Originally created 04/12/98

Braves notes: Same old story for the Braves



PHILADELPHIA -- It's not like the Braves' offensive woes are anything new. Every season unfolds the same way: The pitching is great and the offense struggles to score runs.

So, nine games into a new season, nothing has changed. The staff leads the majors with a 2.88 ERA and the lineup has produced the league's third-worst batting average (.239) and is averaging 4.1 runs a game.

The result is predictable. The Braves have lost by scores of 2-1, 5-3 and 1-0, have scored more than five runs just twice and aren't hitting in the clutch, having produced a .100 average with two outs and men in scoring position.

"Guys know they aren't going to hit .250 all year," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Yeah, it's frustrating losing 1-0 and 2-1, but there are only two or three guys swinging the bat good. When guys get 50 at-bats under their belts, they'll start feeling more comfortable."

The lineup features three hitters with averages below .200, Andruw Jones (.125), Ryan Klesko (.176) and Michael Tucker (.091), and even when manager Bobby Cox makes a change, there isn't a hot hitter to turn to on the bench. He sat Jones down Saturday night, but his replacement, Gerald Williams, entered the game hitting .182.

"Right now we're kind of slumping together," first baseman Andres Galarraga said. "Probably the only consistent guy right now is Chipper."

As ominous as the club's batting average is, it's not as scary as its major league-leading strikeout total. The Braves, who set a franchise record with 1,160 strikeouts last year, are averaging nine strikeouts a game, a pace that would give them a total of 1,458 by the end of the season.

No one has been more affected by the lineup's failures than Greg Maddux, who has never endured a streak of no support like the one he's currently riding. He has made three starts, given up just two earned runs in 23 innings (0.78 ERA), but the lineup has produced just two runs while he's been on the mound.

In his 11-plus seasons in the majors, Maddux has never made three consecutive starts, given up two earned runs or less and not won.

"He never gives up anything and we never get him any runs," Cox said, shaking his head. "Nobody has outpitched Greg this year, but we have not hit the ball when he pitches."

Maddux says he's not frustrated. In fact, he's taken the opposite approach. Why get frustrated when it's out of his control?

"If I was getting my brains beat in, then yeah, I might be saying I need to locate better or my off-speed pitches are brutal," he said. "But I want to stay right where I am. I'll take my chances with how I'm pitching."

COX BLASTS ANDRUW: Cox was upset with Andruw Jones following Friday night's game because he felt the center fielder didn't charge Mike Lieberthal's game-winning single in the ninth. Apparently there was some shouting in the clubhouse, though Cox didn't want to talk about it Saturday.

"If he thinks I didn't charge the ball, I can't change what he says," Jones said. "If he's going to pick on me, why not pick on the pitcher who walked two guys? I did my best. I don't want to lose the game. I'm going to charge the ball and throw the guy out, but I came too hard and I was trying to hurry and the ball got stuck in my glove."

Cox said he would probably return Jones to the lineup this afternoon.

BEING CAUTIOUS: Cox is taking a cautious approach to shortstop Walt Weiss' return, so he kept him out of Saturday's lineup and gave Ray Holbert the start. Weiss may not play again until the club returns to the natural grass at Turner Field Tuesday night.

"I'm just trying to be sure," Cox said. "Now that we've got somebody up here, we might as well play him for a few days. I'm trying to be a little careful with it and trying not to set him back for an entire month."