09/29/12 10:17 AM ET
Time to start believing in Chipper, Braves
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
They have the pitching. Boy, do they, especially when it comes to the latter part of games. Nobody fields better than the Braves, who have committed fewer errors than anybody in the National League. As for hitting, they are mediocre compared to their peers, but they often are clutch at the plate, when they need a hit the most.
Well, forget all of that for a moment. Now consider one of the most spoken words in Atlanta these days: "Chipper."
Chipper, Chipper, Chipper.
It all starts with Chipper Jones when it comes to reasons why you should believe the Braves have a chance to keep playing deep into October, along the way to winning the last game in the MLB playoffs.
Speaking of last, there are several of them for Jones. For one, this is the last of his 19 seasons in the Major Leagues, all with the Braves. Not only that, Jones is nearly saving his best for last. And, no, he hasn't moved anywhere close to his numbers overall of 1999, when he won the NL MVP Award with a .319 batting average, 45 home runs and 110 RBIs. He also is hitting on a regular basis between 60 to 70 points lower than his mark of .364 that won the NL batting title in 2008.
Neither is this the Jones who grabbed the second of his Silver Sluggers in 2000 after hitting .311 with 36 home runs and 111 RBIs.
Still, few players in any sport have ever resembled Jones by doing the following: Announcing before a season that they would retire afterward, and then proceeding to rank at or near the top of team MVP honors while pushing teammates into the playoffs.
There was Sept. 2, for instance, when the Braves threatened to stumble through another ugly September. They trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by five runs entering the bottom of the ninth after losing the previous two games of the series. It conjured up memories of last September, when the Braves lost 20 of their last 30 games -- including their final five games of the season -- to blow the 8 1/2-game lead they had for the NL Wild Card berth to start the month.
This time, it was helpful for the Braves that Jones launched a three-run, walk-off homer of 443 feet at Turner field to keep the Phillies from completing a devastating sweep of a slumping bunch.
The Braves have been surging since then.
It was just more of the same for a 40-year-old slugger who has been significant for the Braves at the plate, in the field and around the clubhouse. The only thing that could make his final season more magical would be for the Braves to discover a way, over the next few weeks, to win their second World Series championship under his watch.
That's what Jones' teammates, relatives, friends and fans have been saying all season, when they aren't thinking it.
Even so, long before the combination of Chipper and playoff talk began to dominate Turner Field this week, Jones shrugged at his locker before saying, "There is no 'win one for the Chipper' thing happening here."
So, with the Braves officially clinching at least a Wild Card spot earlier this week, what's happening then?
"I'm a little spoiled in my belief of what this team can do after making it to October," Jones said. "I've done all of this [making the playoffs] before. I want this more for the rest of the guys."
Many of those guys can pitch. On a staff that trails only the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds in team ERA in the NL, the Braves have the game's most prolific starter. His name is Kris Medlen, and he never loses. Literally.
Earlier this week, the Braves won for the 22nd consecutive time during a Medlen start. The only other pitchers to accomplish as much since 1920 were Carl Hubbell in the late '30s and Whitey Ford in the early '50s.
And get this: Medlen isn't even the Braves' ace. That honor belongs to Tim Hudson, who is known as a bulldog to his teammates for his ability to survive tough innings in big games.
In addition to Medlen and Hudson, the Braves have solid starters in Paul Maholm, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson. Then, behind those starters, the Braves have a stifling bullpen.
There isn't a more potent pair of relievers in the Major Leagues than sinkerball specialist Jonny Venters as a setup man and Craig Kimbrel, with his fastballs that live in the high 90s, as a closer.
As for offense, there are the Braves' clutch hitters, and they've varied throughout the season. Sometimes, it's Jason Heyward, Michael Bourn, Brian McCann or somebody from the bench. Then other times, it's Martin Prado, Dan Uggla or Freddie Freeman.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.