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Surprised about Braves - Anthony Rhoads

I really thought the 2004 season was going to usher in a new era for the Atlanta Braves.

I thought this year, the Braves were going to return to the ?glory days' of 1985 to 1990 when they finished last in the N.L. West four times and next-to-last twice.

This year I thought Braves were going to have a tough season, maybe not as bad as the 54-106 season they had in 1988, but this year was going to be a difficult season for the Braves.

But I have to give them credit. Friday, they clinched their 13th straight division championship with a win over Florida.

Whether or not they will make any noise in the post-season remains to be seen but winning the division title this year was a big accomplishment for the Braves.

This season, they won with guys like Johnny Estrada, J.D. Drew and Julio Franco leading the way.

Estrada was the Braves' only All-Star this year and as of Tuesday, led the team with a .313 batting average.

Drew is enjoying a career year this season and realistically, should have been on the All-Star team. He leads the team in home runs with 31 and is second on the team with a .312 batting average.

Franco, whose career started before a lot of the current guys were born, currently sports a .304 average in 309 at-bats this season.

The Jones boys, Chipper and Andruw, have put up pretty solid power numbers this season but neither guy is lighting it up average-wise. Chipper has 30 home runs and 95 RBIs but has a .248 average. Andruw has 29 home runs and 90 RBIs with a .265 average.

The pitching staff has done a solid job this year.

Jaret Wright and John Thompson lead with 15 wins each while Russ Ortiz had 14 and Mike Hampton has 12.

John Smoltz continues to be solid in relief with 41 saves in 46 chances this season.

The Braves aren't a superstar-laden team and they don't have multiple Cy Young Award winners on their pitching staff this year but they have still managed to win. Hopefully, the regular season success can carry over into playoffs and the Braves can do something they haven't done in nearly 10 years – win the World Series.

Falcons can play defense?: As a long-time Falcons fan, I definitely am glad they're 3-0, which has happened just one other time in team history.

Going into Sunday's game, I was concerned about what would happen if Michael Vick went down to injury.

I was concerned that if Vick got hurt, the Falcons would crumble.

But Sunday kind of eased of those concerns. Vick didn't play all that well Sunday but the Falcons were able hang in there and beat the Cardinals 6-3.

A big reason for the victory was the defense. They played with intensity, made some big hits, recorded six sacks and four fumble recoveries.

I can't remember the last time the Falcons' defense has played this well in back-to-back games.

There have been some good individual defensive players for the Falcons over the years but they haven't really been able to play well and consistently as a unit.

The Falcons are definitely on the right track and they're finding ways to win even when Vick has a sub-par day. By the end of the season, that could mean the difference between staying at home or playing when the post-season rolls around.

Anthony Rhoads is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at arhoads@news-daily.com .