How The 1992 Atlanta Braves Won The NL West

In 1991, the Braves shocked the baseball world. They went from worst-to-first, won their first division title in nearly a decade and came within a run of winning the World Series. The 1992 Atlanta Braves carried the burden of expectations and met them, but again with a tinge of disappointment. Atlanta would again reach the World Series. But again, they would come up a bit short in the Fall Classic.

This franchise was defined by starting pitching during their great run through the 1990s and the ‘92 edition was no different. Tom Glavine was a 20-game winner at the age of 26 and a future Hall of Famer. John Smoltz, age 25, also had Cooperstown in his future and he won 15 games in 1992. Steve Avery, the 22-year-old hero of the previous October, didn’t have the same long-term future, but he was plenty good in ‘92. Avery logged over 230 innings and posted a 3.20 ERA.

These three arms alone would have made Atlanta’s rotation a handful, but there was more. Charlie Leibrandt, the veteran lefty, won 15 more games with a 3.36 ERA. Mike Bielicki made 14 starts and put up a 2.57 ERA. Pete Smith got the call 11 times and finished with a 2.05 ERA.

Collectively, the starting pitching was more than enough to cover for a mediocre bullpen and Atlanta’s staff ERA was the best in the National League.

The offense wasn’t bad either, ranking third in the NL in runs scored. Terry Pendleton, the third baseman who’d won the MVP in 1991, came back and hit .311, popped 21 home runs and drove in 105 runs. Ron Gant had 80 RBI and stole 32 bases. David Justice, a talented young rightfielder hit 21 home runs. Otis Nixon, the speedy centerfielder, swiped 41 bags.

More than that though, the Braves had depth. Jeff Blauser and Brian Hunter each hit 14 home runs off the bench. Deion Sanders, the two-sport dynamo, played 97 games of baseball, mixed in with his NFL work. Deion finished with a solid on-base percentage of .346, a slugging percentage of .495 and stole 26 bases. Atlanta didn’t have a signature great player on offense, but they had a lot of contributors and a manager, in Bobby Cox, who knew how to get the most from everyone.

Prior to 1994, MLB had only an East and West division in each league and the winners advanced directly to the League Championship Series. The Braves and Reds, in a tortured display of geographic understanding, were in the NL West, along with the Dodgers, Giants, Padres and Astros. Los Angeles had gone to the wire with Atlanta in the 1991 pennant race, while Cincy had won the World Series in 1990.

The expectation of a race with the Reds and Dodgers made losing six of seven to them in April a little more alarming. It was the most notable point of a poor start to the season. The Braves’ record sunk as low as 20-27 in late May. Then they hit the gas pedal.

Atlanta ripped off 21 wins in their next 24 games, including taking eight of ten from Cincinnati and Los Angeles. The Braves closed to within a game of the division lead and again faced the Reds for a three-game series as the All-Star break drew near. Atlanta’s momentum crested, as their reliable pitching was battered for 25 runs in a three-game sweep. But the Braves still crawled back to within two games by the break.

In early August, Atlanta got set for another visit from Cincinnati, one that would prove to be the turning point in the NL West race. The Braves trailed the Tuesday night opener 5-2 in the eighth inning, before rallying with three runs. Pendleton won it in the ninth with a two-out/two-run homer. The offensive momentum rolled right into the next game. Atlanta grabbed three runs in the first and it was all Avery needed, as he delivered a 5-1 win.

The Thursday finale was tied 2-2 in the fifth inning. Second baseman Mark Lemke homered, triggering another three-run outburst. Smoltz made it stand up in a 5-3 win. The sweep of Cincinnati was the high point of an August run where the Braves won 15 of 19 and opened up their first real margin of comfort in this season.

And it never got tighter. Atlanta coasted on home, winning a major-league best 98 games and clinching another NL West title. It got them an NLCS rematch with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Braves took three of the first four games, two of them wins from Smoltz and were in firm command. But the offense went silent—they lost Game 5, came and home and were routed in Game 6 and then looked ready to waste another gem by Smoltz in Game 7, trailing 2-0 in the ninth inning.

All that did was set the table for one of baseball’s memorable rallies. Atlanta, with help of a big error, pushed across one run and had the bases loaded with one out. Appropriately, for this team of depth, two pinch-hitters would get their shot to win it. Hunter popped up. But previously unknown Francisco Cabrera made himself a legend. He singled to left and slow-footed first baseman Sid Bream hustled home with the winning run.

Atlanta met up with Toronto in the World Series. When the Braves grabbed the first game and held a late lead in Game 2, they looked ready to finish the job. But now the unknown pinch-hitter dynamic turned against them. Ed Sprague tied the game with a home run for the Jays. Atlanta lost that game in extra innings and lost two of three on the road. They came home for Game 6 and lost an extra-inning thriller.

Even with two straight World Series heartbreaks, the good times for baseball in Atlanta were still just beginning. This was the beginning of an era where the Braves won their division every year through 2005. They won three more National League pennants. And in 1995, they finally got over the top and won it all.