Braves hoping to avoid a repeat performance

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 The last four losses can be somewhat excused, coming after the team clinched its 14th straight division title. Manager Bobby Cox used those meaningless games to audition youngsters and little-used players who might help on the fringe of the postseason roster. Still, Atlanta is hardly on a roll going into the playoffs. “We need to step it up another notch before Wednesday,” second baseman Marcus Giles said. “It seems like we’ve been sitting around on our heels the past few weeks playing not to get hurt. When you do that, you wind up playing not to win, and we have to clean that up before our first playoff game.” The Braves have lost in the first round the last three years — all with Game 5 defeats at home. Since making its last World Series in 1999, Atlanta has gotten past the division series only once in five tries. Smoltz (14-7) is a major concern this time around. His shoulder began hurting late in the year, reflecting the wear and tear of a team-high 229 2/3 innings. The Braves shut him down for the final nine days of the regular season, hoping the pain would go away with rest. That’s not all. MVP candidate Andruw Jones and celebrated rookie Jeff Francoeur are mired in slumps. Another rookie, Blaine Boyer, may be left off the postseason roster because of a sore shoulder –a major blow to the shaky bullpen. The Braves’ problems have been reflected in their play. They are barely above .500 (29-28) since the beginning of August and closed the regular season with a four-game losing streak and only seven wins in their last 19 games. While the right-hander felt better during a bullpen session Sunday, the Braves can’t afford to take any chances. Cox will likely use Tim Hudson (14-9) against Andy Pettitte in Game 1, apparently believing Hudson is better suited to come back on three days’ rest if the best-of-5 series goes to a fourth game Sunday. The decision sets up an intriguing matchup for Game 2 — Smoltz vs. Roger Clemens. Smoltz left Florida after the regular-season finale believing he would be the Game 1 starter, but was told by Cox after the team landed in Atlanta that Hudson would go instead. “If there is any concern, then it gives them a little more flexibility,” Smoltz told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution and the team’s Web site. “I thought the whole time I was pitching Game 1. But that’s OK.” Assuming Smoltz makes it through Thursday with no problems, he could come back on short rest for a deciding Game 5. If not, the Braves would likely have to settle for either John Thomson (4-6, 4.47) or Horacio Ramirez (11-9, 4.63) — hardly an appealing prospect. Cox hasn’t officially announced his rotation. The Braves were off Monday. Jones carried the Braves much of the season, especially when Chipper Jones went down for 37 games with an injured left foot. But, since hitting his 50th homer on Sept. 14, Andruw Jones is just 6-of-51 (.118) with one homer and three RBIs. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!center_img ATLANTA — Eager to avoid another first-round exit, the Atlanta Braves come into the playoffs with all sorts of worries. John Smoltz’s shoulder has been ailing, so he’ll apparently start Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Houston Astros instead of Wednesday’s opener at Turner Field. last_img read more