Playoff berth great Cox tribute

Published 8:55 pm Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It is only fitting that long time highly successful Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox has led his team to another playoff berth in his final season.

That berth was assured on Sunday when the Braves defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 8-7 before a sellout crowd of more than 50,000 fans at Atlanta’s Turner Field.

The win, in their final regular-season game, gave the Braves the National League wildcard playoff berth.

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They will open a best-three-out-of-five first-round playoff series against the National League Western Division champion San Francisco Giants Thursday in San Francisco.

In the other first round, National League best-three-of-five playoff encounter, which begins on Wednesday, the Phillies will host the Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds.

Cox was American League manager of the year with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1985 and National League manager of the year with the Braves in 1991, 2004 and 2005, and managed the National League All-Star team in 1992, 1993, 1997 and 2000 after leading the Braves to National League pennants the previous season.

He also managed the National League All-Star team in 1996 after leading the Braves to the 1995 World Championship, defeating the American League champion Cleveland Indians in six games in the World Series.

Cox’s managerial numbers are outstanding, and it is just a matter of time until he is enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Going into the playoffs, the Braves have a strong starting staff led by veteran right-handers Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe and young right-hander Tommy Hanson.

The bullpen is also a team strength with young left-hander Johnny Venters, veteran right-hander Peter Moyland and veteran All-Star closer Billy Wagner leading the way.

If the Braves have a weakness, it could be their offensive production.

Third baseman Chipper Jones and second baseman Martine Prado, a pair of All-Star caliber players, are out with season-ending injuries.

They do, however, have the hot bats of catcher Brian McCann, the All-Star game’s most valuable player, and power hitting rookie right fielder Jason Heyward, who have had hot bats all season.

Derek Lee, the veteran first baseman they picked up from the Chicago Cubs, just before the trading deadline, could also be a major offensive contributor in post season. He had a big home run in Sunday’s playoff-clinching victory over the Phillies.

Call me a homer, but with their strong starting and relief pitching, and an offense led by McCann and Heyward, I think the Braves have as good a chance to win the National League pennant and World Series as anyone this season.

It would be great to end Bobby Cox’s managerial career on that note.