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Brave old world: Worst to first to worst?


One day recently in Atlanta, somebody hurled peanuts at Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice while he was standing in the on-deck circle, which could have been interpreted as someone throwing around a metaphor for his batting average.

Justice was in a stew after the game, railing about the lack of loyalty from Atlanta fans. Given the geographic appropriateness of the projectiles, he should have considered himself fortunate not to be playing for Philadelphia, where he might have been splattered with a cheese-steak hoagie.

One year after capturing the National League pennant -- and the fancy of anyone who likes a rags-to-riches story -- the Braves are an easy target. After a defeat in Philadelphia Tuesday left them with the poorest record in the league (20-27), the Braves had traveled this dizzying journey: worst to first to worst.

Tom Glavine, who has saved Atlanta from complete ruin this season, pitched the team to victory the next night to at least temporarily nudge the Braves a few percentage points ahead of Houston. But Atlanta's troubles might be of a more lasting nature.

The Braves began a weekend series against the Mets at Shea Stadium last night having lost 12 of their past 18 games. Working with virtually the same personnel that won 94 games last year, manager Bobby Cox fixed the blame squarely on his bullpen. It seems Justice isn't the only one getting shelled.

"Our bullpen is not what it was last year," Cox said. "We've blown a lot of games. We've played good enough to win most of our games for seven, eight innings, but you've got to close them out.

"I've got no complaints with the way this team has played. It's just that the bullpen has blown some games. Other than that, we're the same team as last year."

Help for the Braves is on the way. After a slow start in Triple-A, reliever Mark Wohlers is "striking out the side every time out," Cox said, before Wohlers was recalled Thursday afternoon. Atlanta's bullpen needs an arm like that. Or at least one as good as has a certain chagrined Atlanta fan with a taste for peanuts.

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