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Original Issue

1 Atlanta Braves Last year's league champs got stronger thanks to three comebacks and a trade

On a late evening in February 1999, sometime between kissing his
wife good night and rising for a bowl of Froot Loops, Andres
Galarraga met God. He knows this sounds unbelievable, even a bit
silly, but miracles happen--Galarraga swears to it. The
face-to-face took place in a dream. The 6'3", 250-pound
Galarraga says God, appearing as a brilliant white light, picked
him up (Psalms 24:8: "The Lord, strong and mighty....") and
carried him from the living room to the bedroom. "It was a few
days after my first chemotherapy," says Galarraga, a gold
medallion bearing Jesus' image hanging from his neck. "At the
time I thought I was going to die." How is Galarraga certain the
light was God? "I woke up," he says, "and I was soaking in sweat
from my chest all the way down."

From that point Galarraga, who missed all of last season, knew
he would recover from the non-Hodgkins lymphoma found in a lower
vertebra during an exam 13 months ago. He undertook an
agonizingly slow, often painful regimen that began with four
months of chemotherapy, followed by a month of radiation
treatment. But there was Gallaraga last month, reporting to
spring training on time, relatively in shape and prepared to
resume his role--not only as Atlanta's powerful cleanup hitter
and regular first baseman but also as a happy-go-lucky clubhouse
presence. "With Andres back, we have the order we were supposed
to win with all along," says rightfielder Brian Jordan. "It
makes our team complete."

Galarraga, who had 44 home runs and 121 RBIs in 1998, is part of
a lineup that needed retooling after last season, when Atlanta
ranked ninth in the league in batting (.266), eighth in on-base
percentage (.341) and seventh in runs (840). The Braves were
slow, boring and--as the Yankees proved in a World Series
sweep--vulnerable to good pitching. Injuries to other players
forced Eddie Perez, Ozzie Guillen, Brian Hunter and Keith
Lockhart, all sound backups, to play key roles down the stretch.

General manager John Schuerholz, routinely frustrated by
Atlanta's lack of spunk at the top of the order, boldly dealt
with that shortcoming on Dec. 22 by acquiring second baseman
Quilvio Veras and leftfielder Reggie Sanders in a six-player
trade with the Padres. "Since Otis Nixon's heyday, we've really
lacked that leadoff threat," says Schuerholz. "This addresses
that." The Braves lost a good measure of power in the exchange
(the departed Bret Boone and Ryan Klesko combined for 41 home
runs), but suddenly Atlanta's first two hitters can fly. Veras,
a pesky switch-hitter, stole 30 bases last season, Sanders 36.
"Man, everyone overlooks the speedy little guy nowadays, with
the home run lovefest and all," says Jordan. "But this is the
first time in my career I'm going to play with a real leadoff
hitter. We're going to score some runs."

They should. With catcher Javy Lopez returning from a knee
injury that sidelined him for the last three months of the
season, manager Bobby Cox boasts his best collection of hitters
since taking over the Braves 11 seasons ago. The order, from the
No. 2 slot through 7, of Sanders, reigning National League MVP
Chipper Jones, Galarraga, Lopez, Jordan and centerfielder Andruw
Jones can reasonably be expected to produce 200 home runs and
600 RBIs.

As for pitching, Atlanta could still have baseball's best
rotation despite losing John Smoltz for the season (torn medial
collateral ligament in his right elbow). For that to happen, the
other senior starters, righthander Greg Maddux and lefty Tom
Glavine, will have to return to Cy Young form after showing
signs of their mortality last season. Maddux, 34 in April, won
19 games but only after six weeks of getting hammered; he had
his highest ERA, 3.57, since 1987. Glavine, 34, won only 14
games and struggled with his command, allowing 259 hits in 234
innings. On the other hand 25-year-old righthander Kevin
Millwood has emerged as a first-rate starter (35-15 over the
past two years). Veteran lefthander Terry Mulholland, who went
4-2 with a 2.98 ERA after being acquired last July, becomes the
No. 4 starter, and 22-year-old lefty Bruce Chen (4-2, 5.05 ERA
in 20 big league games) is the front-runner for the fifth spot.

Hence, while Galarraga's and Lopez's returns were more talked
about, much of Cox's joy this spring was reserved for the
comeback of righthanded reliever Kerry Ligtenberg, who saved 30
games in '98 but missed all of last season with an elbow injury.
There was talk he would replace John Rocker as closer or become
the primary long reliever. "It makes no difference to me," says
Ligtenberg. "I'll be the long man, I'll start, I'll save. I need
to prove myself all over again."

He's not the only one. --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO CAT IN THE HAT The Braves missed Galarraga's play at first base almost as much as they missed his bat.


around the Horn

[4 stars]
[5 stars]
[4 1/2 stars]
[4 stars]
[5 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .266 (9)
Runs scored 840 (7)
Home runs 197 (4)

1999 record: 103-59 (first in NL East)

Opponents' batting average .251 (3)
ERA 3.63 (1)
Fielding percentage .982 (7)

next up...

The off-season didn't seem to be a great one for Braves first
baseman Randall Simon, who was a) infamously called "a fat
monkey" by John Rocker; b) relegated to backup first baseman by
the return to action of Andres Galarraga; and c) knocked down to
third string by the acquisition of veteran Wally Joyner. Bad
luck, huh? "Not at all," says Simon. "I played winter ball in
the Dominican, and I played well. That's what's important--what
I can control." Simon, 24, can also control the bat, which is
why--after hitting .317 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 90 games
last season--he'll be a key lefthanded bat off the bench for
Atlanta. That's provided the six-foot Simon can control
something else--his weight, which has ballooned to as much as
235 pounds. "It's always been a problem," says Simon, who
reported to camp weighing a more svelte 225. "I was chubby as a
kid, and it's never gotten easier."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Bobby Cox (11th season with Atlanta)


2B Quilvio Veras[1] S-R 102 .280 6 41 30
LF Reggie Sanders[1] R 42 .285 26 72 36
3B Chipper Jones S-R 6 .319 45 110 25
1B Andres Galarraga* R 58 .305 44 121 7
C Javy Lopez R 104 .317 11 45 0
RF Brian Jordan R 71 .283 23 115 13
CF Andruw Jones R 51 .275 26 84 24
SS Walt Weiss S-R 359 .226 2 29 7


1F Randall Simon L 268 .317 5 25 2
C Eddie Perez R 309 .249 7 30 0
1F Wally Joyner[1][2] L 341 .248 5 43 0
IF Keith Lockhart L-R 365 .261 1 21 3
IF Ozzie Guillen L-R 385 .241 1 20 4


RH Greg Maddux 17 19 9 6.6 1.34 3.57
LH Tom Glavine 32 14 11 6.7 1.46 4.12
RH Kevin Millwood 6 18 7 6.9 1.00 2.68
LH Terry Mulholland 60 10 8 6.1 1.44 4.39
LH Bruce Chen 109 2 2 5.7 1.27 5.47


LH John Rocker[3] 26 4 5 38 1.16 2.49
RH Kerry Ligtenberg* 115 3 2 30 1.03 2.71
LH Mike Remlinger 170 10 1 1 1.21 2.37
RH Kevin McGlinchy 199 7 3 0 1.36 2.82
RH Rudy Seanez 229 6 1 3 1.27 3.35
LH Steve Avery[1] 265 6 7 0 1.59 5.16

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*1998 stats
[2] Will begin season on DL
[3] Suspended for season's first 14 days

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Braves

Start with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood and
you've got a pretty good team. Terry Mulholland is fine as the
No. 4 starter. He's got a rubber arm.... The Braves are looking
for another pitcher because they don't have much at No. 5. Bruce
Chen is a No. 5 on a lot of clubs, not just the Braves. His
stuff is ordinary. Atlanta has usually had that young starter
waiting in the wings. They don't now.... Reliever Kerry
Ligtenberg is throwing 91 mph and looks good, but the true test
for guys coming off Tommy John surgery is when they start
throwing their off-speed pitches.... A key for Atlanta is third
baseman Chipper Jones. He has bone chips in his elbow, and they
could turn into a problem.... It's amazing how good Andres
Galarraga looked in spring training. He really swung the bat
well.... Second baseman Quilvio Veras isn't a true leadoff
hitter--he doesn't take walks--but he's better than the guy he's
replacing, Gerald Williams.... The outfield is good, with Brian
Jordan, Reggie Sanders (when he's not hurt) and Andruw Jones
(when he wants to play).