Jones or no, Braves have work to do

sports@macon.comApril 17, 2012 

The first week or so of a baseball season is always funny to watch. Fans are so reactionary. Sometimes it’s warranted. Sometimes it’s not.

Fans in Boston and Philadelphia are probably not happy right now, while fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals are thrilled that their teams are off to a great start.

A week ago, the Atlanta Braves had lost four in a row to start the year. There were plenty of reasons to be concerned. Atlanta was not just losing, but the Braves looked bad in doing so.

After a bad end to last season, an inactive offseason and then a bad spring training, there was reason to panic. There’s no use in getting into semantics, but the difference between panic and being concerned is not much.

Then, of course, the Braves won five in a row. That silenced the critics, at least until the New York Mets got back on the schedule.

No team wants to look back on the beginning of the season and wish it had played better to start the year. Just think about how the Braves ended the 2011 season. There were undoubtedly plenty of games the players looked back on and wondered if they had just won one more game.

Thirty years ago, the Braves won 13 in a row to start the 1982 season. A bad stretch in late summer, where Atlanta lost 19 of 21 games, almost cost the club. But when the Braves won the division by one game over the Dodgers, it was easy to look back on that great start to know why they made the playoffs.

So it’s always a good thing to get off to a good start. The baseball season is a long one, and we’ve always heard the phrase, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” and that’s right. But it’s also a season where small things can sometimes change the course of a season.

The Braves seemed dead a week ago, and then Chipper Jones got back into the lineup. He made a huge difference in his first game back, hitting a home run in Houston. But then we saw why this year is going to be an interesting one for Jones.

He got the Braves rolling, and then when we were all ready to see him in his final home opener, Jones had to have his knee drained and missed two more games. So what happened when Jones got back in the lineup Sunday? He had another home run to help Atlanta win.

Welcome to the Chipper Jones 2012 experience. It probably won’t be the final time Jones will be in and out of the lineup, and it definitely won’t be the final time Jones impacts this team.

There is no doubt he is breaking down physically. Jones is doing everything he can to play, knowing his days are dwindling as the calendar turns. But every time Jones is in the lineup, opposing pitchers have to respect him. They know he’s not the same player they saw in 1999 or 2005, but he’s still Chipper Jones.

It’s unfair to put that much pressure on Jones, particularly at this stage in his career. But there’s no denying the Braves lineup is still different when he’s not in there.

This Atlanta team simply needs to overcome the days when Jones is going to be out. When everyone heard last Friday that Jones was going to miss the game against Milwaukee, most probably thought the Braves would lose. He seems to make that much of a difference.

But the Braves won that night, and then again on Saturday. That’s what they’ve got to do. This season can’t be tied that much to Jones, since there are going to be days and maybe even stretches of games when he won’t be available.

Jones might be an offensive threat until the day he leaves, and then there might be a time when he suddenly becomes Ken Oberkfell. But this Braves team must win regardless if No. 10 is in the lineup.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at

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