Last season, the Nationals barged to 98 wins and the National League East title, and they did so with the youngest pitching staff in the NL and second-youngest lineup. In other words, they were very good, and they were poised to continue being very good. They would surely prevail again in 2013.
Bulletin: That did not happen. Instead, the Braves, who quietly won 94 games a season ago, seized the division lead on April 7 and did nothing but methodically build that lead over the weeks and months to come. On Friday in Chicago, they clinched at least a tie for the title with 10 games still to play. In other words, the Braves, contrary to what most of us predicted headed into the season, are going to win the NL East.
So dominant were the Braves relative to their NL East peers that the division has in essence been theirs since late July. While much attention seems to be focused on the disappointments of the Nats, the zero-sum flipside of that is the improbable success of the Braves, who simply ignored the press clippings and instead busied themselves by playing great baseball for six months.
Of course, the Braves didn't just "merely" surmount the heavily favored Nats; they did so despite an unfortunate run of injuries -- a run that would've crippled an organization with lesser depth.
To wit ...
•Catcher and cornerstone Brian McCann didn't make his 2013 debut until May 6 after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
•Lefty reliever Jonny Venters never threw a pitch and underwent Tommy John surgery in May.
•Fellow lefty reliever Eric O'Flaherty worked just 18 innings before also undergoing Tommy John surgery in May.
•Veteran rotation stalwart Tim Hudson saw his season end in late July thanks to a broken ankle.
•Brandon Beachy, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June of 2012, returned to make just five starts before going back on the DL with elbow inflammation.
•Paul Maholm spent a month on the DL with a wrist sprain and was later hampered by elbow discomfort.
•The Braves lost reliever Jordan Walden for more than two weeks because of a shoulder strain.
•Dan Uggla hit the DL in order to undergo corrective eye surgery.
•All-Star Freddie Freeman spent time on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
•Super-sub Evan Gattis missed almost a month with the same injury.
•Jason Heyward, who just returned to the lineup on Friday, missed roughly a month because of a broken jaw.
Believe it or not, we could go on. But the above laundry-list of misfortunes should give a sound idea of exactly what manager Fredi Gonzalez and his Braves have dealt with this season. It was assumed that the Braves, even at full strength, would lag the Nats in the standings. Throw in all those injuries, and surely they'd have no hope.
Except, as it turns out, it was the Nationals who had no hope.