Braves Back in First as They Keep on Truckin'
June 4, 2002
Like the Grateful Dead on a summer tour, the Atlanta Braves keep on truckin' and find themselves in a familiar place: first. Granted, they are only 6 games above .500, but in the NL East, where parity loves company, 88 to 90 wins should be enough for a division title. In the past, it's been easy to predict the reason for the Braves' success, but this year, they don't possess any dominant traits. At some point, you have to give Bobby Cox some credit, especially when you look at what they've been winning with lately.
The offseason trade with the Dodgers has benefited L.A. far more than the Braves so far, with Sheffield struggling with nagging injuries all year while Brian Jordan and Odalis Perez are having their best seasons to date. Injuries to Surhoff, Giles, DeRosa, and the lack of a true first baseman has led Cox to start players like Keith Lockhart, Julio Franco, Darren Bragg, and Jesse Garcia (who?). Yet the Braves are still in first place, and not just because of the pitching. Only Maddux and Glavine have been consistent in the rotation while the young bullpen has done a steady job, anchored by the veteran Smoltz in the closer's role. Millwood has been inconsistent, Marquis has had some arm problems, Albie Lopez has been a disaster, and Moss has been somewhat effective for a young starter. All in all, it's been nothing to write home about but Cox has managed to push the right buttons and may just find himself managing in October once again.
Another manager deserving of some recognition is San Francisco's Dusty Baker. While Joe Torre has been given players like Giambi, Wells, Clemens, Mussina, Cone, El Duque, and Ventura throughout his regime, Baker has had to make due with Barry Bonds and an average supporting cast. The Cubs have had similar teams with Sosa and have accomplished very little. Baker has managed the Giants to 2 division titles and 5 consecutive years of winning baseball, never finishing less than 2nd in those 5 years. The Giants infield has been a constant, but with J.T. Snow manning first base, it hasn't been the most feared lineup in baseball.
Besides Bonds, the outfielders have come and gone and the catcher changes every year. Baker's 2 best offensive threats (Kent and Bonds) admit to disliking each other, but Dusty has made the clubhouse a peaceful one. The pitching staff has remained steady with Nen as the closer and Livan Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, and Kirk Rueter have thrown the bulk of the innings since Shawn Estes' departure. That's not a bad staff, but hardly the likes of Mussina, Clemens, Pettitte, and El Duque. Once again, though, Baker has his team 9 games above .500 and within striking distance of another division title. Any setback from the Diamondbacks' Schilling or Johnson might give Dusty Baker an opportunity to schedule an October matchup with Bobby Cox and company.
- With Roberto Alomar struggling and playing in the NL for the first time in his long career, a wager has been made between a coworker and myself regarding Alomar's year end batting average. I say that he won't hit .290 while my coworker thinks otherwise. Hence the adoption of the Robbie Watch...
ROBBIE WATCH: .261 as of June 4th
- Daryle Ward/ Raul Mondesi conspiracy
Someone at STATS Inc. is taking Ward's stats and giving them to Mondesi because there is no way that Ward, hitting .318 with almost 200 ABs and playing half of his games in Minute Maid Park (old Enron), can only have 2 HRs and 13 runs scored. Meanwhile, Mondesi, playing for a horrible Blue Jays team, is hitting only .210 with just 47 hits in 223 ABs. Despite the abysmal average, Mondesi has managed 11 HRs, 32 RBIs, and 39 runs scored! Someone call the authorities.
- Heavy arm or not, Pedro Martinez has allowed 1 earned run or less in 7 starts this year, second only to the TEN outings by Tom Glavine.
- Step aside, Randy. Schilling is on pace for 365 strikeouts and just 22 walks.