2. The 1997 Braves, (101-61)
According to baseball writer and statistician Bill James, this 1997 Atlanta Braves pitching staff is ranked the greatest in baseball history.
The entire staff, even beyond the dominant starting rotation, had an ERA 32% lower than league average. This staff led the league in wins (101), shutouts (17), ERA (3.18), runs allowed (581), home runs allowed (111), and issued the fewest walks (450).
Only one member of the starting rotation had an ERA over 3.00 (John Smoltz, 3.02), but Smoltz did lead the team in innings pitched with 256.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Denny Neagle rounded out the rest of the starters, posting ERAs of 2.20, 2.96, and 2.97. This shaped up to be one of the most commanding and well-rounded starting rotations the modern-day league had ever seen.
Shifting our focus to the batting lineup, Braves then GM, John Schuerholz, pulled off an interesting trade in the offseason prior that sent OFs David Justice and Marquis Grissom to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for OF Kenny Lofton and RP Alan Embree.
The Braves seemed to get the short end of the deal immediately, as David Justice had a career year for the Indians (and helped them get to the World Series). However, Schuerholz had something craftier up his sleeve.
Lofton was entering his FA year and Embree was a solid bullpen arm that had an excellent year for the Braves in ’97 (2.54 ERA, 1.22 WHIP).
The Braves had the flexibility to let Lofton walk after his excellent one-year tenure in Atlanta because Schuerholz had someone waiting for his shot at a starting job in the bigs, 20-year-old Andruw Jones.
In the decade to come, Jones quickly proved to be the long-term replacement the Braves needed for Justice, all while adding an accomplished bullpen arm in Embree, landing an All-Star season from Lofton, and establishing the financial flexibility to add another big bat the upcoming offseason.
That year Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff, Javy Lopez, and Lofton led a lineup that ranked third in BA and runs scored, and second in home runs and SLG%.
The club boasted seven all-stars, and was home to four Hall of Famers (Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) and one with a strong case to be inducted in the coming years (Andruw Jones).
But as the pattern of the 90s persists, the ’97 Braves came up short during the NLCS, where they fell to the Florida Marlins (3-2)… yes, thanks to the “Eric Gregg game”.