What Miserable Braves Playoff Loss are YOU? A Taxonomy of Miserable Braves Playoff Losses, 1996-2012. #5: The Dead Man Walking

I was a 14-year-old high school freshman in the fall of 1996 when I decided I was a Braves fan. It was the World Series and I bet my cousin Gene, a Yankees fan, that the Braves would win. We went up 2-0. I called him up, full of 14-year-old sports hubris. Gene doubled down on the bet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VogFY9L4I78

You know the rest.

Since then, Braves fandom has mostly been a series of pleasant, sometimes even inspiring, regular seasons spoiled by some giant turd of a playoff series. As the data set is fairly rich at this point, I have attempted to organize the turds into five different subcategories, which I have named and ranked. The series will begin with the least aggravating type of Miserable Braves Playoff Loss and work its way up to the most aggravating. I’ve also set odds for the likelihood of the 2013 Braves to join each category.

***

#5: The Dead Man Walking

You can’t even be upset about a Dead Man Walking Braves team when it gives up the ghost. The 1999 Braves started the year down Andres Galarraga, and they lost Javy Lopez for the year in July. Bret Boone, who was supposed to solve the Braves’ second base offensive black hole, had a 0.2 WAR season. John Smoltz pitched on the last threads of a UCL that would keep him out for the entire next season. Offensively, the team was the Chipper (6.9 WAR) and Andruw (7 WAR) show; only Brian Jordan (3.4) also posted a WAR above 2. The ‘99 Braves played above their heads to beat the Astros and Mets in the NL playoffs; by the time they got to the Yankees, they were spent.

The ‘10 Braves were a poor man’s version of this concept. An already thin team lost Chipper Jones, Martin Prado, and Jair Jurrjens to injury by October. They went with a three-man rotation of Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, and Tim Hudson in the NLDS. They sported self-inflicted wounds in left field (Melky Cabrera) and shortstop (Alex Gonzalez). Brooks Conrad, who was good at pinch-hitting but not at fielding, started every game in the infield until he was pulled in Game 4 in favor of Troy Glaus at third. Troy Glaus was in his final season in the majors and could hardly walk. There were very few runs to be had with this lineup and fewer to be saved in the field. You can only fault the Giants for making every game just excruciatingly close enough to make us think we had a chance.

Chance of the 2013 Braves doing this: 40%. They’re already down Heyward, Venters, O’Flaherty, Hudson, Beachy, Pena, Pastornicky, most of Reed Johnson, and the Lisp. Heyward’s supposed to be back, but the offense has been terrible without him and he’s not guaranteed to regain his pre-injury form. There’s an outside shot Freddy Garcia, who the Orioles sold on eBay “for parts or not working” to the Braves in August, is your Game 4 starter in the NLDS. I love this year’s team, but we’re in duck-tape-and-bubble-gum mode right now. Just one more key injury – whether to the lineup, the rotation, or the bullpen – would be catastrophic. I have to consider this the most likely scenario.

136 thoughts on “What Miserable Braves Playoff Loss are YOU? A Taxonomy of Miserable Braves Playoff Losses, 1996-2012. #5: The Dead Man Walking”

  1. I love the premise, but disagree with the probability of this incarnation of the Braves being the Dead Man Walking scenario for the simple reason that I will be bitterly disappointed if this team fails to achieve a modicum of Post Season success.

  2. I actually think the 2010 team is a better example of this than the ’99 team. Yeah, the ’99 team fizzled in the World Series, but you can’t really say that they were dead men walking since they won two playoff series to get there. The Yankees were a better team, no doubt, but that series is entirely different if we win Game 1, which we were definitely in. We could’ve won Game 1 and should’ve won Game 3, and that’s a 2-1 lead right there. Maybe that’s only a 50-50 shot that we win from there, but we’d have had home-field advantage and a 2-1 lead.

  3. The ’99 Braves had Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Millwood in his career year. And Chipper’s MVP year. And Andruw Jones in his defensive prime. It was one hell of a team.

  4. ’99 Braves are still my favorite 90s-and-beyond team. Chipper explaining plainly that Mets fans were bandwagoning morons and that he was going to beat them into submission was just a terrific balls-on-the-table moment. The weeping hysterics from Costas/NBC/ESPN/etc. that someone would *dare* say such a thing about a team from God’s Own New York City just added to the aura.

  5. I acutally don’t think this is likely to be the reason we lose this year, if we do. Though it is definitely likely to be the reason most people give when discussing why we lost. I think it’s pretty obvious now that Heyward will be back, and he’s got a week to get the kinks out. If he is, we don’t have any injuries in our starting eight. Our rotation is likely to be Minor, Teheran and Medlen, and always was likely to be them, especially since Hudson got hurt. There was a brief period where we thought Beachy could worm his way in there, but the three we have are the three it was always likely to be. Then, we still have Kimbrel at the back end of our bullpen, and the injuries to Venters and O’Flaherty happened so long ago that no one’s really even thinking about them anymore. Walden is the only concern there.

    Our depth is certainly a concern, but I don’t see a team here like the ’10 team, with Chipper and Prado out, Jurrjens out, Glaus breaking down, Wagner out, etc. That team had no chance (and even so, should’ve been up 2-1 with a chance to close it out at home the next night BTW). This team is in way better shape than that one.

    The September malaise we’ve been in is more due to the lack of meaningful baseball than anything else, I think. And yes, I know we haven’t technically clinched the division yet and home-field advantage is important, but these guys aren’t robots. They know we’ve already won the division as well as you and I do, and it’s difficult to rally around home-field advantage…it’s just not that exciting, even if it might be important. I think all of the people who think this is the team we’re going to see in the playoffs will be pleasantly surprised. We may lose the Division Series, but if we do, it won’t be a no-hope walkover. This is a solid team.

    Also, RE: my last post @4, I guess I should probably give the Yankees the game they won in Game 4 to be fair, shouldn’t I? Make that home-field advantage and a 2-2 series.

  6. #5- ’99 had a “duct-tape-and-chewing-gum” feel that might not have been as real as 2010’s, but there were some definite points there:

    – Bret Boone’s awfulness
    – The injuries: Big Cat’s cancer, Lopez, Ligtenberg (recall that he ended ’98 as the closer) Smoltz reduced to throwing knuckleballs
    – Glavine and Maddux gave up a ton of HRs to start the year for some reason
    – The revolving door of bad at the top of the order: Walt Weiss, Ice Williams, Brian Hunter, Otis Nixon (!!!), Ozzie Guillen (!!!!!!!!)

  7. @5 – Smoltz by the last threads of his elbow, but yes. That’s basically how they stayed competitive with a 2 1/2 man offense that year. They gutted their way through the NL playoffs with guys like Walt Weiss and Eddie Perez playing above their heads, and then Peter-Principled out against NYY averaging 2.3 runs per game in the sweep.

    @4, a woulda and a coulda in a series where we got swept isn’t much to say we should have been in it on. I really like the ’99 team because I think getting to the World Series was a hell of an accomplishment for that group, though. If ’13 gets to the WS and loses, I will love them forever. Keep in mind that while all Braves playoff losses are miserable, this group is the least miserable.

    I’d say basically that the ’99 team was the ceiling of a DMW playoff team, the ’10 team was the floor.

  8. Ryan Klesko was the regular 1b and hit .297/.376/.532.

    Sure, there were some unfortunate injuries, but it was still a 100+ win team and had an excellent core. The Yankees were even better, though.

  9. The thing about this team is that even when most of the lineup is in a 2-28 stretch or whatever (which they are right now) there’s still 7-8 guys who can go deep on you at any point. Last night’s game was a case in point of this. Dan Uggla hasn’t hit a ball in a month and somehow got a fastball down the middle and did pretty much the only productive thing he’s capable of doing, tomahawking it into the left field stands.

    To me this team doesn’t really reach DMW status because they always have that puncher’s chance. You never really though the 2010 team could do anything in the playoffs (even though Buster Posey was out, and Kimbrel blew game 3)because there just was nobody in that lineup. If Heyward comes back at even 80% of what he was pre-injury then I think this team has a solid shot as long as 2-3 guys are hot in the lineup. The problem is there are so many black holes at one time or another you never really know what’s going to show up.

    The only potential really for a DMW scenario is the fact that the pitching is so thin now due to Hudson, Beachy and Maholm’s injuries not to mention the key guys in the bullpen who are out. Anyway, I just don’t see this as a really likely scenario. I think there’s enough going for this team that with the right breaks you can see them winning the thing which you couldn’t really for the other two teams mentioned in this post.

  10. Smoltz reduced to throwing knuckleballs

    Smoltz didn’t experiment with the knuckleball until Spring Training 2000. He had a 141 ERA+ in 186 IP in 1999. Though he did miss a few starts he was still effective when he pitched.

  11. Strongly disagree with the probability on this one. This team is streaky, but a long way away from Dead Man Walking.

  12. Leaving Turner Field the night of the ’99 pennant-clincher vs. the Mets, my joy was temporarily stifled when I considered: “The Yanks’ staff is so much better than the Mets’. [Remember, Clemens was the WS Game 4 starter.] Our lineup may just not be good enough & they’ll never let Chipper beat them. Of course, if we can steal Game 1 & win some 2-1 games…”

    Of course, those worst fears essentially came true.

    But yeah, I agree that I can never really be mad at the ’99 club. Losing The Big Cat & Javy, we were trying to replace 78 HRs/227 RBI from the previous season.

    Our pitching was still great. We won 103 games & we managed to get post-season contributions from the scrubby guys—-hell, Bret Boone hit .370 in the post-season & Ozzie Guillen basically saved the ignominy of a Game 7 vs. the Mets. But playing that Yankee club was gonna be a tall order, even at full strength. (They were 11-1 that post-season.)

    Perhaps oddly, the WS I really wanted to see was Yanks/Braves in ’98. The ’98 Braves were much scarier than the ’99 version. I would’ve loved to have had a chance to tear that ’98 Yanks playhouse down. Damn Padres… now, that was a painful post-season loss, worse IMO than the ’99 WS.

  13. Two playoff moments stand out:

    (1) The aforementioned Leyritz bomb in Game 5 of 1996. I remember two things. Belliard was hand-cuffed on a routine DP ball and only got one, which paved the way for Leyritz’ moment and Tim McCarver went on for the rest of the night talking about how Wohlers got beat on his third-best pitch.

    (2) Danny Bautista muffing a Sterling Hitchcock flare to dig a grave from which the Braves could not extricate themselves against the Padres in 1998.

    Honorable mention: Chuck Knoblauch’s pop-fly homerun off Glavine in the 1998 World Series to tie the game. Braves lost in extras.

  14. Don’t forget about Wagner in 2010. His injury probably cost the Braves game three, and from there the whole series. Kimbrel wilted against Freddy Sanchez.

  15. Not just Wagner, but losing Saito to a shoulder injury before that. As the eighth-inning man with closing experience, he would have probably filled in as the closer. Kimbrel was in because there was no other option at that point.

    Falling in the 2010 NLDS required a biblical plague of injuries. It was a “dead team walking,” but it’s very much a “what-might-have-been” team, as well.

  16. @18 – you’re right and I actually did forget about Wagner! I was looking through the linescores in that series and I’m so used to Kimbrel being the closer now I just thought oh, Kraken didn’t have it in a couple of those games.

    Man that team was just beat up as hell. That’s why I worry about this team; it feels like one injury away before someone like Terdoslavich or Schafer or Freddy MF’in Garcia gets put under the bright lights.

  17. Well, Miami didn’t do us any favors tonight. I guess we’ll just have to win our own games. I was really hoping the Nats would lose tonight so that the Braves could clinch tomorrow afternoon on my birthday, but the Nats did not oblige me in my dreaming.

  18. As I remember, Bobby pulled Kimbrel with men on base and then the next guy let in a Grybo. But then as I also remember, Brooks Conrad was prominently involved in those events.

  19. There was a man on 2nd with 2 outs, and Bobby brought in Mike Dunn to pitch to Aubrey Huff, who singled to right to tie it. I forget how Huff got to 2nd and don’t want to look it up, but the next guy grounded to Conrad who whiffed on it between his legs letting in the go-ahead and eventual winning run.

  20. @18–“Wilted?” It was a routine ground ball that happened to find a hole up the middle, and besides, it’s not like Freddy Sanchez was a scrub. He hit .292 that year.

    Anyway, the two losses that personally stung me the most were 2003 and 2012. Those were the teams that I thought had a realistic chance of winning it all. That 2003 lineup was a seemingly unstoppable force during the regular season, and I thought they could beat any pitching staff. Meanwhile, I believed the 2012 pitching staff, especially with the way Medlen and Minor pitched down the stretch, could shut down any offense. The losses in 2004, 2005 and 2010 were painful but not quite as bad, because I felt that even if they’d gotten past the first round, they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the 2004 and 2005 Cardinals or the 2010 Phillies. (Of course, it’s always possible that those teams’ offenses could’ve pulled a “2003 Braves” had our team faced them.)

  21. An underrated one is 2002. That team was unequivocally the best team in the National League, I don’t care what anybody says. Solid lineup, same great starting pitching, unbelievable bullpen. They had a 2-1 lead on the Giants and Game 5 of that series was the worst choke job of an LOB explosion I’ve ever seen. Baserunners all over the damn place, nothing doing. We would’ve destroyed the Cardinals in the NLCS, as did the Giants, and though I’m not sure about it, a World Series against the Angels wouldn’t have scared me.

  22. Don’t worry, guys. Over the course of this series we will touch on every single series loss of the post-championship era. Believe me when I say they are ascending degrees of miserable.

  23. Heck, I still hate Minnesota because of 1991. Those stupid homer hankies, a dome with a decibel level of a jet plane, Hrbek’s wrestling move, and Knoblauch’s fake-out.

  24. Great work W.C.G. Ah, the anguished memories. I think you should include 2011. That was a good team and it ‘felt like’ another playoff loss. We Braves fans have endured more untimely poor play and rotten luck in the past 22 yrs than most fanbases do in a century. Let’s hope this is the year!

  25. Chiefs fans just did the tomahawk chop. In Philadelphia. I can’t even begin to express how hilariously awesome that is.

  26. I think we should be more possitve. JHey is coming back. The starters will be rested. We are on pace for home field.

    I am reflecting on 1995, Sid’s Slide, The Lemmer, Steve Svery in 91.

  27. Not to mention numerous dropped flyballs and errors at the worst possible moment as well as the terrible umpiring decisions against us at the worst possible time.

  28. There is no loss to match 1996. We were the better team. We had a 2-0 lead. We win that the entire franchise narrative is rewritten. Back to back WS titles prior to the Yankees rise in 1998.

    There is no loss but 1996.

  29. When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
    I summon up remembrance of things past,
    I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
    And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
    Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
    For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
    And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
    And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
    Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
    And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
    The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
    Which I new pay as if not paid before.
    But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
    All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

  30. I’m about the same age as the author, so I came of age as a Braves fan right about 1995-1996. My dad is a recovering Yankees fan (thanks to Micky Mantle) who had quit cheering for the bombers in the late 80’s when he “got tired of all Steinbrenner’s bullshit”. He hopped on board the Braves/TBS train in the early 90’s and I’ve been a passenger ever since.

    I can remember the 1995 & 1996 WS pretty well, although I was usually sent off to bed by the 5th inning or so. 1996 boke my heart and I think the next decade of postseason disappointments left some pretty deep emotional scars of the sports fan variety.

    For most of the last 15 years I defended the Braves with the zeal of the convert whenever someone would label them chokers. I’d blame key injuries, unlucky plays and evil umpires. I’ve mostly given up on all that now, having come to peace with the random nature of the playoffs and the fact that, in those postseasons, many of my boyhood sports heros simply didn’t play their best when it mattered most. It happens. It just happened to the Braves a lot.

  31. Dangerously underweight folks like Prince and myself are ever at risk of sudden calorie drops. It’s not pretty.

  32. My personal feelings of the past.

    1991 – Painful way to lose, but such a fun ride. Still thought the Braves were better

    1992 – Same thing, I thought Atlanta was the better team, Bobby letting Liebrandt pitch to Winfield was a joke. I thought the Blue Jays were more worthy champs than the Twins

    1993 – I hated losing to the Phils, but I think the Blue Jays were on top of their game that year and was probably one of the few teams in the 90s better than the braves. I don’t look back on this with as much regret as the previous 2.

    1994 – Strike year, but the Braves were starting to gain some traction vs. the Expos.

    1995 – Triumph……FINALLY

    1996 – This one still hurts.

    1997 – Eric Gregg. I laughed when I found out he died. That is how much that loss to the Marlins scarred me.

    1998 – Personally I think Padres were the worst team to beat the braves in the playoffs. There was no way that bunch of Roid rage D-Bags should have won that series. I still hate Sterling Hitchock.

    1999 – Perfect summation above. That team still has a special place in my heart.

    2000 and 2001 – I don’t remember much about these two years. I was in college and drinking and Auburn football dominated my time. I remember losing out to AZ even though we beat Randy Johnson in game one in 2001. I don’t even remember 2000 except for the wild pitch game vs. Ankiel.

    2002 & 2003 – The most frustrated I have ever been at the Braves in the NLDS. I think Sheffield was a combined 3 for 30 in those two series. These two teams should have had a better look at winning the World Series.

    2004 – Jamie Wright getting shelled in game five vs. the Astros while I was on a plane to Anchorage, AK. I broke a table in a Hampton Inn in Anchorage in a rage when I saw the score. I think Zambrano had hit Chipper in the hand right before the playoffs and Chipper wasn’t 100 percent and it probably cost the Braves a shot at the NL crown.

    2005 – Gut punch game 5, but even with their flaws, I will always love the Baby Braves of 2005.

    2010 – Brooks Conrad stole a great Moment from Eric Hinske when he booted that ground ball. Bobby Cox, God love him, lost game 4 sticking with the vet Lowe when he should have went to the pen. Most painful single moment ever for me. I bent a car steering wheel in anger, until 2012.

    2011 – Lots of pain here, no need to relive.

    2012 – If the infield fly has happened and the braves had trailed all day, it wouldn’t have been so bad. What made that day bad was the fact that our boys had built up some momentum for once in Sept. Heyward made that catch and Ross hit that HR, and all of us started to believe. Then it all came apart. That was the single most painful game I have ever watched as a Braves fan.

    2013 – I have no idea what the future holds. It will be wonderful to put another pennant up on the wall at the Ted. I hope the fans and the team hit October has healthy and hopeful as possible, and we put our best foot forward. If that is not enough, then I can live with that. The fact remains that has not been the case in many of the years, plus numerous outside influences have hurt the braves many years.

    As a fan, I want our team healthy and playing at their best, with a level playing field and I’ll go to war with that.

  33. This old world we’re living in
    is mighty hard to beat.
    We get a thorn in every rose,
    but ain’t the roses sweet?”

  34. Also completely agree with 38. That Series, and the Leyritz homer in particular, was the turning point from my days of sports fan sunny optimism to cynicism and the perpetual expectation of unseen doom and disappointment just around the corner. Fortunately, as a fan of the Braves, Falcons, and Bulldogs, the new persona turns out to be an excellent fit.

  35. two moments for me…

    1996 the Leyritz homer…the fact that his life subsequently went to pieces i’m ashamed to say i found totally appropriate…

    2012 Chipper’s throw…never mind the Infield Fly ruling… By the time that occurred i was numb and very angry…as said above we had seized the momentum with that scary catch then when Medlen allowed a base runner he got the perfect hard hit double play grounder to third…Chipper picked it perfectly, clean as a whistle, all the time in the world…

    I knew it then, i honestly did, before he released the throw…he was all cool, man, cool…look at me, style, no big deal, i’m a superstar…I will believe to my dying day that the number one thought in his mind as he made that throw was to look cool doing it – the target was secondary, he just assumed it had to get there…

    well it didn’t…and I still fight myself when I hear his name…totally irrational i’m aware for all that he has done but that one memory’s lasting and dying hard.

  36. @47

    The worst part about that Game 4 loss is that Bobby actually WAS going to remove Lowe after the second baserunner reached, but then Lowe himself talked Bobby out of it. It was a case in which one of the very things that made Bobby Bobby–showing great faith in his players–ultimately led to his downfall.

    @50
    Someone who appears to be the real Jim Leyritz follows me on Twitter for some reason. I told him to go fuck himself.

  37. Great news. He wants to be on the field when we clinch. I like it. Now if we only had something that could help Scahfer and BJ

  38. Batting 8th could help SUCCESS! Too much pressure leading off. BJ may come around if he does not try to do too much.

  39. @64

    It appears as though it’ll basically be an on-the-job rehab assignment. Five innings/three at-bats today, tomorrow off, then maybe ramp it up slightly on Sunday.

  40. #65
    We got our Yankees post-season invoice last week, just before the Sawx sweep at Fenway. The way it works is you pay for every possible home game that your plan calls for; you can get a refund for unplayed games or put that money toward next year’s season-ticket plan. Your choice.

    So, I asked the hardest-core Yankee fan in my group if we had any intention of paying the thing. At the time, the Yanks had won 3 in a row to creep back within one-and-a-half games of the final WC spot (but they still had to jump 2 teams).

    His response: “They’re not making it. So, no…”

  41. It will be interesting to see what all the national media writers write about Heyward’s helmet. In the postseason if he mashes they’ll probably call him Darth Vader.

  42. Only one of the pitches at which Heyward swung was outside of the strike zone. His swing looked good. Only one AB, but it’s a good sign for getting back to full form by the playoff opener.

  43. I swear, anytime I am able to watch a Braves game, freakin Maholm is pitching. This is unbelievable. Last year, it was always Tommy Hanson.

  44. To show you how much I’ve been following his progress, I didn’t even know that Maholm had been cleared to come back. I knew the MRI had come back negative, but don’t remember hearing a timeline.

  45. During one Maholm start, my wife and I tried to describe the look that is perpetually on his face. We settled on “constipated.”

  46. @76 oh, I’ve seen him pitch once since he’s been cleared. It was not pretty (in the beginning, he actually did ok, 3 ER in 6, I think)..

    CJ!

  47. So that was Bogusevic’s 11th plate appearance against a lefty this year. Curious decision to pinch hit him there.

  48. End of the day for Heyward. Kind of surprised we didn’t give Heyward one more at-bat, since it was there for the taking, but this was the plan. Maybe it’s best to stick to it.

  49. Good God, I thought that ball was out on the street. And I thought the wind was blowing out to right, as well.

    Yeesh! Tighten up, gentlemen.

  50. “Gattis going back, to the track, aaaaand he catches it there. and the wall breathes a sigh of relief” Jim Powell.

    nice call.

  51. Talk about a completely unsurprising development. And with a Heyward-less lineup, the game’s a coin flip.

  52. Well, if this goes extra innings, I have to think it’ll be to our advantage. They can’t have an unlimited number of pitchers back there.

  53. @120

    I’d put in Varvaro. Though Kimbrel would come in if the tying run got to the on-deck circle, so I wouldn’t have him go far.

    EDIT: Apparently, Kimbrel had already gone too far in his warmup for Fredi’s taste.

  54. @110, he’s got an ERA+ of 265 over 60+ ip coming into today, so regardless of today’s outcome, he in fact has.

  55. Tonight, it’s Jacob Turner for Miami vs. Zimmerman for the Nats.

    I’m gonna guess that Medlen will be pitching for the flag tomorrow afternoon.

  56. Awesome win! Even when the Cubs came back to tie it, I never felt like we would lose this one. Glad that feeling was vindicated. A Braves win is the nicest sort of birthday present!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *