NL East Race
For the last several Februaries and Marches, baseball pundits have been prognosticating the end of the Atlanta Braves run atop the NL East. Usually by June or July, at the latest, the baseball pundits are proven wrong. Having lived in Philadelphia Phillies Country or Braves Country most of my life, the NL East has always been of interest to me. And despite many published and broadcasted predictions to the contrary by the pundits, I always found it difficult to see the Braves being dethroned. I always felt that until it happened, I couldn't believe it would happen.
Finally, after the departures of Kevin Millwood, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, and Javier Lopez from the Braves, the additions of Jim Thome, Billy Wagner, Kevin Millwood and other free agents to the Phillies, as well as the maturation of a young Florida Marlins team, I relented to the pundits. "OK, " I thought, "this has to be the year." I should have known better. Maybe. As it stands now, the Phillies and Braves are tied for first in the division with the Marlins and the surprising New York Mets not far behind. I think the only thing we can be sure of this year is that it will be a race to the end, most likely between the Phillies and the Braves.
The two teams are opposites in many ways. The Braves have a great managing staff in Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone, both Hall of Famers in my mind. Despite lacking the on-the-field personnel they've had in the past, the Braves will be in the hunt until the end because Cox and Mazzone know how to win. Cox has said that he is as proud of this year's Braves team as any other during their run because they claw for a win every night, and that is because Cox and Mazzone know how to manage and inspire. On the other end of the spectrum we have the Phillies. On paper, this team should have a firm grip on the division, but the team has not been able to sustain a prolonged stretch of good play all year. To a certain extent, injuries are to blame as the Phillies have not had their entire pitching staff and lineup healthy for a majority of the season, but the real problem seems to be management. Larry Bowa has gotten most of the blame. The common theme all season has been uninspired play and an underperforming pitching staff (somehow pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is flying under the blame-radar). Night after night in the summer, television producers direct their crews to focus on Bowa as soon as the Phillies get into any kind of sticky situation. They do this because every night Bowa puts on a display of body language that can be described as frustrated exasperation and this qualifies as entertainment the first couple of times you see it. But one has to think this display is less than inspiring to his team (scroll down to here to see my comments on this effect, posted on Shallow Center).
In the end, if the Braves finish the season on top in the division, it will be by overcoming their deficiencies in terms of talent. If the Phillies finish on top, it will be by overcoming their manager.