There would appear to be no stopping baseball's Atlanta Braves. They played as if in another, higher league in sweeping aside the overmatched Houston Astros in three straight playoff games. But does having the best pitching staff really guarantee ultimate success?
No. For while Ted Turner's team is playing in the postseason for a record sixth straight year, the Braves have lost three of their last four World Series, including a couple they were favored to win.
And now the Braves take on the Florida Marlins, a team that holds realistic hopes of derailing the Atlanta Express. The Marlins came into existence five years ago and have won a playoff series faster than any expansion team in history.
Florida finished nine games behind Atlanta in the National League East this season, yet the Marlins had the Braves' number, beating them eight of 12 times they met. On Tuesday they commence a best-of-seven National League Championship Series in Atlanta to determine one half of the World Series lineup.
At press time, the matchup for the American League Championship Series was still undetermined. The Yankees held a 2-1 first-round lead over the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles similarly had the Seattle Mariners on the ropes.
Virtually no matter how things shake out, baseball has sent a clear message that money can buy results. The highest salaried major-league teams are the Yankees ($66 million), Orioles ($63 million), Indians ($60 million), Braves ($58 million), and Marlins ($54 million).
Atlanta's weakness may be its bullpen, but who's to know? The Braves starting pitching was so overpowering against Houston, the relief corps was practically mothballed. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz sawed off the bats of Houston's "Killer B's," leaving the Astro's best hitters - Craig Biggio, Derek Bell, and Jeff Bagwell - with just two hits in 37 turns at bat. For Florida, clutch hitting was instrumental to eliminating San Francisco, which perhaps was flat after an emotional regular season, in which the Giants went from last the year before to first this time.