The Braves are NL East’s best team – why isn’t that enough?

No big names here. Just two Braves on another winning night. (AP photo)

There are no big names in this photo. Just two Braves on another winning night. (AP photo)

Bill Parcells, who has held several jobs and flirted with many more, famously said that in the NFL “you are what your record says you are.” Which I guess explains it. The Braves don’t play football.

The local baseball club entered play Wednesday night with the National League’s best record and the fattest lead in either circuit. They subsequently ceded the NL’s best record to San Diego, which seized on a rare Billy Wagner clanger to prevail in 12 innings, but still. The Phillies lost, too, and that’s the team many still regard as the class of the East.

ESPN’s “SportsCenter” posed the musical question Wednesday: Are the Braves as good as their record? Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer doesn’t think so. On Monday he described the Braves as “a nice team” but contended that “the Phillies, if they play as they can, have nothing to worry about.” Mr. Ford also characterized Brian McCann and Troy Glaus as “easy outs.” His conclusion: “The Braves are fine, but they aren’t as good as the real Phillies.”

Reality check: The third-place Phillies awoke Wednesday to find themselves seven games behind the “nice” Braves.

True confession: I understand the skepticism — to a degree. I was leery of Frank Wren’s winter moves, and I was all but convinced that Wren had assembled a wreck of a roster when the Braves dropped nine consecutive April games. But times change, and so should perceptions. And what right-thinking folks should be perceiving about now is that the Braves mightn’t look imposing, but they sure do win.

This isn’t a team that has a hot month and has coasted. The Braves were 29-22 when they claimed first place on the last day of May. They’re 26-17 since. Put another way, even after their best stretch ended — they were 20-8 in May — they’ve still won better than six of every 10 games.

And they’ve cleared every hurdle the schedule has raised. Remember the 11-game road trip that commenced just after Memorial Day? Remember how that was supposed to tell us if the Braves were pretenders? They went 6-5. Remember what happened next? They came home and took two of three from Tampa Bay, which arrived tied for first in the American League East. Remember the allegedly difficult East Coast swing before the All-Star break? They won two of three games against both the Phillies and the Mets.

Still there are doubts. Part of that is understandable. The Phillies have become the brand name in the National League, same as the Braves were for more than a decade, and outlets such as ESPN traffic in Brand Names. The Braves long ago lost their sizzle, and they don’t have a Big Name on which to rebuild the Brand Name.

The first person you think about when you think of the Braves is Bobby Cox, who doesn’t play. The second person is Chipper Jones, who plays sometimes but isn’t having a Chipper year. Even Jason Heyward, the buzz of spring training, has cooled. As splendid as they’ve been, Martin Prado and Tim Hudson don’t stir the masses the way A-Rod and CC Sabathia do.

There’s no vast media conspiracy to deny these Braves their due, but it’s nonetheless true that we in the media aren’t great with nuance. We like our stories ready-made. We like superstars and super feats. (”Kobe scores 81!”) The Braves are nothing if not nuanced, and that’s why much of the watching world still expects the Phillies of Ryan Howard and Doc Halladay to rush past them. But that’s not going to happen, for a rather basic reason:

The Braves are the better team.

Said Matt Diaz, the hottest Brave: “I’m not saying that things weren’t good here in other years, but the chemistry on this team is something different … From 1 through 25, this is a team.”

To appreciate these Braves requires a bit of effort. Other than Prado, you won’t find a Brave among the National League’s leaders in any major offensive category. (Unless you count walks, which aren’t terribly exciting.) Only Hudson and Billy Wagner show up among the pitching leaders. But those aren’t the numbers that matter.

The ones that do are found in the standings, and there the Braves are atop the NL East. And that should be enough to satisfy any media outlet.


865 comments Add your comment

RobertNAtl

July 21st, 2010
6:27 pm

St. Clarkston

July 21st, 2010
6:27 pm

You can tell it’s summer. Even Bradleys column is in reruns.

Heath

July 21st, 2010
6:27 pm

They fly under the radar because of no superstars (Heyward ill be in a few years).

nickz

July 21st, 2010
6:29 pm

First…just like the Braves!

Dan-O

July 21st, 2010
6:29 pm

Love it, Mark! You are spot on!

nickz

July 21st, 2010
6:29 pm

Doh…Third…just like the phillies. haha!

Heath

July 21st, 2010
6:30 pm

High Five to St. Clarkston and I for not saying it.

nickz

July 21st, 2010
6:32 pm

Self given high fives are weak…like the Phillies line up….

Heath

July 21st, 2010
6:35 pm

Another high five to myself for not responding…like the Phillies line up…

nickz

July 21st, 2010
6:35 pm

A kudos would have been much more appropriate. For example: “Kudos to nickz for turning a botched “first” into two comments trashing the Phillies!”

amicusterrae

July 21st, 2010
6:36 pm

I don’t know what the team chemistry was like in 1991-1993, but it had to be something like this. You think about the players on those teams and still woinder how they beat the Pirates juggrnaut two years in a row. How they almost won one of the all time greatest World Series in 1991.

This team today is something special.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2010
6:36 pm

RobertNAtl wins a close one. Kudos.

Heath

July 21st, 2010
6:36 pm

Well, Chipper WAS a superstar, but I’m talking about every day players.

nickz

July 21st, 2010
6:36 pm

At least you incorporated a Phillies “burn” …much better

Heath

July 21st, 2010
6:37 pm

Kudos nickz (hey, when you’re right you’re right)

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2010
6:37 pm

It was a little something like this, amicusterrae. (You wouldn’t be a lawyer, would you?)

donny ballgame

July 21st, 2010
6:38 pm

“the Phillies, if they play as they can”

Was Stuart Scott Ford’s English teacher?

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2010
6:38 pm

Kudos to nickz for the Phillies tweaking. (Y’all shamed me into doing it.)

brianb

July 21st, 2010
6:39 pm

Phillies are close to being in the same place Mets teams were during most of the 90’s … 4-5 games back of the Braves near the season’s end and needing to get series sweeps at the end of the year to get back in conntention. The Mets never could pull it off, year after year. The Phils as constituted right now, won’t do it either.

amicusterrae

July 21st, 2010
6:39 pm

As for the Phillies writer, sorry, but that team is in trouble. If you want to talk easy outs, don’t ignore Ryan Howard. Guy cannot hit lefties, period. Werth has regressed. Ibanez looks his age. The rotation behind Halladay is injured and/or ineffective. The bullpen is a shambles. No way it’s a toss up between Wags and Lidge.

Heath

July 21st, 2010
6:40 pm

Wonder where Stuart thinks the Falcons will finish this year?

Dylan

July 21st, 2010
6:42 pm

Any rumors about Hart to the braves? Mr.Mark Bradley

J. Beecher S.

July 21st, 2010
6:43 pm

Besides old man Chipper and the Young Kid Hayward, this is the most relaxed Braves team i can remember watching.

nickz

July 21st, 2010
6:44 pm

There’s no shame in that MB. If “Phillies Tweaking” doesn’t deserve a kudos in this blog…where would it?

I have a feeling the “good” Tommy Hanson is going to show up tonight and set us up to go for the sweep tomorrow. Not bad against the 2nd best team in the NL. SWEEP!!!!

Dan-O

July 21st, 2010
6:44 pm

I love when the Braves call up a guy like Gregor Blanco and he lights it up. Doubles, triples, hustle plays, hands clapping. And he’s just up from the minors! There was a game that Chipper got a hit that he could have easily rounded first and held up, but he kicked it in a gear we hadn’t seen for years from him and slid into second with a hustle double. Almost like he was saying that Prado and Infante aren’t the only ones on this team who can do that! Leading by example, playing an exciting brand of baseball, something that has been missing for a while around here.

I hated to see Escobar go, but he seemed like the only guy on the team who hadn’t bought into the hustle and effort the other Braves exhibit. No doubt he COULD hit and run and field, but he just chose to dog it so often. He needed to go. And while A. Gonzalez may not be the shortstop of the future, he has to fit in well with our team and the cadre of Venezuelans on the Braves. I don’t know who is more in awe of each other, Prado and Infante and Blanco of Gonzalez’ World Series heroics and fine career or Gonzalez of these young guys’ elevated play. Either way, the clubhouse has to be a great place these days.

The only thing I feel missing, and in a way, it has been missing since the mid 90s, and that is the excitement in the crowd at games. All too often, fans make no noise until the “Make some noise” sign flashes around Turner Field. I don’t get it and I hope the crowds become as energized as the play on the field.

I love this team and am as excited about them as the Braves of the ‘91 and ‘92 seasons. I hope they can maintain, but I know they’ll give it their all no matter what.

J. Beecher S.

July 21st, 2010
6:44 pm

…and with Moyer’s elbow acting up, the Phillies’ rotation outside of Halladay is in dire straights.

kurula

July 21st, 2010
6:45 pm

you know who loves this braves team? john kruk. probably because he can appreciate nuance. there’s something satisfying about a former phillie being one of the few that is banging the braves drum. you’d think that more former baseball players would understand what this team has. but i think that it would be hard to recognize if you’d never been a part of it. also, why are so many in the media dumping on the miami heat and they love the yankees? are those not similar situations?

CSpin

July 21st, 2010
6:46 pm

May be a “rerun” per say, but a great column either way, MB.

(Rhyme scheme, ftw!)

GovClintonTyree

July 21st, 2010
6:46 pm

Well put, Mark. The roster isn’t full of stars; of course, Hudson stacks up with about anyone’s 1, but he doesn’t do it with 13K/9IP. It’s just solid from 1-25. I daresay the one place the Braves probably eclipse everyone in MLB is the five on the bench and the seven in the bullpen (and probably 3-5 in the rotation, but you get the point).

I also have one article of faith that I’m holding to – Nate McLouth was an amazing acquisition last year. I, for one, was so excited that we’d fleeced a five-tool CF from the sad-sack Pirates. What’s changed? He hasn’t hit. I don’t have much to go on, but I don’t believe he simply forgot how to hit. I think he will hit, hopefully starting tonight, and if he does, we need no deals and we can take it to the house with this team.

extremus

July 21st, 2010
6:46 pm

I’ll take a TEAM like this year’s Braves over a collection of high-priced, ego-laden superstars any day. The chemistry that the organization has strived for literally since Bobby Cox took over as manager has been as much a key to the Braves’ overall success the past 20 years as the numbers and Hall of Fame careers ever were. It’s an intangible that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard or make good fodder for the nightly media conversations, but that’s exactly why this year’s Braves may well win the World Series; nobody’s any more important than anyone else, and they’re playing with an attitude that any given night, anybody could end up being the hero. No more waiting for the middle of the order to come around and hope something breaks; that’s something no other team I know of has going for them right now.

My old Kentucky home

July 21st, 2010
6:47 pm

Bobby should post Bob Ford’s article in the Braves clubhouse..!! or does that only work in colloege athletics..??

ThePriceisWrongBitch!

July 21st, 2010
6:48 pm

MB

Please tell Cox to keep Blanco up here instead of Nate!

Mikey

July 21st, 2010
6:48 pm

The Braves have the BEST record in baseball over the last 2.5 months, have the largest lead in any division, are unbeatable at home, have won despite losing our #1 starting pitcher, starting CF, starting LF& RF, inconsistant S/S and 3rd baseman and a catcher with eye problems. Our starting rotation with the best bullpen in baseball along with a deep bench is the reason.

GovClintonTyree

July 21st, 2010
6:49 pm

Nate hits, starting tonight. And we’re taking it to the house.

Mikeal

July 21st, 2010
6:49 pm

Might have to do with Atlanta a a whole. Atlanta is a casual sports town. We don’t worship or put our players or teams on some high Pedestal.They can’t seem to wrap their little idiotic minds around the fact Sports in this town is a leisure activity and not a way of life as it is in other parts.

You never hear any Sports Media give Atl fans any credit for anything. Only time we get mention is if that one Wed Night during the whole season we don’t have a huge crowd. While every other night the crowds show up.

amicusterrae

July 21st, 2010
6:52 pm

Yeah, Mark. You guessed it!

extremus

July 21st, 2010
6:52 pm

Again, the 1991 Braves were looked upon in a not too dissimilar way by the media; my brother and I used to joke about Peter Gammons and his seemingly neverending predictions that the Dodgers would overtake them to win the NL West. The Dodgers had more household names and star power, while the Braves had “retreads” like Terry Pendleton and Otis Nixon, and nobody on that team hit over 21 home runs, I believe (I think David Justice was the team leader). But they did win because, like this year’s Braves, it was an entire team effort and more than the sum of its parts.

GT Alum

July 21st, 2010
6:53 pm

MB campaigning for the Braves being recognized as the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2010
6:55 pm

Brooklyn Decker is here. Just sayin

GovClintonTyree

July 21st, 2010
6:56 pm

Extremus, the national media are, by and large, idiots. They don’t do their homework. They look backwards and expect the same things to happen in the future. There are exceptions. Kruk seems reasonably impressed with our little club. Rosenthal noticed things were different. Mostly though, they do their research from others’ opinions from the comfort of their moms’ basements.

Joe T

July 21st, 2010
6:56 pm

I just wanted to fire one final shot about this Escobar trade……..

I think it speaks volumes that a guy as talented as he can just “turn it on” when he wants too………Example being his run so far with the Jays. He has been incredible: 2 Hrs. (Inc. Grand Slam), batting over .400! I mean, he certainly could have put up those type of numbers as a Brave if he would have just taken his job here more seriously! Great move Frank Wren!!

GovClintonTyree

July 21st, 2010
6:57 pm

Oh, well, Mark, the heck with Nate, then. Give us Brooklyn updates every 20 minutes or so. Did she bring Andy?

lanier

July 21st, 2010
6:57 pm

The Mets and Philly’s writers are both crying injuries. I know because I travel there.
They are in the business of selling their columns period
None of these guys care to look deep enough at the missed games by braves players so basically
they are also just playing a game with their frustrated readers

PHILLY SUCKS

July 21st, 2010
6:58 pm

You don’t have to sell the 2010 Bravos to us Mr. Bradley, we know they are good. The quotes from the Philly homer from Pa. sounds like something that DA Kruk from the Worldwide leader in tabloid sports would say. Buncha Philly homers. I basically lump them in with Iggles fans, all losers.

Eat Sheat Philly!

lanier

July 21st, 2010
6:58 pm

pay these morons no mind

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley, Laverne . Laverne said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: Live from the #Braves' game: This team is in first place; why isn't that good enough for many in the media? http://bit.ly/aYEdN6 [...]

GovClintonTyree

July 21st, 2010
7:00 pm

Actually, it’s kind of fun to watch the NY-Bos-Phil axis spin all this garbage about why the Yanks, Mets, Phils and Sox are the teams to watch, then in October when they’re forced to talk about us it’s a fresh story.

kurula

July 21st, 2010
7:04 pm

i would love to hear in october about how atlanta was the worst team to ever win a world series.

amicusterrae

July 21st, 2010
7:04 pm

Did y’all see Brooklyn Decker came in 31 out of 99 on Askmen’s 2010 ranking?
Anyone think that is too high / too low?

GovClintonTyree

July 21st, 2010
7:06 pm

On the low side, amicus. Real low.