Monday, July 9, 2018

Southern Division – the 10 Greatest

The 1948 Indians were the surprise winners of this division when I played the 40 off years ago, but Hammering Hank Aaron doubled off the great Bob Lemon to give the 1957 Milwaukee Braves a win. Meanwhile the 1975 Cincinnati Reds finally wore down the Big Train to come from behind in the 9th against the 1924 Washington Senators bullpen. (Correction - an earlier version referred to the 1976 Reds as losing one playoff game - that was incorrect - in real life the 1976 Reds are the only team in history to sweep both the NL and the AL in their 1976 World Series run.
  1. Cincinnati Reds, 1975, Are people right to consider the Big Red Machine the best NL team ever? Even our ranking of them as first of 10 teams in our South Division - which follows the old Mason-Dixon line except for taking the Reds in from just north of the Kentucky line and then giving the Rangers to the West to balance the four divisions at 10 teams each. The arguments against are that the average score of 5.2 to 3.6 is strong but hardly dominant, and it then did take them seven games to even pull off the classic World Series against the Red Sox. However, I do rank the Big Red Machine as the greatest NL team in history for the following reasons. Their 108 wins tie the New York Mets, who ironically also barely beat the Red Sox for the title, as the most wins by an NL team in the last 100 years despite having nothing to play for the last couple of months of the season because they clinched the playoffs September 7, 1975, the earliest of any team in history. When you clinch early you rest players to avoid injury, so much as Sparky Anderson did again nine years later with the Detroit Tigers, he took care of business so early that he didn't need to play the stars every day to roll up victory margins. Further, while I weigh a 4-3 World Series win as close, it is a small sample and the fact that the Reds came back the next year to become the only team in history to sweep both there league playoffs and the World Series - as they swept the Yankees to confirm their greatness as the best team of all time both in the NL and in my South region. We did not consider the utterly dominant Red Stockings teams of the 1800s, and you could certainly argue for inclusion of outstanding Reds World Series champions of 1919 and 1940.
  2. Baltimore Orioles, 1970, The Reds as the top NL team ever was an easier call than the Reds as my top South Division team ever, since Jim Palmer's 1970 Orioles matched their 108 wins. There average score of 4.9 to 3.5 is superior with a projected 66% winning percentage that they reached, and the four games to one World Series win looks strong.
  3.  St. Louis Cardinals, 1968, I know the Cardinals won the World Series in seven games in 1967 and lost it in 1968, but they were almost exactly as good, and I want to play with Bob Gibson's card reflecting the 1.12 ERA and 13 complete game shutouts that forced Major League baseball to lower the mound to give batters some chance against him. As much as I would love O. Cepeda's incredible 1967 season, this is the one. Despite the great history of the Cardinals as the second greatest organization behind the Yankees, I believe Gibson gives them a little better chance against the all-time greats than the incredible teams of the late 20th century including the Ozzie Smith 1980s and more recent dominant teams. I would love to play Stan Musial, but I did try to avoid the World War II years which were some of his best because those were against weaker opponents due to so many players were in the war. For me, the 1967-68 Cardinals are not the equals of the 1970 Orioles or 1975-76 Reds in the South Region, but I project them as nudging out last year's Houston Astros for third in the South - though if the Astros can repeat I would move them ahead.
  4. Houston Astros, 2017, J.Altuve finally delivered the Astros a World Series title in 2017, after their one other team that probably was the best in baseball (1998 with the Killer B's and Randy Johnson) was stunned by Kevin Brown and the Padres and the 2005 miracle team ran out of steam when facing the White Sox in the World Series. However, the current 2018 season could be historic because their average score this year of 5.2 to 3.1 would rank as the best projected winning percentage of the last 100 years except for Joe DiMaggio's 1939 Yankees. The betting odds give them only a 27 percent chance of repeating this year mainly because the Yankees and Red Sox have even better overall records, but if the Astros pitching stays anywhere near as dominant and they pull off another title then they would pass Bob Gibson's Cardinals as the third best team in our all-time South Division.  That being said, I still may play the 1998 Astros in Statis-Pro season just because I'm playing the great current players in my 2018 Statis-Pro season and the brief overlap of Randy Johnson with Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio may well have been even more dominant than the current squad despite being bounced by two Kevin Brown starts in the playoffs.
  5. Washington Senators, 1924, How eerily similar the two Washington teams are, as in 1924 Walther Johnson led the league for the 5th time in 13 years - holding the new live ball hitters down with a 23-7 mark and 2.72 ERA to take his second MVP award and bring the city its first title. This occurred just over a decade after won his first MVP at the conclusion of two consecutive innings during which he pitched more than 700 innings in back-to-back seasons with an ERA of less than 1.30 and record of 69-19. This team looks almost identical to the 2016 Washington Nationals team that looked so ready to win it all but takes the title of top Washington DC team ever due to winning the title.
  6. Atlanta Braves, 1995, As most Braves fans will tell you, this did not seem to be the best of the great Braves teams and at 90-54 in a strike-shortened season with an offense well below average (4.5 runs per game compared to 4.9 league-wide, though it was a pitchers' park) we cannot rank them that high among the all-time great Southern Division teams. However, this was the year that Greg Maddux and company finally brought home the World Series title - and by dominating an incredible Indians line-up in a pitching stops hitting year - so this is the team we play.
  7. Washington Nationals, 2016, M.Scherzer seemed the closest thing to Walter Johnson and certainly pitched every bit well enough to give Washington a second title, but because they could not advance to the World Series, they rank behind the Senators.
  8. St. Louis Browns, 1922, G.Sisler's St. Louis American League team, the Browns, had their only great year - a year in which Sisler hit .420 (3rd highest total since 1900) and the team his .313 and Ken Williams become the first 30 home run 30 stolen base player and the only until Willie Mays in 1957. This incredible one-year wonder still lost out to Babe Ruth's Yankees by one game, and would not make the playoffs until years later as the Baltimore Orioles.
  9. Florida Marlins, 1997, Kevin Brown showed how dominant one pitcher can be in the playoffs by taking the 92-70 Florida Marlins all the way to the World Series title. He did this again the next year with the Padres, who pulled a similar incredible playoff upset by stunning Randy Johnson and the Houston Astros before finally losing to one of the three greatest teams in history in the 1998 New York Yankees. However, the team itself ranks next to last of the great South Region teams here because of their .568 winning percentage at a time when the wild card team basically got the same deal as the division winners and therefore did not even need to fight for the divisional title. This fact led to MLB changing the rules to make two Wild Card teams go through a sudden death one game series - though the odds are Brown would have won that match-up against anyone.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays, 2008, C.Pena and the Rays won the AL East over the high salaries Yankees and Red Sox and then all the way to the World Series, a great overachievement.

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