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Chipper Jones and the NL Batting Title

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Over the last few games Chipper Jones has been limited to the occaisional pinch-hit appearance due to what is being reported as a sore shoulder. An injury like this is not unlikely, as Chipper has been affected by numerous nagging injuries through this year and in past years. What's fishy about this injury is the timing of it right at the end of the year... when Chipper is in the lead for the NL Batting Crown.

Our third baseman leads Albert Pujols of the Cardinals .364 to .350 -- roughly a 14-point advantage. It was Chipper who was in an even closer battle with Matt Holliday last year, only to lose out in the last few days as Holliday surged and Chipper floundered against the Astros (those same Astros, by the way, that we end the season with this year). Actually, the last two series of last year are the same as the last two series of this year for the Braves, and both years they were on the road. In those series, Chipper was 5-for-20 and his average went from .341 to .337. Holliday, on the other hand, was 11-for-27 in the last two series of the year (plus the single regular season playoff game), and saw his average climb from .337 to .340.

This year the Braves and Bobby Cox may be engaging in a concerted effort to protect Chipper from being overtaken again. But what would it take for Chipper to fall or for Albert to rise?

Chipper's current average of .364 (159-for-437) seems pretty safe. If he were to play each of the last four games and go hitless (assuming an 0-for-4 each game), his average would fall to .351 (159-for-453). That's still higher than Albert's current .350 (179-for-512) average. Pujols has five remaining games. If he were to go 2-for-4 in each of those games his average would still only be .355 (189-for-532). This, more than anything, may be the reason the Braves have been reluctant to return Chipper to the lineup -- it's easier to lose ground than to make up ground. Pujols would have to go 3-for-4 in each of his remaining five games, giving him a .365 average (194-for-532), to go ahead of Chipper.

In looking at the remaining games, here is how each player has done against those clubs. Chipper has hit Philly (1 remaining game) at a .441 clip and Houston (3 remaining games) at a .385 clip this year, while Pujols has hit .167 against Arizona (2 remaining games) and .316 against Cincinnati (3 remaining games). Certainly the schedule and this year's history against those clubs favors Chipper.

Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but the decision to keep Chipper out of the lineup, even against teams that he does well against, is a bit fishy (unless, of course, he really is that injured). It is late in the season, and the Braves are playing for nothing other than pride, so there's no pressure to play Chipper. Bobby Cox has always been one of those managers who wants to see his players acheive milestones and win awards, and he will try and put them in the best position to do that as much as he can. It certainly looks like he's protecting Chipper's average. Of course, as I demonstrated above, it would take a total collapse by Chipper and/or an amazing outburst by Pujols for Jones to lose the NL batting race at this point... but it never hurts to err on the side of caution.