12 IN A ROW
Well, it’s official: The Atlanta Braves have won their 12th straight division title, a streak unprecedented in team sports.
Virtually everyone, including the venerable Baseball Prospectus, had predicted the streak would end this year after a series of apparently idiotic offseason moves in which Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood were let go to be replaced by the past-their prime Mike Hampton and Shane Reynolds. An offense that was pathetic last year was kept intact save for the signing of utility man Robert Fick from the hapless Detroit Tigers. I certainly thought the run was over.
“It’s amazing, winning our division 12 years in a row,” catcher Javy Lopez said. “It’s too bad people don’t realize how tough it is to win your division, even though we’ve only won one World Series.
“Winning our division, trying to beat four other teams over 162 games, is a lot tougher than winning four out of seven games in a World Series. A lot of people don’t realize that. But I don’t blame them, because everybody wants to win the World Series.”
Chipper Jones has finished first at the end of every season he’s played baseball, from Little League through high school, the minors and nine full seasons with Atlanta.
But he said this title is special, because Atlanta, for once, wasn’t carried by pitching.
“This team has definitely done it differently than [Atlanta] teams in the past,” said Jones, part of the first-ever Braves quartet of 100-RBI men. “It’s a little sweeter for the every-day player, because we’ve carried the load most of the season.”
Andruw Jones said these Braves relished proving people wrong.
“Twelve in a row,” he said. “In spring training, everybody was saying this may be the year the Atlanta Braves [lose]. That was fine with us. We had discussions about how people were going to doubt us because of the [personnel] transitions.
AJC columnist Mark Bradley notes that baseball fans should marvel at this accomplishment and not get distracted by the fact that the Braves have won only a single World Series title during this stretch.
The World Series began 100 years ago as a collision of two league champions. It is now the last stage of an eight-team tournament that includes three tiers of games. Neither team that graced the 2002 World Series was a division winner. The 1997 Marlins won the World Series without finishing first. The 2000 Mets reached the World Series without finishing first. These were all World Series teams, yes, but were they really champions?
Over the last decade, baseball people have come to characterize the postseason as a crapshoot. This was partially given lie by the success of the Yankees — if it’s really a crapshoot, why did the same team keep winning? — but the Yankees haven’t won the last two World Series. They were upset by Arizona, a team with two great pitchers and not much else, and by Anaheim, which didn’t have enough starting pitching to win the AL West. Did that render all the games won by the Yankees over those two six-month seasons so many empty vessels?
The clever book “Moneyball” chronicles the machinations of the purported genius Billy Beane. The Oakland GM, we are informed, frets over everything and can’t bring himself to watch his team during the regular season. (He roams the stadium, haunts the workout room, goes for drives.) But author Michael Lewis noted a difference during the 2002 postseason. “When I asked him why he seemed so detached. . . he said: ‘My [stuff] doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is luck.’ “
The current Baseball Prospectus Triple Play does a statistical analysis and finds the Braves stack up quite well, too.
Cross-posted at SportsBlog