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World Series 2001
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10/16/2001 04:43 AM ET
Key moves helped Braves stay on top
By Mark Bowman
MLB.com
HOUSTON -- As he planned for the 2001 season, Braves GM John Schuerholz saw a team that boasted three former Cy Young Award winners in the starting rotation, a former MVP at third base and two speedsters targeted to create havoc at the top of the lineup.

That seemed to be the blueprint for a record 10th straight division title. But as the season unfolded, Schuerholz realized this team would need some readjusting and the road to the 2001 playoffs would require plenty of change.

"We've got a lot of patches on this tar," Schuerholz said." During the course of this year, we've had to make more changes than we normally do."

The patchwork began at the beginning of the season when John Smoltz realized he wasn't completely ready to return from Tommy John surgery. That meant the Braves needed another arm to fill the void.

Fortunately for the Braves, the answer came in John Burkett, a 36-year old arm that had been discarded by the Devil Rays before the 2000 season. But the Devil Rays' scraps turned out to be just another All-Star pitcher for the Braves.

Burkett, signed by the Braves to provide relief innings and spot starts for the 2000 season, quickly found himself as the Braves' 2001 Opening Day starter when a minor toe injury kept Greg Maddux out. Three months later, he found himself starting the All-Star Game at SAFECO Field. But Burkett's success couldn't offset an anemic offense. The Rafael Furcal-Quilvio Veras combination at the top of the lineup never provided the spark the Braves were seeking. Numerous injuries to Veras and a season-ending injury to Furcal on July 6, forced the Braves to redirect their road to the playoffs.

No longer could the Braves move station-to-station. Instead, they now needed another basher in the middle of the lineup with Chipper Jones. At the beginning of the year, Rico Brogna was supposed to be that man, but the free-agent signee hit three homers in 206 at-bats. So by the end of July, Brogna retired and is now coaching prep football in Connecticut.

Brogna's retirement was accelerated on July 4 when the Braves signed Ken Caminiti, who had been released by the Rangers. But the fireworks the Braves hoped Caminiti would provide were never launched. He has hit just six homers in 165 at-bats. His last one came Aug. 9.

As the Braves realized they lacked speed and pop, they decided to rid themselves of the oft-injured Veras. Marcus Giles, called up from Richmond July 20, became the Braves starting second baseman and leadoff hitter releasing Veras on July 31.

Giles, a 53rd round draft choice of the Braves in 1996 and brother of Pittsburgh slugger Brian, had been considered a top prospect in the organization. But his entry into the starting lineup came sooner than expected. Giles proved to be the only Minor Leaguer brought up to land a starting role in the Majors for Atlanta.

At shortstop, it appeared Mark DeRosa would join Giles from Richmond and find his name in the starting lineup daily, but his sometimes shaky glove prompted a trade for the sure-handed Rey Sanchez on July 31.

The Sanchez deal was Schuerholz's second major trade of the year. On June 22, the veteran GM shipped troublesome closer John Rocker to Cleveland for Steve Karsay and Steve Reed.

With the two former Indians now residing in the Braves bullpen, Bobby Cox has had the luxury of a very deep and bullpen. Karsay handled the closing duties until Smoltz was strong enough to take over in mid-August. A short time later, the bullpen depth was extended even more when Rudy Seanez was acquired in a waiver deal on Aug. 31.

Seanez's signing was somewhat downplayed because of another deal Schuerholz made official that day. In news that seemed to surprise everyone, the Braves GM announced the signing of 40-something Julio Franco, who had been playing in the Mexican League.

Franco, whose career began in 1982, hasn't hit .435 like he had in Mexico, but he's proven to be the most steady player to man first base this season. In total, five different Braves have started at first base this season.

"It's been a struggle all year," Brian Jordan said. "Injuries and individual's performances have both hurt us this year. We've had to fill holes and gaps all year. But when the guys come together and pick up the slack, it makes it all the more rewarding."

Mark Bowman is the site reporter for AtlantaBraves.com, Kirk Dominic, site manager, contributed to this report.

HOW THE BRAVES WERE ACQUIRED

Name Position How Acquired
Javy Lopez Catcher Signed as a non-drafted free agent on 11/6/87
Paul Bako Catcher Signed as a free agent on 7/21/00
Eddie Perez Catcher Signed as a non-drafted free agent on 10/27/86
Julio Franco First Base Acquired from Mexico City Tigers
Dave Martinez First Base Signed as a free agent on 12/10/00
Marcus Giles Second Base 53rd round selection in the 1996 June draft
Keith Lockhart Second Base Acquired with OF Michael Tucker from Kansas City in exchange for OF Jermaine Dye and LHP Jamie Walker on 3/27/97
Mark DeRosa Shortstop 7th round selection in the 1996 June draft
Jesse Garcia Shortstop Obtained from the Orioles in exchange for Steve Sisco on 12/18/2000
Rey Sanchez Shortstop Acquired from Kansas City for minor leaguers Brad Voyles and Alejandro Machado
Chipper Jones Third Base 1st selection (#1 in the nation) in the 1990 June draft
Ken Caminiti Third Base Signed as a free agent on 7/05/01
B.J. Surhoff Left Field Acquired along with Gabe Molina from Baltimore in exchange for Trenidad Hubbard, Luis Rivera and Fernando Lunar on 7/31/00
Bernand Gilkey Left Field Signed as a minor-league free agent on 4/12/01
Andruw Jones Center Field Signed as a non-drafted free agent on 7/2/93
Brian Jordan Right Field Signed as a free agent on 11/23/98
John Burkett Pitcher Signed as a non-drafted free agent on 4/2/00
Tom Glavine Pitcher 2nd round selection in the 1984 June draft
Steve Karsay Pitcher Acquired along with Steve Reed from Cleveland in exchange for John Rocker
Greg Maddux Pitcher Signed as a free agent on 12/9/92
Jason Marquis Pitcher Special selection between 1st and 2nd rounds in the 1996 June draft
Kevin Millwood Pitcher 11th round selection in the 1993 June draft
Odalis Perez Pitcher Signed as a non-drafted free agent on 7/2/94
Steve Reed Pitcher Acquired along with Steve Karsay from Cleveland in exchange for John Rocker
Mike Remlinger Pitcher Acquired along with Bret Boone from Cincinnati in exchange for Denny Neagle, Michael Tucker, and Robbie Bell on 11/10/98
Rudy Seanez Pitcher Received on a waiver claim from the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later on 8/31/01
John Smoltz Pitcher Acquired from Detroit in exchange for Doyle Alexander on 8/12/87