Another banner year by Barry Bonds led the San Francisco Giants to their second N.L. West title in four years in 2003, as they compiled a regular-season record of 100-61 that left them 15 ½ games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the division. The Giants also had solid pitching, placing second in the N.L. rankings with a 3.73 team ERA. Jason Schmidt served as staff ace, compiling a record of 17-5 and a league-leading 2.34 ERA. But, with the Giants finishing just sixth in the senior circuit in runs scored, it was Bonds who legitimized their offense, enabling them to run away with the division crown. Although Bonds appeared in only 130 games and accumulated just 390 official at-bats, he hit 45 home runs, knocked in 90 runs, scored 111 others, batted .341, and led the league with 148 walks, a .529 on-base percentage, and a .749 slugging average. The outfielder’s extraordinary performance earned him his third straight MVP trophy, and the sixth of his career.
The Atlanta Braves similarly ran away with the N.L. East, finishing first in the division for the ninth consecutive year. The Braves concluded the campaign with a record of 101-61 that placed them 10 games ahead of the runner-up Florida Marlins, who advanced to the postseason as the senior circuit’s wild-card representative.
Interestingly, the Braves used a somewhat different formula than the one they employed to capture their previous eight division titles. Instead of relying heavily on outstanding pitching to thwart the opposition, the Braves depended more on the league’s most potent offense. Atlanta topped the senior circuit with 907 runs scored, 235 home runs, a .284 team batting average, and a .475 team slugging average. Javy Lopez, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, and Gary Sheffield served as the focal points of Atlanta’s attack. Lopez hit 43 homers, drove in 109 runs, and batted .328. Andruw Jones went deep 36 times, knocked in 116 runs, scored 101 others, and batted .277. Chipper Jones hit 27 homers, drove in 106 runs, scored 103 others, and batted .305. Sheffield earned a third-place finish in the N.L. MVP voting by placing among the league leaders with 39 home runs, 132 runs batted in, 126 runs scored, and a .330 batting average. Rafael Furcal also chipped in with a .292 batting average, 25 stolen bases, and 130 runs scored.
Although the Braves surprisingly finished just ninth in the league with a team ERA of 4.10, they received standout seasons from starter Russ Ortiz and closer John Smoltz. Ortiz had a career-year, posting a record of 21-7. Meanwhile, Smoltz compiled a superb 1.12 ERA and placed second in the league with 45 saves.
Despite finishing near the middle of the league rankings in most statistical categories, the runner-up Marlins featured an interesting blend of youth and experience. Brad Penny, Mark Redman, and 21-year-old N.L. Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis tied for the team lead with 14 victories apiece. After joining them in the starting rotation during the season’s first half, hard-throwing right-hander Josh Beckett went on to win nine games, compile a fine 3.04 ERA, and strike out 152 batters in only 142 innings of work.
On offense, speedy centerfielder Juan Pierre batted .305, scored 100 runs, collected 204 hits, and led the league with 65 stolen bases. Second baseman Luis Castillo batted .314 and scored 99 runs. Outfielder Juan Encarnacion hit 19 homers and drove in 94 runs. First baseman Derrek Lee left the yard 31 times and knocked in 92 runs. Third baseman Mike Lowell led the team with 32 homers and 105 runs batted in. Ivan Rodriguez added a solid bat and a veteran presence behind the plate, concluding the campaign with a .297 batting average, 85 runs batted in, and 90 runs scored.
While the Giants and Braves coasted to their respective division titles, the Chicago Cubs prevailed in a close three-team race in the N.L. Central. The senior circuit’s most improved team, Chicago finished the regular season with a record of 88-74, just one game ahead of the runner-up Houston Astros, and only three games in front of the third-place St. Louis Cardinals.
The lineups of all three clubs featured multiple offensive threats. Chicago had Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou. Sosa hit 40 homers, drove in 103 runs, and scored 99 others. Alou contributed 22 homers and 91 runs batted in. Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and Richard Hidalgo paced the Astros on offense. Bagwell hit 39 home runs, knocked in 100 runs, and scored 109 others. Berkman went deep 25 times, drove in 93 runs, and crossed the plate 110 times himself. Hidalgo hit 28 homers, knocked in 88 runs, scored 91 others, and batted .309. Meanwhile, the Cardinals featured the formidable threesome of Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Albert Pujols. Edmonds hit 39 homers, knocked in 89 runs, and scored 89 others. Rolen left the yard 28 times, drove in 104 runs, scored 98 others, and batted .286. Pujols earned a second-place finish in the N.L. MVP balloting by placing among the league leaders with 43 home runs and 124 runs batted in and topping the circuit with a .359 batting average, 137 runs scored, 212 hits, and 51 doubles.
The thing that ultimately tipped the scales ever so slightly in the Cubs’ favor was their superior pitching. Chicago’s starting rotation included four hurlers who posted double-digit win totals, with hard-throwing right-handers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior leading the way. Finally healthy, Wood won 14 games, compiled a 3.20 ERA, and led all N.L. hurlers with 266 strikeouts. Prior was even better, finishing among the league leaders with a record of 18-6, a 2.43 ERA, and 245 strikeouts.
The Cubs surprised the Braves by defeating them in five games in their Division Series matchup. Wood pitched a masterful Game Five, allowing Atlanta only one run on five hits over eight innings, in leading his team to a 5-1 victory. Meanwhile, the Marlins stunned the Giants, eliminating them from the postseason tournament by beating them in four games.
The Cubs subsequently appeared poised to make their first World Series appearance in 58 years when they went up three-games-to-two against the Marlins in the NLCS. However, trailing 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game Six at Wrigley Field, the Marlins exploded for eight runs, to even the Series with an 8-3 victory. They then clinched their second league championship with a 9-6 win in Game Seven.
Carrying their momentum into the World Series against the heavily-favored New York Yankees, the Marlins overcame a two-games-to-one deficit to sweep the next three contests and finish off New York in six games. Josh Beckett earned Series MVP honors by shutting out the Yankees on just five hits in Game Six. The Marlins emerged victorious even though the Yankees outscored them 21-17 over the course of the Fall Classic.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• March 31 - In the first-ever game at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds 10-1.
• June 23 - At Pacific Bell Park, Barry Bonds became the first major leaguer to amass 500 career home runs and 500 career steals by stealing a base during a 3-2 San Francisco victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
• October 14 - In Game Six of the NLCS, with the Chicago Cubs just five outs away from eliminating the Florida Marlins, Cubs fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul fly ball away from Cubs left fielder Moisés Alou, allowing Florida's Luis Castillo to continue batting. The Cubs subsequently fell apart, allowing the Marlins to score eight times in the inning, en route to dropping an 8-3 decision. They also lost Game Seven, thereby continuing the "Curse of the Billy Goat." Bartman became a pariah in Chicago.
• Philadelphia's Kevin Millwood threw a no-hitter against San Francisco on April 27.
• Former Giants star Bobby Bonds (Barry’s father) died of cancer on August 23.
• Dodgers closer Eric Gagne saved 55 games in 55 chances, en route to earning N.L. Cy Young honors.
• Gagne blew the save in the All-Star Game, allowing Ranger Hank Blalock's game-winning homer.
• Colorado’s Preston Wilson led the National League with 141 RBIs.
• Colorado teammate Todd Helton hit 33 home runs, drove in 117 runs, and finished second in the league with a .358 batting average, 135 runs scored, 209 hits, and a .458 on-base percentage.
• Philadelphia’s Jim Thome knocked in 131 runs, scored 111 others, and led the league with 47 home runs.
• Sammy Sosa hit his 500th homer on April 4.
• The National League suspended Sosa for seven games after a league umpiring crew caught him using a corked bat on June 3.
• Atlanta’s Greg Maddux set a new major league record by winning 15 or more games for the 16th consecutive season.
• Atlanta shortstop Rafael Furcal turned an unassisted triple play on August 10.
• Major League Baseball forced the Montreal Expos to play 22 "home" games in 2003 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
• Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium closed down after the conclusion of the regular season.
• Cincinnati first baseman Dernell Stenson was murdered in Phoenix on November 5.
- Josh Beckett won the Babe Ruth Award
- Eric Gagne won the Cy Young
- Albert Pujols won the Hank Aaron Award
- Jack McKeon won the Mgr of the year
- Barry Bonds won the MVP
- Ivan Rodriguez won the NLCS MVP
- Eric Gagne won the Rolaids Relief
- Dontrelle Willis won the Rookie of the Year
- Eric Gagne won the TSN Pitcher of the Year
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- 2003 NLCS, 2003 NLDS1, 2003 NLDS2, 2003 World Series, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Atlanta Braves, Barry Bonds, Brad Penny, Chipper Jones, Dernell Stenson, Derrek Lee, Dontrelle Willis, Eric Gagne, Florida Marlins, Gary Sheffield, Greg Maddux, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Schmidt, Javy Lopez, Jeff Bagwell, Jim Edmonds, Jim Thome, John Smoltz, Josh Beckett, Juan Encarnacion, Juan Pierre, Kerry Wood, Kevin Millwood, Lance Berkman, Luis Castillo, Mark Prior, Mark Redman, Mike Lowell, Moises Alou, Preston Wilson, Rafael Furcal, Richard Hidalgo, Russ Ortiz, Sammy Sosa, San Francisco Giants, Scott Rolen, Todd Helton