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Braves' chilling thought: Being left in October cold

Perhaps this is how Atlanta will avoid another disturbing post-season fall. By not showing up.

For the first time since 1994, last week the Braves found themselves loitering outside first place in August. Worse yet, they are having trouble staying on top of the wild-card race.

An 8-11 slide cost Atlanta 5{ games in the standings as the Mets rushed past in recent days.

"It's frustrating to watch," rightfielder Brian Jordan said. "It's frustrating to play behind."

A team that has become accustomed to the playoffs _ the Braves have won seven straight division titles _ has some serious questions to answer in the season's final 50 games.

Four key players _ Andres Galarraga, Javy Lopez, Odalis Perez and Kerry Ligtenberg _ are out for the season. John Smoltz is nursing a sore elbow. Otis Nixon has been a bust in his return to Atlanta. And Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are having off years.

Braves fans had expectations of acquiring a bat to fill the void left by Galarraga and Lopez, but the non-waiver trading deadline passed last weekend with barely a ripple in Atlanta.

In the past, the Braves have acquired players such as Fred McGriff and Denny Neagle to fit a need at midseason. This year, they got Terry Mulholland and Jose Hernandez. That didn't exactly send shivers down the spine of the Mets.

Unhappy about falling short in the post-season six of the past seven years, the Braves thought they had addressed their biggest concerns. Bret Boone and Jordan added right-handed pop. Nixon was supposed to add speed.

But Boone's average has dipped after a strong start and Nixon never got on track. The always-reliable power in the middle of the lineup took a hit when Galarraga was diagnosed with cancer in the spring and Lopez injured his knee at midseason.

It's not like the Braves have no hope for the post-season. They're still formidable and the Mets can't keep up their pace. But for a change, the thought of October baseball in Atlanta no longer is a promise.

MISS YA: The Giants and Yankees both gave up on Chris Singleton, but they shouldn't feel too badly. Not even the White Sox knew what they had when they brought Singleton to spring training this season. Obtained from the Yankees in December for a minor-league pitcher since released, the White Sox were hoping Singleton would be useful as a defensive replacement in centerfield. A half-season later, he leads all AL rookies in batting average and slugging percentage. "That's pretty impressive when you realize he was only our sixth outfielder going into the season," manager Jerry Manuel said.

HELP WANTED RIGHT NOW: Phillies ace Curt Schilling said in May he was willing to remain in Philadelphia if management would bring in help if the team were contending in July. When the trading deadline passed with no help arriving, Schilling did not back off his earlier statement. "I'm incredibly disappointed," he said.

INSPIRATIONAL READING: Detroit slugger Tony Clark says a book given to him by his wife helped him break out of a monthslong power slump. Clark read a volume from the Left Behind series, a modern dramatization of the Bible's Book of Revelation, during a plane flight at the All-Star break. Clark said the book helped him develop a better sense of peace and perspective on baseball. At the break, Clark had eight home runs. He hit 10 in the next three weeks.

WHAT'S YOUR POINT?: Rockies reliever Mike DeJean, who has an ERA approaching 7.00, has spotted a trend. "No one interviews me unless I get my brains beat in," DeJean said. "That means I get interviewed, what, 45 times this year?"

FIGHT MANAGERS: The Giants and Diamondbacks got in a brawl this season and the hostilities have not gone away. Arizona manager Buck Showalter complained that the Giants always seem to be whining about how they win despite injuries. Giants manager Dusty Baker, naturally, was not amused. "If you've got something to say to me, you say it to me," he said. "If they ain't got the guts to say it to me, then the best thing is to stay quiet. You could tell him to run over here and tell me. I'll be here for a while." Instead of coming over, Showalter called the next day to clear the air.

HAYNES BRIEF: Some of Jimmy Haynes' teammates in Oakland have begun to turn on him. It's not just that Haynes has pitched poorly, but that he has the potential to do so much better. "He should be unhittable. He could very easily be our ace. He could very easily win 15 games," Jason Giambi said. "You can't motivate him or talk to him. The day Jimmy Haynes decides he'll be unhittable, that's the day it'll happen."

THE LAST WORD: "If we had stuck together as a group, we'd be holding a retirement party for 60-something umpires at a Holiday Inn that we'd have to pay for ourselves." Umpire Rocky Roe, defending his decision to withdraw his resignation.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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