Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer still believes the road to the World Series runs through Philadelphia, and maybe it does. A check of the NL East standings, however, reveals that the regal Phillies are six games behind a team that Mr. Ford doesn’t regard as anything special.
The Braves are a nice team, really nice in some ways, but the notion that leapfrogging the Braves would require super-human effort is ridiculous. The Phillies, if they play as they can, have nothing to worry about, either from Atlanta or from their alleged co-rivals, the Mets.
Me, I’m a worrier by nature. Were I six games behind the Bad News Bears with 70 games remaining, I’d be getting antsy. More Ford:
The Braves are nothing like the team that so recently dominated the division. Those Atlanta teams were built on great starting staffs, just enough offense and some decent power production in the launching pads of Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field.
What do the Braves have now? Well, they have a [six]-game lead over the Phillies and they have a great player in second baseman Martin Prado and an ace starter in Tim Hudson. Beyond that, they have as many peaks and valleys as any other team …
Beyond Hudson, Atlanta’s staff includes talented young Jair Jurrjens who is just back from the disabled list and carrying around a 4.75 ERA. Kris Medlen had a good first half of the season, but he has just 15 career starts and how he will hold up is unknown. There is Derek Lowe, who won Sunday to go 10-8, but with another ERA over four runs per game. There is Tommy Hanson , also just above .500 and another ERA over four runs. Perhaps on a given day, with one given game to win, Tim Hudson would be a problem, but there isn’t much separating the starting staff from that of the Phillies.
To be fair, Mr. Ford does credit the Braves as having the better bullpen, though he wonders if, “with one game to save, you’d feel any more comfortable with [Billy] Wagner than with Brad Lidge. By the end of the season, the difference could be minuscule.” (Well, I suppose it could.)
And the Braves’ offense, which has outhit Philly’s .261 to .255 and ranks first in the National League in on-base percentage — the Phillies are 12th — is likewise seen as inconsequential. Writes Mr. Ford:
On offense, the Braves are 12th in the National League in slugging percentage. Among their players with enough at-bats to be eligible for league leadership, only Prado is hitting better than .270. Troy Glaus and Brian McCann, the all-star MVP, have decent power numbers, but they are also easy outs. Chipper Jones, the holdover from the previous era, is battling a hamstring injury and has been inconsistent at the plate.
I am now going to cite a first baseman’s on-base percentage. It is .366. I am now going to cite another first baseman’s on-base percentage. It is .357. The first first baseman is Glaus. The second is Ryan Howard. Easy out, eh?
I could do this back-and-forth all day, but I’ll leave that to you. (Why should I have all the fun?) I will close with Mr. Ford’s closing argument, such as it is:
If the Phils don’t go for it this year, hopefully it won’t be because they think Braves are a magical, uncatchable team. The Braves are fine, but they aren’t as good as the real Phillies, should the real Phillies choose to show themselves this season.
The only NL East team truly capable of keeping the Phils out of the postseason isn’t found in an opposing dugout but in the mirrors of their own clubhouse.