For the second straight year, the media line will not be how the Braves ran away with the division — again — but the way that the Phillies lost it. (This is column is by Ben Cook, from Birmingham, who should know better — I don’t want to pick on Cook, whom I like, it’s just that he’s the first one I came across today. I could find others — I’m just saying it’s not “Northern media bias” at work.) This comes after several years of telling us how the Mets didn’t win the division.
Look at the facts. The Braves aren’t just dominating a weak division. I mean, they are dominating a weak division, it’s just that there’s more to it. Their record is just about as good as anyone but the Cards and Yankees; they’re a half-game behind the Dodgers and A’s, tied with the Angels and Red Sox. They aren’t “lucky”, either; their Pythagorean record is a game better than their actual record. They haven’t been lucky injury-wise either. Two guys who never leave the lineup, the two Joneses, have been hobbled by injuries all year, and Chipper missed a lot of time and was a shadow of himself the entire first half. Their best starter in the early months has been out the entire middle part of the season. Furcal and Giles had their usual injury problems, but this time worse than usual. The Braves have a .575 winning percentage, but when relatively healthy are more of a .600-.625 team. They have the best ERA in the league and the fifth-best offense. (The Phillies’ vaunted offense is all of seven one-hundredths of a run per game better than the Braves’ and should fall below them soon.)
And yet, it’s all about the Phillies not living up to expectations. Hey, it’s been nice to have the pressure off these last few weeks, but even if the Phillies had played like they were supposed to, the Braves would still probably be in first or close to first and about to overhaul them. Larry Bowa is an awful manager, I agree, but how is he so awful as to turn another team into a .575 team? Coming into the season, I was given to understand that the Phillies were a 90-win team that would run away with a weak division. Well, the Braves are on pace to win 93, even if you don’t give extra credit for playing better since the break.
(The Cardinals are in a similar boat to the Braves; people are sniping at the Cubs and Astros for not living up to expectations, even though the Cubs are about as good as they should have been, the Astros aren’t really a whole lot worse, especially considering their pitching injuries, and the Cards are on pace to win 107 games. Even if both teams had played their best baseball they’d still be well back and chasing the wildcard. But the Cards haven’t been totally ignored because they’re a good story.)
I guess that with the Braves on pace to win the division for the thirteenth time in fourteen years (with the other season cancelled) that there isn’t much to say. Once again, Bobby Cox has led a team to perform above expectations. And once again he’ll be beaten out for the Manager of the Year award, this time by LaRussa. (Bobby could win 90 games with a team made up of rookies and forty-year-olds — at times that’s basically what he put out there this year — and someone else will win the award.) Leo worked wonders on retreads and injury cases to build the league’s best pitching staff. Ho-hum. The Braves are winning the division again. Bor-ring.
But how about a little credit here, huh guys? You don’t have to say anything interesting, just note that the Braves are winning the division again and doing a good job of it before writing the story of the team that “lost” the division.