Braves appreciate new additions to club
Players looking forward to making a postseason run
ATLANTA -- As Tuesday afternoon unfolded and they watched their general manager make a flurry of significant trades, Braves players began to get a sense that they've been given the challenge of realizing ultimate October jubilation.
"It looks like they're trying to make us win the World Series," said the always witty Tim Hudson. "So I guess there's no choice, right? There's really no more options. We've just got to go out and do it right now."
When they awoke on Tuesday, the Braves were expecting to find Mark Teixeira and left-handed reliever Ron Mahay as new teammates. Once that deal was finished, they were encouraged by the fact that their general manager John Schuerholz wasn't.
After making this season's biggest splash on the trade market with the acquisition of Teixeira, Schuerholz managed to get closer Octavio Dotel from the Royals and Royce Ring from the Padres.
With Teixeira, the Braves believe they might now have the National League's best lineup. With Mahay, Dotel and Ring, who should be promoted from Triple-A Richmond soon, they foresee entering October with the same kind of formidable bullpen they felt they'd had before losing Mike Gonzalez in mid-May.
"You look at the numbers over the past two years and we're a .500 ballclub over the last two years," Chipper Jones said. "You're not going to be successful with mediocrity. This infusion of a lot of players coming in here hopefully will invigorate this club."
While many players were sorry to lose Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was the primary bait that landed Teixeira, and Kyle Davies, who was exchanged for Dotel, they understood the potential magnitude of these deals.
"I love Salty," Braves left fielder Willie Harris said. "But I think it's a statement that Schuerholz and the front office is making to show that they want to win this thing now. It's not only a statement for the players in the clubhouse. It's a statement for the National League East."
Entering Tuesday, the Braves trailed the front-running Mets by 4 1/2 games in the NL East and were two games out in the Wild Card chase. But with the addition of Teixeira, a powerful switch-hitting first baseman, they find some considering them certain postseason threats.
Since the beginning of the 2004 season -- his second at the big league level -- Teixeira has hit .290 with 127 homers, 415 RBIs and a .923 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).
During that span among all Major Leaguers, his .546 slugging percentage ranks eighth and his .377 on-base percentage ranks 14th. As for the homer category, he ranks ninth -- four spots behind Andruw Jones.
Cox said he hasn't discussed his plans with his players yet. But while talking about the great benefits of having two powerful switch-hitters hitting back-to-back, he provided indication that he'll bat Teixeira fourth, which would put him behind Chipper Jones and in front of Andruw Jones.
"I don't know where he's going to hit yet," Chipper Jones said. "But hitting him in the four or five hole, you're pushing everybody down a spot. Now you've got a guy like Kelly Johnson, who is hitting .290 with a ton of extra-base hits hitting eighth and you've got Jeff Francoeur, who is leading the team in RBIs hitting seventh.
"A lot of people would like to have a lineup like that. Fortunately John Schuerholz is on our side and he gave it to us."
But being an equal-opportunity employer, Schuerholz also found a way to significantly strengthen his bullpen. Cox didn't announce any plans to use Dotel, who converted 11 of his 14 save opportunities in Kansas City, as his primary closer.
Instead, he indicated Dotel, Rafael Soriano and Bob Wickman could all be inter-changeable in late-inning roles. This was his plan with Soriano, Gonzalez and Wickman at the beginning of the season.
"I think this is a statement saying, 'John Schuerholz thinks we can win the World Series.'" Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann said.
Before setting their sights on their first World Series trip since 1999, the Braves are eyeing a run at regaining the NL East title. With Mahay, a veteran 36-year-old southpaw, and Ring, who limited left-handed hitters to a .135 batting average at Triple-A Portland this year, they have the arms that can neutralize the powerful left-handed duos possessed in New York (Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado) and Philadelphia (Chase Utley and Ryan Howard).
"Mahay has experience and he's been throwing awfully well," Cox said. "There were quite a few clubs after him. We've gone without a left-hander for a while now. It's good to have one back in there."
Actually once Ring spends some time in Richmond, he's expected to come to Atlanta to give Cox a second left-handed reliever. While the Braves haven't seen much of Mahay, they know what to expect from Ring, who threw two perfect innings against them on July 8.
"He's filthy," said McCann, who is hitless in two at-bats against Ring. "He's really tough on lefties."
While the bullpen additions were significant, the World Series buzz in Atlanta truly was a product of the acquisition of Teixeira. There is some thought that he'll provide the same kind of benefit as fellow first baseman Fred McGriff, whose late July acquisition in 1993 helped the Braves to erase a 9 1/2-game deficit and capture the National League West title.
"We're going to have to earn it," Chipper Jones said. "But I like our chances to get in the playoffs one way or the other and I think we'll be a very formidable team when and if we get there."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.