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The 29 Most Important Braves During the Streak: #1, John Smoltz

He gets the top spot on this list because of his tenure, longer than Chipper or any other player. He gets top spot even though Maddux and Glavine have more Cy Young Awards. He gets the top spot because of his unselfishness in going from one of the best starters in the game to one of the best closers in the game and back to one of the best starters in the game. But most of all John Smoltz gets the top spot on this list because he is THE FORCE in the postseason; a 15-4 record and a 2.65 ERA, and he was a reliever for four years.

Think about how much further we may have gotten in the postseason with John Smoltz as a starter from 2001 to 2004. Just think if we could have started Smoltz instead of Ortiz, or Wright, or even Glavine, who couldn't win in '02. It could have been Smoltz matching up with the power of Arizona's Johnson or Schilling in 01. Smoltz's 15 career postseason wins are the most by any player in baseball history, of course these days there are a lot more rounds to the postseason and John has amazingly pitched in the fourth most postseason games. Part of what makes him a force in the postseason is his ability to get the strikeout when he needs it. He's a power pitcher and that usually translates well to short postseason series. In fact, Smoltz has the most strikeouts in postseason history - a whopping 194 in 207 postseason innings pitched. Compare all that with Glavine and Maddux who have been good in the postseason, but not great like Smoltz - evidenced by each of them being one and two with the most losses in postseason history, where as Smoltz doesn't even register in the top-20 in that department.

When people talk about Hall of Fame credentials, Smoltz is certainly one of those who took the Dennis Eckersley route. Eckersley may not have been as good of a starting pitcher as Smoltz was, but his career as a closer lasted longer and was at times more dominant than Smoltz. But Smoltz did something that Eck did not; he went back to being a dominant starting pitcher after being a closer, and still remained a dominant strikeout pitcher. With another solid year in 2007, Smoltz could be on the verge of putting up numbers that no one else ever has: 200+ wins, 150+ saves, and 3000+ strikeouts. Those are first ballot Hall of Fame numbers.

This list is all about the pitchers and the hitters who were the most important players to the Braves during their amazing 15-year run, and while there are a lot of great players on the list and while many of you could argue that others deserve to be up here at the top, the point remains that after Glavine and Maddux have gone on to other teams in other cities, Smoltz is still here. He is still here taking a LOT less than he could probably get on the open market. He could have gotten more three years ago when he signed an extension with the Braves. He could have gotten more five years ago when he was a free agent. Others have left, and have gotten more, but Smoltz has stayed and with him the traditions of the Braves pitching staff and its recent and rich history have remained. There is a reason guys like Chuck James and Kyle Davies and Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann have such respect playing for the Braves. That reason is the John Smoltz.

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