Maybe because the Atlanta Braves performed so poorly in last year's playoffs against the eventual world champion St. Louis Cardinals, they never got the credit they deserved for winning the National League West title. ''But the Braves were for real in 1982 and they're for real now,'' said manager Pat Corrales of the Philadelphia Phillies after Atlanta recently won five consecutive games from St. Louis.
''Injuries could stop them, of course, but man for man, Joe Torre has one of the toughest lineups for a pitcher to get through in either league.''
As you probably remember, the Braves produced the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1982 in outfielder Dale Murphy, whose 109 runs-batted-in also included 14 game-winning hits. Murphy is off to another fine start, hitting well over .300 and leading the league at this writing with 13 homers and 43 RBIs en route to what should be comparable season-long figures to those of a year ago.
Right behind Dale in Atlanta's lineup is Bob Horner, 20 pounds lighter than a year ago, but with just as much power. There aren't many pitchers around who care to deal with Chris Chambliss with runners on base either, no matter how unimpressive his average is at the moment.
That's not all either. Outfielder Claudell Washington holds down the No. 3 spot in the lineup right before Murphy and Horner and is always a threat. Infielders Glenn Hubbard and Rafael Ramirez are both hitting around the .300 mark. And catcher Bruce Benedict is on fire this spring with a .329 average that has him well up among the league leaders.
With all this clout, it's not surprising that the Braves rank first in the league in team batting. Where the team is really most improved, though, is in its pitching staff, which has gone from a No. 10 rating last year to No. 2 so far this season, right behind Los Angeles.
Torre, who constantly juggled his starting rotation in 1982 and got only 15 complete games from his staff, has had few problems in that area this season. In fact, rookie Craig McMurtry (7-2) and Pascual Perez, who won four crucial games down the stretch last year for Atlanta and is now 7-1 so far this season, have two of the lowest earned-run averages in baseball.
The Braves' bullpen, which was excellent a year ago with 30 saves from Gene Garber and 11 from Steve Bedrosian, now has a third ace in free agent Terry Forster. Terry, who recorded only five saves in his last four years with the Dodgers, already has eight this year.
''During the off-season, we went after three free-agent pitchers - Floyd Bannister, Pete Falcone, and Forster,'' Torre explained. ''Even though everybody seemed to think that our No. 1 priority was Bannister [who won 12 games last year as a starter with Seattle], the man we actually wanted first was Forster, the left-hander we felt we needed to balance our bullpen. Anyway, we didn't want to go into another playoff series, like last year against the Cardinals, without at least one southpaw on our staff. Well, now we've got two - Terry and Falcone, who has also pitched well for us.'' Torre says he thinks 95 victories will win this year in the National League West. That's six more wins than the Braves had last season, when they outlasted the Dodgers by one game. Fracas at Fenway Park
The bizarre ownership civil war that erupted in Boston this week underscored the infighting that has been going on among the Red Sox ruling hierarchy now for several years.
Buddy LeRoux, executive vice president in charge of administration, announced that he had gained control of the team. He said he was firing Haywood Sullivan as general manager and bringing back former GM Dick O'Connell (1965-77) to run the team's day-to-day operation again.
Sullivan, however, is also an executive vice president as well as one of the team's three general partners along with LeRoux and Mrs. Jean Yawkey, widow of late owner Tom Yawkey.
The LeRoux move was thus aimed at both other general partners, who immediately went to court in an attempt to block it.
LeRoux based his action on the fact that he controls 16 of the 30 limited partnership shares into which the club was divided when it was purchased from the Yawkey estate in 1978. He said the owners of these shares had voted to amend the original partnership agreement and to name him the new managing general partner.
The Sullivan-Yawkey side says LeRoux had no such authority, since the partnership agreement leaves all policy decisions to the general partners.
The matter is now in Suffolk Superior Court, where the Sullivan-Yawkey forces have filed a request for a temporary injunction to prevent LeRoux from taking control.
Meanwhile LeRoux has been strongly criticized by both the media and the public in Boston for the timing of his takeover attempt, which occurred on a night which had been set aside for a reunion of the 1967 ''Impossible Dream'' pennant winners to help raise funds for their teammate Tony Conigliaro, who has been hospitalized for 16 months. Tibits from around the majors
* The defending American League champion Milwaukee Brewers have traded outfielder Gorman Thomas and pitchers Jamie Easterly and Ernie Camacho to the Cleveland Indians for outfield Rick Manning and pitcher Rick Waits. But the deal was really Thomas for Manning. Gorman, who tied Reggie Jackson for the league home run title last year with 39, also struck out 143 times and is currently hitting .143 with runners in scoring position. Milwaukee General Manager Harry Dalton said the trade was made on the basis of Manning being a better defensive player and a better contact hitter.
* The Kansas City Royals, who have won five AL West titles in the past seven years, may soon be looking in the Yellow Pages for pitching help. Larry Gura, who won his first four decisions, has lost seven in a row. Dennis Leonard is out for the season after surgery. And Vida Blue, who can no longer reach back and throw his fastball by hitters in clutch situations, is being tried in the bullpen.
* When Rick Honeycutt finished with a 5-17 won-lost record last season, the Texas Rangers responded by sending him back to the Florida Instructional League to see if his mechanical problems couldn't be smoothed out. Well, it worked. Honeycutt is currently 7-3, with a 1.84 earned-run average.
* Seattle rookie Matt Young, who has won five straight while putting together a 1.15 earned-run average in his last 69 innings of pitching, likes to keep things simple. Young didn't begin his overpowering streak until Mariner coaches told him to ignore their charts and graphs on opposing hitters and just throw the ball.