Twenty-five years ago, the Braves didn’t start the 1995 campaign until April 26th, thanks to the infamous player’s strike the season prior that slashed the 1994 season by 48 games and didn’t officially end until days before Opening Day of the ’95 campaign — pushing back the start of the regular season by three weeks.
Perhaps it was the extra rest or the fact that the Braves were loaded that year, but the team opened up the season with a 12-5 thrashing over Barry Bonds and the Giants. Greg Maddux tossed a one-hitter through five frames, and Fred McGriff slugged two homers. The next day the Braves swept their two-game set with San Francisco at Atlanta-Fulton Stadium and followed it up with five wins in their next six games. By May 15th, they were up 4.5 games in the NL West, and the offense hadn’t even started churning yet. Chipper Jones was hitting .235, lead-off hitter Marquis Grissom just .215 and McGriff .232.
Fast-forward to the conclusion of Game 72 — the unofficial half-way point of the 144-game 1995 season — Tom Glavine and the Braves wrapped up their second-straight win over the Padres in the middle of a four-game series. By then, the Braves’ division lead had grown to 5.5 games, and their record was 46-26 as the lineup began to produce consistently. Jones, Grissom, and McGriff were each hitting over .260, and a 24-year-old Ryan Klesko was mashing everything thrown his way, batting a healthy. 365 in what was his second full-ish big league season. Glavine’s win that Friday night in July over San Diego was his ninth on the year, and his eight innings of two-run ball lowered his ERA to 3.40. The Braves finished the month of July winning 20 of 27 games (their best month of the year), before losing a bit of momentum in August and September (they finished off 35-21 in the season’s final couple of months).
However, even before the playoffs, the shortened 1995 season was a success.
Maddux won what was his fourth consecutive NL Cy Young award, leading the majors in wins (19), ERA (1.63), complete games (10), ERA+ (260), HR/9 (0.3), BB/9 (1.0) and WHIP (0.811) while also pacing the Senior Circuit with 209.2 innings pitched. Chipper — coming off his year-long absence from tearing his knee during the 1993 season — finished second in the controversial NL Rookie of the Year vote, hitting .265 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI — good for an 18th-place finish for MVP in his first full major league season. McGriff popped 27 homers and hit .280, catcher Javy Lopez posted his first 100-game season and hit .315, and the Braves’ nos. 2 and 3 starting pitchers (Glavine and John Smoltz) both finished with double-digit win totals and sub-3.20 ERAs to give the rotation a dominant three-headed monster leading into the postseason.
Of course, we know that by late-October, the Braves were World Champions, after outlasting the Indians in a six-game World Series. And to this day, very few fans (even Braves fans) associate the title with a shortened season. There’s no asterisk beside the year on Baseball-Reference or in the record books. Just a championship won by a team who made the most of a season cut short.
Sure, 2020 isn’t 1995. The circumstances are very different this time around, not to mention the number of games potentially available. But regardless of whether or not it’s 144 games, 82 or even 50, if there’s a playoff this year, you bet it counts.
So maybe the extra time off helps. Perhaps as Maddux did, Mike Soroka will again put together another incredible season and — after what was a somewhat slow start 25 years ago — an offense that finishes with four 20-homer guys in the lineup (I didn’t even mention David Justice!), plus a rotation with the major’s best ERA.
As we witnessed back in 1995, fewer games doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In fact, if history repeats itself … it could result in something wonderful.