Friday, August 04, 2006
Tough week coming up for the Phillies. Here is what we’ve got:
Friday, Saturday, Sunday: @ New York Mets
The Phillies play the Mets ten times in the month of August, so this is a really golden opportunity to show people that the Phils are still in the playoff hunt. Can the Phillies challenge the Mets for the division crown? Pleasant idea, but utterly unrealistic. The Mets have the NL East wrapped up. They’d basically have to sweep the Mets this weekend and go 9-1 or 10-0 against the Mets this month to have a shot at the NL East. I don’t see that happening.
If I’m a Mets fan, I’m feeling pretty good right now. Their 3-0 sweep of the Braves last weekend was pretty decisive and finalized the changing of the guard at the top of the NL East this season. I really don’t see anyone making up that 13-14 game gap between the Phillies, Braves, Nats and Fishstripes and the Mets. With the unbalanced schedule the Mets are blessed getting to play the bulk of their remaining games against the NL East, whom they are 27-13 (.675) against.
The Mets of 2006 are unlike any Mets team I’ve seen since 1999 and 2000: they are a fearsome offensive machine (as I predicted in the spring, the acquisition of Carlos Delgado has been a major, major boon) with Wright, Beltran and Delgado. They are tops in the NL in runs scored. Their pitching and defense are good, but not great. I don’t think you’ll see the Mets in the World Series because I think they’ll start fading down the stretch and run out of gas: they are heavily reliant on their starting pitching and offense to win, and I think that mixture will break down for them in October. Still, they have an enormous lead and they won’t relinquish it any time soon.
I think this will be a tight series, and I see the Mets taking two of three.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: @ Atlanta Braves
The Phillies wrap up their road trip in Atlanta, taking on the hated Braves. This season has been a difficult one to watch, but it has been enjoyable to watch the Braves stagger and struggle to stay in the wildcard race. Yes, almost certainly, the Mets will hang on and take the NL East, making 2006 the first time since the three division format started in ’95 that the Braves did not win the division, and the first time that the Braves didn’t win a division since 1990. So in many ways this was a deeply satisfying season to watch. Now, if the Braves can just do us the favor of flaming out of the wildcard race and finish the season with a sub-.500 record, we can all smile.
What is wrong with the Braves? They can’t pitch. The sine qua non of this team has always been their starting rotation, which has included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood, etc. This team has been blessed with real studs in the rotation and they look bizarrely terrible these days. The Braves FIP ERA is just a little bit better than the Phillies: 4.76 to 4.79. That is a rather terrifying stat to Braves fans because the Phillies have had terrible pitching all season long. The idea that the Braves, with Smoltz and Hudson, are pitching as badly as the Phillies is astonishing.
Defensively, the Braves are below average too. Their DER, Defense Efficiency Ratio, is .687, .004 below the NL average. That pitching/defense cornerstone that the Braves have been built around is fractured. If the Braves defense is so good, then why is Marcus Giles ranked 11 of 13 NL 2B’s in Zone Rating at .786? Why is Chipper Jones 10 of 13 NL 3B’s in ZR too? Why does Edgar Renteria rank 13 of 16 shortstops in ZR? And why does Andruw Jones rank dead-last amongst NL centerfielders in ZR?
Simply put, they are a lousy team defensively these days. The Braves have turned themselves into an offensive squad, a team that needs to win games 8-7. In short, they’ve become the Mets of the 1990s, a poorly built team that relies on offense to shield its defensive short-comings. Even if the Braves manage to limp into the playoffs, which I doubt (I think they’ll struggle to get to .500), they’ll be a quick 3-0 sweep.
The Phillies should be able to take these guys, provided they have enough gas in their tank to last that long. Oh, and if Chase Utley gets hits in all three Mets games this weekend, he'll be poised to hit in Game #39 on Monday against the Braves.
Plans for the week: Monday, a post on some of the Phillies new faces; Tuesday, a report on the Phillies farm system; Wednesday, a post on Ryan Madson’s career to this point; and Thursday a look at Gavin Floyd.
I’m presently working on a big project concerning the Phillies history, so stay tuned. I expect to unveil that in November.
Hamels has started looking better and Myers has been good virtually all year. If Lieber and Wolf step up and Mathieson doesn't implode, this could be interesting...
By the way, I hate the freaking Mets.
Instead, enjoy Utley's hitting streak and the development of Hamels and Mathieson.