Braves' consistency must be admired
Drafting, development has kept club competitive for two decades
During the Atlanta Braves' record run of 14 consecutive division championships, the detractors would moan that for all the regular-season success the Braves had, they advanced to the World Series only five times and only won one World Series championship.
Over time, however, their consistency of success will earn a better appreciation.
The Braves dominated during an era of parity.
Think about it.
Philadelphia ran off five National League East titles in a row (2007-11), but stumbled to a .500 finish last year. The Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim won three American League West titles in a row (2007-09), but 24 of the past 36 division champions were unable to repeat.
The Braves actually had a very basic formula for success -- a constant flow of young talent that kept them from having to constantly overpay on the free agent market. From 1988 (three years before the first division title) until 2000, the Braves had at least one player receive NL Rookie of the Year Award votes, including winners David Justice in '90 and Rafael Furcal in 2000.
The Braves have not won a division title in the past seven seasons -- although they claimed NL Wild Card berths in 2010 and '12 -- but they are on top of the NL East again this year.
It is worth nothing that the Braves only had two players receive support in the Rookie of the Year voting from 2001-'06, but had at least one player receive votes the next five years, capped off by Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman finishing 1-2 in the voting in '11.
By contrast, the Angels, in trying to get back to the top in the AL West, went looking for quick fixes, making major free-agent expenditures that included signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract just before his 32nd birthday. In his first 219 games with the Angles, Pujols has hit .276 with 41 home runs and 145 RBIs -- solid but not the spectacular level of his prime in St. Louis.
And there were strong indications that Pujols had peaked before becoming a free agent. His batting average and on-base percentage both declined in each of his final three seasons with the Cardinals. While he did finish fifth in NL MVP Award voting in his final season with St. Louis, his 99 RBIs and .299 average in 2011 were the lowest of his career.
Catcher Mike Zunino of Seattle became the first position player and sixth player overall from last year's Draft to appear in the big leagues when he debuted on Wednesday. Zunino, whose father, Greg, is a scout with Cincinnati, was the third player drafted a year ago.
Lefty Paco Rodriguez, the 82nd player selected last year, has settled into a left-handed reliever role for the Dodgers, compiling a 3.42 ERA in 32 games this season. Lefty Alex Wood, the 85th player taken overall, has been in six games so far for Atlanta with a 3.52 ERA out of the bullpen.
The Angels brought lefty Michael Roth, the 297th player taken a year ago, up in mid-April, but after nine appearances, one start, and a 9.00 ERA, he was sent to Double-A Tulsa.
Starting pitchers Kevin Gausman of Baltimore, the fourth pick last year, and Michael Wacha of St. Louis, the 19th pick, were both sent back to the Minors this week. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Gausman was sent out only because the Orioles bullpen needed an arm. Wacha was sent out after making two quality starts in three starts to make room for Jake Westbrook to come off the disabled list.
Who will Oswalt replace?
Roy Oswalt finished up his five-start audition with Colorado's Double-A Tulsa affiliate on Friday night, working 8 1/3 shutout innings, leaving him with a 3-2 record and 2.18 ERA. He's expected to join the Rockies in Toronto next week. Where does he fit in the rotation?
The public debate has centered on Juan Nicasio and Jeff Francis, both of whom have topped out at six innings in their starts. The best way to strengthen the staff could be to move Nicasio into a relief role to make room for Oswalt, which would improve both the rotation and the bullpen. Nicasio has been overpowering early in his starts, but the second and third times through the batting order have been a challenge.
In Friday's start against Philadelphia, when the Rockies saw a 7-2 lead turned into an 8-7 loss, the first 13 Phillies to face Nicasio were 1-for-11 with a walk and hit batter. The next 14, however, went 6-for-13 with a walk and scored five runs. Nicasio has a chance to be dominant in that so-called hybrid reliever role the Rockies have created for middle innings.
While Oswalt replacing Francis could upgrade the rotation, it would not allow the Rockies to provide another strong bullpen arm.
• Is age catching up with Philadelphia? While Michael Young and injured starter Roy Halladay are the elder statesmen at 36, the Phillies have 14 30-somethings among the 30 players on their active roster and the disabled list. The Phillies do have some wiggle room coming after this season. They have four potential free agents who are making a combined $56 million this year -- Halladay ($20 million), Young ($16 million), Chase Utley ($15 million) and Carlos Ruiz ($5 million).
• Arizona right-hander Ian Kennedy, suspended 10 games for his part in the D-backs-Dodgers fracas on Tuesday, has hit 41 batters since 2010, tied with A.J. Burnett of Pittsburgh for the second-most in the big leagues during that time, two behind Justin Masterson of Cleveland.
• Cincinnati center fielder Shin-Soo Choo went into Saturday having been hit by a pitch 18 times, tops in the Majors, and more times than the totals for nine teams. The Reds, however, were second in players being hit by a pitch at 36, three behind Pittsburgh. Starling Marte of the Bucs ranked second to Choo with 14.
• Kansas City struggled in May, but the Royals are seeing results from their offseason focus on adding veteran arms to the pitching staff. The Royals went into Saturday leading the AL with a 3.38 ERA. The franchise record is 3.21, set in 1976 -- the first season in a 10-year stretch in which the Royals advanced to the postseason seven times. The most recent time the team had an ERA below 3.50 was the 3.49 mark it posted in '85, the year they won the world championship in the final year of their decade of success.
Out-of-left-field factoid of the week
When Florida and the New York Mets played 20 innings on June 8, and 10 innings the next day, they joined the 1967 Red Sox-Yankees (20 and 11 innings), '72 Brewers-Twins (22 and 15 innings), '82 Angels-Mariners (20 and10 innings) and '89 Astros-Dodgers (22 and 13 innings) as the only pairs of opponents to follow a game of at least 20 innings with another extra-inning affair, according to the Elias News Bureau.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.