After edging out the second-place Philadelphia Phillies by just two games the previous year by compiling a somewhat disappointing record of 88-74, the Atlanta Braves resumed their dominance of the N.L. East in 2002. The Braves captured their eighth straight division title by posting 101 wins, en route to finishing 19 games in front of the runner-up Montreal Expos. Although the Expos finished well out of contention, their lineup featured one of the senior circuit’s finest all-around players in Vladimir Guerrero. The right-fielder hit 39 home runs, drove in 111 runs, scored 106 others, batted .336, stole 40 bases, and led the league with 206 hits and 364 total bases. Guerrero’s outstanding performance earned him a top-five finish in the N.L. MVP voting.
Even though the Braves had no one of Guerrero’s ilk on offense, their exceptional pitching enabled them to establish themselves over the course of the regular season as arguably the team to beat heading into the playoffs. Featuring a starting rotation that included three of the league’s top pitchers, Atlanta finished well ahead of every other team in the circuit with a team ERA of 3.13. Tom Glavine compiled a record of 18-11 with a 2.96 ERA. Kevin Millwood tied Glavine for the team lead with 18 wins, posted an earned run average of 3.24, and led the staff with 178 strikeouts. Greg Maddux finished 16-6 and placed among the league leaders with a 2.62 ERA. Meanwhile, after missing most of the previous two seasons with elbow problems, John Smoltz assumed the role of closer, doing a superb job by leading the league with 55 saves.
Rafael Furcal, Gary Sheffield, and Andruw and Chipper Jones paced the Braves on offense. Furcal scored 95 runs and stole 27 bases. Sheffield hit 25 homers, drove in 84 runs, and batted .307. Andruw went deep 35 times, knocked in 94 runs, and scored 91 others. Chipper hit 26 home runs and led the team with 100 runs batted in and a .327 batting average.
The St. Louis Cardinals overcame a considerable amount of adversity to claim their second Central Division title in three years. On June 22, just four days after legendary Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck passed away, pitcher Darryl Kile died unexpectedly from a heart condition in his Chicago hotel room.
Undeterred by these sobering events, the Cardinals concluded the campaign with a record of 97-65 that left them 13 games ahead of the second-place Houston Astros in the division. Matt Morris evolved into the Cardinals’ best pitcher in Kile’s absence, finishing 17-9 with a 3.42 ERA. Replacing the retired Mark McGwire as the team's starting first baseman, veteran Tino Martinez contributed 21 home runs and 75 runs batted in to the offense. Edgar Renteria drove in 83 runs, batted .305, and stole 22 bases. Jim Edmonds hit 28 home runs, knocked in 83 runs, scored 96 others, and batted .311. Albert Pujols earned a second-place finish in the N.L. MVP balloting by hitting 34 home runs, knocking in 127 runs, scoring 118 others, and batting .314.
Also posting impressive numbers were Houston’s Lance Berkman and Chicago’s Sammy Sosa. Berkman led the Astros to a very respectable second-place finish by scoring 106 runs, batting .292, placing among the league leaders with 42 home runs, and topping the circuit with 128 runs batted in. Although Sosa’s Cubs didn’t fare nearly as well, finishing fifth in the division, 30 games behind first-place St. Louis, Sosa had another big year, driving in 108 runs, batting .288, and leading the league with 49 homers and 122 runs scored.
The Western Division featured the league's most competitive race, with just six games separating the top three teams in the final standings. The defending world-champion Arizona Diamondbacks edged out San Francisco for the top spot, finishing 2 ½ games ahead of the Giants with a record of 98-64. The Giants’ 95 victories earned them a playoff berth as the league’s wild-card representative. The Los Angeles Dodgers came up empty-handed even though they won 92 games.
The Dodgers might well have advanced to the postseason had they received a bit more in the way of offense. Dodger hurlers did their fair share, combining to finish third in the league with a 3.69 team ERA. However, Los Angeles finished just seventh in the circuit in runs scored (713) and placed 11th in the league in home runs (155). Shawn Green served as the team’s only true threat on offense, finishing the season with 42 home runs, 114 runs batted in, 110 runs scored, and a .285 batting average.
Meanwhile, the tandem of Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds once again shouldered the offensive burden for the runner-up Giants. Kent hit 37 homers, drove in 108 runs, scored 102 others, and batted .313. Bonds won his second straight MVP trophy by hitting 46 home runs, knocking in 110 runs, scoring 117 others, and leading the league with a .370 batting average, 198 walks, a .582 on-base percentage, and a .799 slugging average. His 198 walks and .582 on-base percentage both established new single-season major-league records.
In spite of Bonds’ incredible performance, the Diamondbacks captured the division title due to their superior team balance. Arizona led the league with 819 runs scored, and their pitching staff featured the circuit’s top two hurlers. Luis Gonzalez again led the Diamondbacks on offense, hitting 28 home runs, knocking in 103 runs, scoring 90 others, and batting .288. Steve Finley added 25 homers and 89 runs batted in. Second baseman Junior Spivey led the club with a .301 batting average and 103 runs scored, while shortstop Tony Womack scored 90 times and stole 29 bases.
The heart and soul of the team remained Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. Schilling compiled a 3.23 ERA and finished second in the league to Johnson with a 23-7 record, 316 strikeouts, and 259 innings pitched. Johnson earned his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award by leading all N.L. hurlers with a 24-5 record, a 2.32 ERA, 334 strikeouts, 260 innings pitched, and eight complete games.
However, Schilling and Johnson found themselves unable to shut down the St. Louis Cardinals, who swept Arizona in the opening round of the playoffs in three straight games. The Cardinals stunned the Diamondbacks by outscoring them by a combined margin of 20-6 in the three contests.
Meanwhile, San Francisco disposed of Atlanta in five games in the other Division Series matchup, battering Tom Glavine for 13 earned runs in his two starts. Russ Ortiz posted two of San Francisco’s victories, with Giants pitchers allowing just 16 runs over the course of the five games. Barry Bonds, Rich Aurilia, and Benito Santiago drove in a combined 17 runs for San Francisco, with Bonds exorcising his playoff demons by hitting three home runs. The Giants then needed only five games to defeat the Cardinals in the NLCS, although the final three contests were decided by a single run.
The Giants subsequently faced the Anaheim Angels in the World Series, in a battle of West Coast teams. The Giants appeared to be well on their way to winning their first world championship for the city of San Francisco when they carried a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Six, after earlier taking a three-games-to-two lead in the Fall Classic. However, the Angels mounted an enormous comeback, scoring six unanswered runs in the next two innings, to come away with a 6-5 victory. Anaheim took Game Seven as well by a score of 4-1, denying the Giants their first World Series win in nearly half a century. Barry Bonds homered four times in defeat for San Francisco.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• February 12 - Omar Minaya became the first Hispanic GM by accepting the position with the Montreal Expos. Frank Robinson was also announced as the manager of the team, which Major League Baseball ran for the 2002 season.
• May 25 – Barry Bonds hit the 584th home run of his career during a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies, thereby taking over sole possession of fifth place on the all-time home run list.
• August 9 - Barry Bonds hit his 600th home run, joining Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays as the only players to reach that plateau.
• September 1 – San Francisco’s Jeff Kent became the first second baseman in history to record 100 or more RBIs for six consecutive years.
• September 9 – Randy Johnson reached 300 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive season, extending his major league record.
• September 22 - Greg Maddux joined Cy Young as the only pitchers in major league history to win 15 or more games in 15 consecutive seasons.
• Colorado pitcher Jason Jennings (16-8) earned N.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• San Diego outfielder Mike Darr was killed in a spring training auto accident.
• Shawn Green hit four home runs in a game on May 23. He also doubled and singled in the contest, to go six-for-six, with an all-time single-game record 19 total bases.
• Arizona’s Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling became the first teammates to strike out more than 300 men in the same season.
• The Cardinals lost broadcaster Jack Buck on June 18 following a long illness.
• St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died suddenly of a heart condition on June 22 in his hotel room in Chicago.
• Brian Giles of the Pirates hit .298 with 38 homers, 103 RBI, and 135 walks.
• Luis Castillo of the Marlins led the league with 48 stolen bases. He also compiled the longest hitting streak of the season, batting safely in 35 consecutive games at one point.
• Colorado’s Larry Walker hit 26 home runs, knocked in 104 runs, and finished second in the league with a .338 batting average.
• Colorado teammate Todd Helton hit 30 homers, drove in 109 runs, scored 107 others, and batted .329.
• Philadelphia’s Bobby Abreu batted .308, stole 31 bases, collected 104 walks, and topped the circuit with 50 doubles.
- Randy Johnson won the Cy Young
- Barry Bonds won the Hank Aaron Award
- Tony LaRussa won the Mgr of the year
- Barry Bonds won the MVP
- Benito Santiago won the NLCS MVP
- John Smoltz won the Rolaids Relief
- Jason Jennings won the Rookie of the Year
- Randy Johnson won the Triple Crown
- Curt Schilling won the TSN Pitcher of the Year
- 2002 NLCS, 2002 NLDS1, 2002 NLDS2, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves, Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago, Bobby Abreu, Brian Giles, Chipper Jones, Curt Schilling, Darryl Kile, Edgar Renteria, Gary Sheffield, Greg Maddux, Houston Astros, Jack Buck, Jason Jennings, Jeff Kent, Jim Edmonds, John Smoltz, Junior Spivey, Kevin Millwood, Lance Berkman, Larry Walker, Luis Castillo, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Morris, Mike Darr, Omar Minaya, Rafael Furcal, Randy Johnson, Rich Aurilia, Russ Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, San Francisco Giants, Shawn Green, St. Louis Cardinals, Steve Finley, Tino Martinez, Todd Helton, Tom Glavine, Tony Womack, Vladimir Guerrero