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The world champion Braves are like one of those giant warehouse
shopping clubs where you can buy a big-screen TV in one aisle
and a five-gallon jug of laundry detergent in the next: They
have it all--talent, experience, prospects, money--and they have
it all in large quantities. The rest of baseball, mom-and-pop
operations by comparison, is left to wonder, How can we possibly
beat these guys?

"It is almost impossible to close the gap on Atlanta," says
Philadelphia manager Jim Fregosi. "It's almost like you go into
the season playing for the wild card." Says Marlins general
manager Dave Dombrowski, "The Braves are the creme de la creme."

Well, this year, the creme will rise to the top again. (A
warning to managers and G.M.'s: The following scouting report
may be hazardous to your health. Read with caution.)

If the Braves' sluggers return to form and if their young
players continue to improve, the best team in baseball could be
even better than it was last year.

In 1995 Atlanta hit a weak .250 during the regular season as
centerfielder Marquis Grissom, rightfielder David Justice and
first baseman Fred McGriff all had off years at the plate.
Grissom, who hit .288 in 1994, slipped to .258, and Justice
batted .253 after hitting .313 in '94. McGriff's average dipped
from .318 two years ago to .280 in '95, and for the first time
in eight years, he did not hit at least 30 home runs (he had 27,
albeit in a shortened season).

All three players had wonderful postseasons, though. McGriff
homered on the first pitch he saw in the World Series. Justice
won the last game of the Series with a home run. And Grissom hit
safely in all 14 postseason games.

But let's say the playoffs were an aberration and McGriff,
Justice and Grissom revert to their disappointing ways of the
'95 regular season. That's where the youngsters come in: third
baseman Chipper Jones, leftfielder Ryan Klesko and catcher
Javier Lopez.

Jones charmed the city of Atlanta last season during his
thrilling rookie year, and in '96 he should own the town. (He's
already so popular that he hosts a radio show during the
off-season.) After a stellar regular season--he finished a close
second to the Dodgers' Hideo Nomo for NL Rookie of the
Year--Jones played even better in the playoffs, hitting .364
with three home runs and eight RBIs in 14 games.

Jones is as popular with his manager as he is with Braves fans.
"Shoot, I thought he should have made the All-Star team and
certainly should have been Rookie of the Year," says Atlanta
skipper Bobby Cox. "He has as much talent as anybody I have ever

The Braves rarely offer multiyear contracts to players with
fewer than three years of big league experience, but in February
they signed the 23-year-old Jones to a four-year, $8.25 million
pact. "There is nothing I want more than to stay here for a long
time," he says.

Klesko is destined to become another long-term Atlantan.
Considering that he hit 23 home runs in just 329 at bats last
year, Klesko, 24, could very well lead the team in homers this
season. "I think he is a guy who is going to someday hit 40
home runs a year for us," says Braves general manager John

Atlanta chose not to re-sign backup backstop Charlie O'Brien, so
the 25-year-old Lopez, who hit a team-high .315 in '95, will
catch almost every day this season. While veteran pitcher Steve
Avery and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux felt at times in
'94 that Lopez could improve on his game-calling skills, he did
just that over the course of last season. "It's not easy
catching a staff this good when you're pretty young," Lopez
says. "It took some time, but they were patient with me."

Jones, Klesko and Lopez are three reasons the Braves' starting
lineup in 1995 was younger than their starting nine on the '91,
'92 or '93 division-winning team. As if that weren't enough to
worry managers around the league, Maddux and All-Star Tom
Glavine--the John and Paul of the Fab Four rotation--won't see
their 30th birthdays until this spring. Sometime during the
season Atlanta is expected to offer the two stalwart pitchers
contract extensions that would keep them in Braves uniforms
until the year 2000. The rest of baseball must have a headache
just thinking about it.

--Kelly Whiteside

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE COVER PHOTO [Varies by region] Unbeatable? Greg Maddux and the Braves could be even better in '96

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Jones won Atlanta's heart--and a hefty raise--with his play at the hot corner. [Chipper Jones in game]


1995 Team Statistics (NL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .250 (13)
Home Runs 168 (2)
ERA 3.44 (1)
Fielding Pct. .982 (3)

Way Out in Front

The Braves' .610 winning percentage over the last five seasons
is 69 points higher than that of the White Sox (.541), owners of
the second-best record in the major leagues during that same
span. Only three times in history has the team with the highest
winning percentage over any five-year period had a larger margin
over the team with the second-best mark.

Five-year Highest Next-best Diff.
span winning pct. winning pct.

1936-40 Yankees .651 Cubs .557 .094
1937-41 Yankees .648 Red Sox .557 .091
1942-46 Cardinals .659 Yankees .589 .070
1991-95 Braves .610 White Sox .541 .069
1906-10 Cubs .693 Pirates .624 .069
1935-39 Yankees .656 Cubs .590 .066
1960-64 Yankees .630 Dodgers .567 .063
1938-42 Yankees .650 Cardinals 589 .061



The obvious question for the fifth starter on a staff with one
of the best four-man rotations ever is this: Feeling any
pressure? "Definitely," says Jason Schmidt, a 23-year-old
righthander. "Being the fifth starter in Atlanta is like being...I don't know how to explain it." When pressed, Schmidt
pleads the Fifth. Of course, it's too soon to know how he'll
react to all this pressure. He could be the "One" in what Kent
Mercker (Schmidt's predecessor as the No. 5 starter, who is now
with Baltimore) called the Fab Four Plus One, or he could be the
person to make the rotation the Fab Five. An eighth-round pick
out of Kelso (Wash.) High in 1991, Schmidt was 8-6 last year at
Triple A Richmond. In his first start after being called up last
September, he threw eight shutout innings against the Cubs. Says
Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz, "We think his time has



CF Marquis Grissom .258, 12, 42, 29
2B Mark Lemke .253, 5, 38, 2
3B Chipper Jones .265, 23, 86, 8
1B Fred McGriff .280, 27, 93, 3
RF David Justice .253, 24, 78, 4
LF Ryan Klesko .310, 23, 70, 5
C Javier Lopez .315, 14, 51, 0
SS Jeff Blauser .211, 12, 31, 8


OF Dwight Smith .252, 3, 21, 0
IF Mike Mordecai .280, 3, 11, 0
IF Rafael Belliard .222, 0, 7, 2


RH Greg Maddux 19-2, 1.63
LH Tom Glavine 16-7, 3.08
RH John Smoltz 12-7, 3.18
LH Steve Avery 7-13, 4.67
RH Jason Schmidt (R) 2.25 ERA in AAA


RH Mark Wohlers 25, 2.09
RH Greg McMichael 2, 2.79
LH Pedro Borbon Jr. 2, 3.09
RH Brad Clontz 4, 3.65

[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie