COMMENTARY | Call the Atlanta Braves the Rodney Dangerfield of major league baseball, because they simply have not gotten any respect. Despite having the largest lead of any first place team in baseball, the Braves were wildly snubbed at the polls for the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. Craig Kimbrel was selected as Atlanta's one and only representative this year. Given the lack of Braves' talent deemed worthy enough to be called the best of the best, what exactly does this say about Atlanta's chances to contend for a World Series title come October?
Justin Upton held one of the three starting NL outfield spots in every All-Star update released, but his continued struggles left him unable from conceding his place on the roster to the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper. After the fans did not vote Upton in, he was also left off the roster by the NL players and coaches. This means the first place Braves will have fewer players representing their team than the fourth place New York Mets.
Over the past five seasons, the two teams who would go on to meet in the World Series have averaged 3.3 All-Stars per year -- I assume the diminutive Dustin Pedroia's selection in 2008 is what accounts for that extra 0.3 worth of All-Star.
Having only one player invited to the big stage does not automatically disqualify a team from World Series contention. Although it is very rare for the eventual trophy hoister to send so few players to the Mid-Summer Classic, it is not unprecedented. To find the most recent instance, we barely have to leave the last decade. In 2002, only Garrett Anderson made the All-Star trip to Milwaukee for the Anaheim Angels. However, the halos did still somehow manage to nab the World Series crown in seven games against the Barry Bonds-led San Francisco Giants.
Baseball is a game for statistics, and every pundit likes to inform fans of every oddity and strange occurrence, but in actuality, nothing in baseball is definitive. Those who also point to the fact that the Braves can't win a World Series title while leading the National League in home runs needs only to look at the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies to have that myth debunked. They said 1997 was a fluke and that teams couldn't regularly win it all as a wildcard, then the Angels, Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox capped the feat three consecutive years (2002-2004) while being the last team invited to the postseason party. Trends are only trend until they aren't any more.
The hard fast truths are never what they seem, and just because the Braves were largely shutout of the All-Star festivities this season does not mean they are suddenly going to pack in their No. 2 ranked pitching staff, or give back any of their five-game lead in the NL East. If anything, the lack of All-Stars could be looked at as a positive thing in what has largely become the high school popularity contest of pro sports.
Baseball is not like the NBA where one star can carry a team to a title. The fact that the Braves have been able to build such a dominant lead in the division while only having one All-Star smacks of a well-rounded club on which a different guy steps into the hero's role every night. Opposing teams can pitch around one player, but, on a team where anyone in the lineup can be the most dangerous on any given day, a true ensemble cast seems like the tougher opponent to face.
Through the first 86 games, three of the Braves' five starting pitchers have a 3.23 ERA or better. On the offensive side, Atlanta has four different batters with double-digit home runs. Although it is very fair to argue that Freddie Freeman was a serious All-Star snub this season, the Braves are winning by having a lot of people contributing instead of relying on one star to win every day.
No matter what fans might think regarding the lack of Braves in the All-Star game, Atlanta is a contender and will continue to be all season long. As has been proven again and again, it isn't always the best team or the most talented player that ends up popping the champagne cork in October, it is the team who is able to get hot at the right time. Just get into the playoffs and the difference between a championship and an early exit becomes a duck-snort here or a borderline punch-out call there.
Let's face it; come October, no one remembers how many All-Stars teams had anyway. If other players want to be great in April and May, that is fine. I'll settle for the Braves' players being great in September and October.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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