Jul 8, 2011

Phillies vs. Braves or How Pivotal are Midseason Series?

It may seem strange that I'm not leading off a post with a Phillies card for a post about the Phillies considering my blogging history. However, this is the only 2001 Heritage card I have ever had, so it gets top billing for this subject.

In 2001, the Braves were the kings of the NL East, having won every division title since the new alignment began in earnest for the 1995 season. The Phillies were struggling upstarts coming off yet another last place season. The Braves pitching staff was anchored by the outside corner painting trinity of Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz, while the Phillies pitching staff was anchored by Omar Daal and Robert Person. It seemed that there would be no contest as in past years. But the Phillies, under the fiery leadership of Larry Bowa, the emergence of Jimmy Rollins, and the lineup anchoring by Bobby Abreu and Scott Rolen gave the Braves a run for their money with their young (only one position player over 30) core. They eventually finished two games out, giving hope for future years.

Ten years on, the Braves are the upstart in the division, with the Phillies having won the last four divisional titles. This time the old-guard aces of the defending champs have names like Halladay, Hamels, and Lee. And this time, the Braves have a young core of Freeman, Heyward, McCann, Kimbrel, Hanson, and Jurrjens.

These are clearly the two best teams in the NL up to this juncture of the year. The Phillies have set a blistering pace in the first half of the season, but the Braves have been the most resilient, creating an MLB best record since June 1 and also engendering a league-best road record.

The season series is currently in the favor of the Braves 5-4 and the teams are only separated by 2.5 games in the NL East. They have, by a large margin, the two best pitching staffs in the NL, allowing 3.27 R/G for the Phillies and 3.30 R/G for the Braves. Their offenses also hover around the league average of 4.11 R/G with the Phillies one slot above this number (4.16) and the Braves two slots below (4.02).

In league history, has dominance of your closest rival been a springboard to titletown? Let's examine the last three years in the NL.

(listed as 1st place/2nd place/1st place wins-2nd place wins)

2010 NL East: Phillies/Braves/10-8
2010 NL Central: Reds/Cardinals/6-12
2010 NL West: Giants/Padres/6-12

2009 NL East:Phillies/Marlins/9-9
2009 NL Central: Cardinals/Cubs/10-6
2009 NL West: Dodgers/Rockies/14-4

2008 NL East: Phillies/Mets/7-11
2008 NL Central: Cubs/Brewers/9-7
2008 NL West: Dodgers/Diamondbacks/10-8

So, based on this extremely limited sample, one doesn't always have to be better than the nearest competition in head-to-head matchups. It would definitely improve your situation if you do, but the key to success during a baseball season seems simple. Get your wins wherever you can and don't take any team for granted and don't get ramped up and burnt out from another matchup because they all count the same in the standings. Human nature doesn't always let us shield us from that. It will make for an exciting and tense series in July in any case.

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