Our view of the season would be very different if it had played out exactly in reverse to reality. James rewinds the year, and shows us how.
The length of the baseball season can easily obscure some important trends that are developing. Teams like the A's get noticed because their rise from the depths has been so dramatic that it breaks free of the mass of information built before its arrival. But there are may other trends that can easily escape our eyes because so much of the season has already passed.
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The Braves pulled out a squeaker in a matchup of a veteran starter and a young pitcher making his second major-league start.
CF Willy Taveras
2B Eric Bruntlett
3B Morgan Ensberg
LF Mike Lamb
1B Jose Vizcaino
RF Jason Lane
SS Adam Everett
C Raul Chavez
P Ezequiel Astacio
If I gave you no other information, what would you deduce from
Enough debate. Let's just go ahead and put Leo Mazzone in the Hall of Fame. Coaches of all sorts are criminally unrepresented in Cooperstown, so Mazzone's decade of instruction in Atlanta is as good a start as any. While Mazzone may only be teaching what he learned from his coach, Johnny Sain, I don't think Sain would mind. Each year, the question is asked how the Braves will overcome the loss of this pitcher or that pitcher. We look at a bunch of no-names and retreads in the bullpen and through his alchemical abilities, Mazzone and manager Bobby Cox end up in the playoffs again. This year, let's not debate--Leo Mazzone is the best pitching coach inside the game, bar none.
What will Mazzone work with this year? Once again, he's asked to overcome the loss of talent as Greg Maddux has moved on. Only John Smoltz is left from the core of the Braves dynasty. Instead of Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Smoltz terrorizing hitters, the Braves will send out Hampton, Ortiz, and...Jaret Wright?
That kvetching aside, the NLCS should be a great matchup. Not surprisingly
for one of the nation's grayest of retiree nirvanas, the Arizona
Diamondbacks feature all sorts of people with past histories, and among this
group, that involves plenty of postseason fun. Luis Gonzalez, Jay
Bell, Mark Grace, and Matt Williams have all enjoyed the
privilege of losing to the Braves in a postseason series, while Curt
Schilling and Steve Finley are among the happy non-Yankee few who
can remember beating them. When you assemble a team out of the famous and
the ex-famous, those kinds of campfire stories are a fringe benefit.
However, the Snakes come in after a full-length series against the Cardinals
with only a day's rest, which means that the Braves will have the strategic
advantage of opening the series with their rotation and bullpen fully set up
So who's the underdog? With the Astros' pitching staff in tatters and the
Braves' lineup deeply sunk in senescence, does the label even matter? Both
teams have fought doggedly to get here, and the backstory of each is
compelling in its own way. Limping down the stretch, the Astros fended off a
desperate challenge from the Cardinals, while the Braves came from behind to
overtake the Phillies' and their big early-season lead. Sadly, somebody's
going to have to lose this series, which means that either the Braves or the
Astros will continue to be labeled postseason losers despite the
accomplishment of getting there.