I’m starting to wonder if our time spent worrying about the Phillies third base situation could be better spent worrying about the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves went 86-76 in 2009, the seventh-best record in the NL and the third best in the NL East behind the Phils and the Fish.

Their run differential tells a different if less important story. In 2009 the Phillies scored 111 more runs than they allowed. The second-place Marlins scored six more runs than they allowed. The Braves scored 94 more than they allowed.

Do this. Don’t really, cause I already did it. I mean, read what I did and then do it if you think it’s important. Find the average runs scored per game and the average runs allowed per game for each team. For each team, divide each of those numbers by the average number of runs scored and allowed by the teams in their league and combine the two numbers.

For example, the Diamondbacks play in the NL. The average NL team scored 4.43 runs per game and allowed 4.49 runs per game in ’09. The Snakes scored 4.44 and allowed 4.83. 4.44/4.43 is 1.00226 (a tiny bit better than average) and 4.49/4.83 is 1.07572 (worse than the average for the league). Then you combine those numbers by adding .00226 and -.07572 and you get a total for the Diamondbacks that you can compare to all the other teams you’ve done it for. If you do it for all 30 teams and put them in a list it looks like this:

  1. LAD
  2. NYY
  3. PHI
  4. BOS
  5. ATL
  6. LAA
  7. STL
  8. COL
  9. SFG
  10. CHC
  11. MIN
  12. TBR
  13. TEX
  14. FLA
  15. TOR
  16. DET
  17. OAK
  18. CHW
  19. MIL
  20. CIN
  21. ARI
  22. SEA
  23. NYM
  24. CLE
  25. HOU
  26. SDP
  27. PIT
  28. BAL
  29. WSN
  30. KCR

I don’t think there’s much argument that the Dodgers were better than the Yankees in 2009, but they did out run differential them. 169 for LA and 162 for the Yankees. Dodgers put up a Pythagorean record of 99-63 compared to 95-67 for the Yankees.

Anyway, it’s the Braves that are the focus of this post and the point here is that show up in that list higher than I would have expected. A lot higher. They come in ahead of all the teams in the NL except the Phils and Dodgers, including the playoff teams Colorado and St Louis.

After the Dodgers, Phils, Braves, Cardinals and Rockies, there is a huge drop off to the team with the sixth-best run differential in the league. The Rockies had the fifth-best run differential and they scored 89 more runs than they allowed. The Giants were sixth-best and scored 46 more than they allowed.

It hasn’t been so long since the Braves were dominating the NL East. Over the past ten years the Phillies have won it three times, the Mets once and the Braves six times. Four times in those ten seasons a team won the division with a run differential that was worse than or about the same as the 94 for the ’09 Braves — in 2006 the Phillies won it with a run differential of 71, in ’05 the Braves won the NL East with a run differential of 95 and in ’00 and ’01 they the scored 86 and 96 more runs than they allowed while winning the division.

I think the biggest thing to worry about when it comes to the Braves is if they start to get consistent pitching.

Offensively the Braves have been in the top six in the NL in runs scored in each of the past seven seasons. Their pitching, on the other hand, has been all over the place but was very strong in 2009. Here’s a look at their rank among NL teams in runs scored and runs allowed for each of the past six seasons:

Year NL Rank R NL Rank RA
2009 6 4
2008 6 12
2007 3 6
2006 2 11
2005 4 5
2004 T-5 3

Atlanta’s pitching was dramatically better in 2009 than it had been in 2008. After allowing 778 in ’08 they allowed just 641, 137 fewer, in 2009. Only the Giants improved more at preventing runs between ’08 and ’09 in the NL.

So what else do the Braves need to do? Not a lot. It’s a big if, but If they can keep pitching like they did in 2009 they’re just going to need a little more offense. And that’s scary news given that Chipper hit .264 last year and the team got miserable production from both corner outfield positions.

This suggests that the Phillies may consider trading Joe Blanton. That sure seems like a bad idea. It also mentions pitchers John Smoltz and Brandon Lyon and outfielder Brian Giles as players the Phillies might be interested in. I would be thrilled if the Phillies added Brandon Lyon and a lot less thrilled if they added either of the other two.

Lyon declined arbitration from the Tigers and this suggests he may have made around $6 million if he had not. I am going to be very surprised if the Phillies pay Lyon more than $6 million this year.

This says that Lidge and Romero may not be ready for opening day and suggests that bringing back Park is a high priority for the Phils.