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Tome of the Brave

I hope it's not a sign of the times but we went walk-off-less on Opening Monday for the first time this century, though we can rest our hopes today on the debut for the Giants and Padres if we so choose.

Did you know that it's been 33 years since the Phillies last had a walk-off win on Opening Day? Mike Schmidt hit the winning homer off Mets closer Tug McGraw that day and that became relevant yesterday in the final frames of the Phillies-Braves game, which brings me to the point I wanted to make today.

I know there's a lot of talk (much from Jimmy Rollins) about how this year's NL East race is about the Phillies and the Mets. I choose to differ with that viewpoint. I think it's about the Mets and the Braves. And that worries me.

I picked the Braves to go to the World Series in my preseason predictions (to face the other NY team) and the reason for that was on display in the latter part of yesterday's game. The Phillies should have scored at least once in the last four innings but didn't and that cost them dearly.

The Braves bullpen, particularly the back end is much improved from the disaster that was 2006 (6 walk-off losses, and blown leads all over the place). If Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez stay healthy, they're as good a setup combination as Duaner Sanchez and Aaron Heilman were for the Mets last season. Bob Wickman isn't an elite closer, but if the Tigers can get to the World Series with Todd Jones, the Braves can certainly do so with Wickman, who scored an A in "walk-off prevention" on Monday by getting Chase Utley out with two on and two outs in a tie game the ninth inning.

We know the Braves have a good offense with Msrs. Andruw and Chipper, though Andruw looked a bit old and chunky (0-5 and a failed diving catch) and Chipper's body is pretty creaky. They've got a couple pretty good guys to supplement that in Brian McCann and Edgar Renteria (walk-off hero of the 1997 World Series), and I don't think this Scott Thorman guy would be starting at first base if the Braves didn't think he'd have significant success. Plus, their corner outfielders, Jeff Francoeur and Ryan Langerhans strike me as potential Mets killers, a trait they've shown already in their brief careers and we might see again when the Mets head to Atlanta this weekend.

If we're going to talk pitching, let's be fair and acknowledge that if Tim Hudson is right, the Braves are better than the Mets in the top two slots in their starting rotation, at least for now. I realize that on paper, Atlanta is pretty thin at the end of the rotation, though Chuck James and Mark Redman may be better than we think and Mike Hampton may be back to form sooner than we think.

That Braves win on Monday reminded me a lot of the ones they got frequently from 1993 to 2006 during their unprecedented run of success and I'm sorry if that makes me a little squeamish. I know it's only one game, but the team that won that game yesterday concerns me more than the team that lost. Because they are Brave in key spots and the other team, quite frankly, is not.

True Metconds know...The Mets have lost via walk-off in their second game of a season three times in club history. Those came in 1995, 1997 and 2001.


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