MIAMI -- While the rest of baseball has focused on home runs this season, Atlanta's pitchers have quietly put up some equally astonishing numbers.
The staff leads the majors league in ERA (3.29), complete games (24), shutouts (21), opponents batting average (.241), strikeouts (1,197) and fewest home runs allowed (117). The shutout and complete game totals are the Braves' best since tossing 24 shutouts and completing 26 games in 1992.
While Atlanta's starters have posted dominant numbers in an extraordinary run starting in 1991, this year's rotation is the club's strongest ever because of the addition of fifth starter Kevin Millwood.
"When you get 17 wins out of the five hole, that's phenomenal," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "When we had our four starters and Kent Mercker and he was 9-4, we considered that outstanding."
Atlanta's starters are 88-40 with a 3.08 ERA and need one more win to match the 1990 Oakland Athletics for most wins by a rotation in the 90s. Yet, because the pitchers have posted similar numbers for eight straight years, no one pays much attention anymore.
"They go about their business quietly, stick to somebody and leave," Mazzone said. "What they've done won't be fully realized until they're not here any more. Some day it will be recognized as one of the greatest pitching runs in baseball history." ...
The Braves won't set their playoff roster until the day of Game 1 of the division series. Most of the decisions have been made, leaving only a choice between veteran left-hander Norm Charlton and rookie Odalis Perez in the bullpen.
Manager Bobby Cox said Wednesday he plans to include second baseman Keith Lockhart on the roster, so the bench seems set with Tony Graffanino, Gerald Williams, Ozzie Guillen, Danny Bautista, Curtis Pride and Greg Colbrunn. It's likely veteran pitcher Dennis Martinez will be included on the 10-man pitching staff over Russ Springer, leaving the final choice of Charlton or Perez.
"If we select (Perez), our thoughts will be that we have confidence he's able to do it based on his ability and lack of experience won't matter," general manager John Schuerholz said. ...
Moments after Tuesday night's game ended, Ryan Klesko headed out the clubhouse door toward the batting cage, lugging a bag of balls and a couple of bats. He's made it a habit recently to work on his swing immediately after games, feeling he can accomplish more with his at-bats still fresh in his mind.
"I've got a fairly new stance and I'm working on things as much as I can," he said. "I've been swinging underneath the ball a little bit and I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing."
Klesko, 1-for-11 on the road trip, was not in Wednesday night's lineup. ...
Shortstop Walt Weiss and Lockhart told Cox they were ready to play Wednesday, but he decided to give them additional rest and not play them until Friday.
"Both wanted to play tonight, but I thought maybe two more days off, what the heck."
Weiss hasn't played since last Wednesday and has appeared in only four games this month, while Lockhart has not started since Sept. 12 and has missed 21 of the last 29 games with a strained right hamstring.
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