. Yes, both opponents are locks for division titles, but they are both also interested in locking down some type of postseason home-field edge. And if anyone thinks that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has ever put on a uniform without a burning desire to win that game at all costs, think again.

San Francisco, meanwhile, is suddenly piecing together a rotation that is its one strength, so even the idea that the Giants play seven of their final 10 games at AT&T Park can be offset in light of:

  • They finish the season with three games at San Diego, where they are 0-6 this year;

  • Tim Lincecum is 2-3 his last five starts, has pitched only twice in three weeks, in part because of back spasms, and survived only four innings against the Dodgers on Sunday.

  • And Matt Cain is 1-5 in his last 10 starts with a 4.87 ERA. Just as concerning he has now gone seven starts without a win in the pitching haven of AT&T Park, where he has a 5.06 ERA in his last five starts.

    The Braves, meanwhile, were off on Thursday, a chance to regroup, and then embark on a regular-season ending 10-game stretch with each of their five starters having enjoyed that extra day of rest.

    Just as important, seven of the Braves' final 10 games, including a season-ending four-game series, are against the Washington Nationals. The other three games are against Florida, but those are at Turner Field beginning on Monday.

    Florida, meanwhile, remains on the NL wild-card fringe. They are a half-game behind both the Giants and Braves, and after hosting the Mets this weekend, the Marlins finish the regular season on the road with a final weekend visit to Philadelphia, after the three-game stop in Atlanta.

    Think about it

    The one criticism that Cox endures is that in 15 postseason appearances -- he led Toronto to the first playoff appearance in franchise history before returning to Atlanta for the record-setting 14 division titles in a row -- is that he has only one world championship -- in 1995. And he is haunted by having taken a 2-0 lead in 1996 only to see the Yankees rally to win the World Series for the first of what became four world championships in five years.

    Cox, however, not only managed the Braves to those division titles, but he was the general manager who put the foundation for the success in place before John Schuerholz took over the front office job when Cox returned to the dugout.

    Cox also is fourth all-time in victories and the only manager other than Joe McCarthy to manage six 100-game winners.

    And while he has managed only one world championship:

  • Since Cox returned to the dugout in Atlanta midway in the 1990 season, there are only four franchises that have won more than one World Series — the Yankees (1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000), Boston (2004 and 2007), Toronto (1992 and 1993) and Florida (1997 and 2003).

  • Since Cox returned to the dugout in Atlanta midway in the 1990 season, eight teams haven't even played in the World Series — Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, Texas, Washington/Montreal, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

  • Eight teams have never won a World Series in their existence — Seattle, Texas, Washington/Montreal, Houston, Milwaukee, Colorado, Tampa Bay and San Diego.

  • Three teams have never even played in a World Series — Washington/Montreal, Seattle and Texas.
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