Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ross Atkin, Staff Writer of the Christian Science Monitor

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ross Atkin, Staff Writer of the Christian Science Monitor

Article excerpt

Early results can't be counted on to define a baseball season - but they can't be dismissed lightly, either. Every game counts.

The shape of things to date offers some surprises: Two of last year's playoff teams - Cincinnati and Boston - are stuck in or near last place in their respective divisions, while 1995 cellar-dwellers Montreal and San Diego are riding high in first.

The Atlanta Braves are winning more often than not, but not in a style or with the regularity one expects from a defending World Series champion. At the moment they're hovering behind Montreal in second place having just gone past Philadelphia.

For a team like Atlanta, whose players are used to having their pennant juices flow, it may be hard to reach peak performance during the early weeks. The year after a championship is often challenging (Toronto, in 1992 and 1993, is baseball's only repeat winner in 17 years). The Braves have their work cut out for them, especially in a city where the fans may be blase and where this summer's main attraction will be the Olympics, not baseball.

Fast-forward to fall

Commenting on the team's unspectacular attendance figures, third baseman Chipper Jones says, "Everybody expects us to be in the playoffs, and from a fan's standpoint, they are going to wait" until the playoffs begin in September.

The good news is that pitcher John Smoltz, in something of a personal revival, has more than compensated for the slow start of World Series hero Tom Glavine, and outfielder Ryan Klesko is bashing the ball. The Braves' outfielder is among the home run leaders in a season in which balls are popping out of parks with striking frequency.

Home runs are up 7 percent over last season, attributable partly to poor pitching and perhaps partly (some are convinced) to a livelier ball.

Baltimore's Brady Anderson is responsible for one of the most impressive slugging efforts. He has hit a major league-leading 15 home runs, compared with 16 all last season. Anderson helped the Orioles get off to a very fast start, but lately the surging New York Yankees, last year's American League wild-card team, have overtaken them. …

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