Let me start this post by saying that, at this juncture, with less than a month left in the regular season, I tend to throw all predictive stats out the window. With so little time left, very close divisional races such as the ones we still have in the AL Central, NL East, and NL West, could easily be decided on anomalous occurrences. Orlando Cabrera could far surpass career norms and OPS over 1.000 in September, leading the White Sox into the post season. Newly acquired Matt Stairs could start jacking home runs for the Phillies and allow them to overtake the Mets for the second year in a row. And both Brandon Webb and Danny Haren could completely implode over the final few weeks, and the Dodgers could be crowned division champs.
Are any of these specific events likely to occur? Probably not. But every year, instances akin to these do happen and factor heavily into the playoff picture. The unlikely is expected.
So this is not a post where I am going to predict how the NL East is going to play out in the month of September. Frankly, I think it’s a waste of time even trying to do so. But I do want to assess the current situation, and lay out the things we should be looking at over these final 22 games, especially since the Mets and Phils are locking horns for the last time this year in a three-game series starting tonight.
Can They Keep It Up?
METS: I shake my head a bit at the recent chatter regarding whether or not Carlos Delgado is an MVP candidate. For one, he doesn’t deserve it, and two, it’s unbelievable that I even have to argue against it considering where he was just a couple of months ago. As of the morning of June 26th, Delgado had a .229 BA, .306 OBP, and most surprising of all, a .396 SLG. That’s an OPS barely above .700 for a guy with a career OPS of .925. But during the game on the 26th against the Yankees, Delgado exploded for 2 home runs and a team record 9 RBIs. And since then, his line has been a very impressive .298/.391/.627. To me, it’s the difference in isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) that’s most encouraging. And surprising based on his performance during the first 3 months of the season.
PHILLIES: One area of the Phillies that I completely underestimated going into the season was their pitching. As a team, they’ve allowed only 4.17 runs per game, which is top-three in the National League – and they’re doing it in a hitter’s park. But one guy who was not having much success for the better part of the season was Brett Myers. Through his first 17 starts, Myers was awful. He had an ERA of 5.84, had a worse K-rate (7.9/9) and a walk rate (3.9/9) than his career norms, and an incredibly high home run rate (2.12/9) as well. Then the Phillies did something a bit surprising – they optioned him to the minors in early July, and Myers agreed. And since his return to the bigs on July 23rd, Myers has been outstanding, especially in his past five starts. The Ks are back, the walks and homeruns have all but disappeared, and his ERA has reflected these positive changes (1.43 over 37 2/3 IP). I try to never put too much stock in so few innings, but that 37 2/3 IP are also about as many innings as the Phillies are going to get out of any starting pitcher from this point forth any way. So who says he can’t finish strong too? Myers takes the mound tonight against Mike Pelfrey in the series opener.
Can They Turn It Around?
METS: Pedro Martinez is a totally different pitcher these days, and the change hasn’t been positive. When he arrived in Flushing back in 2005, he dominated. The following season, he walked a few more hitters and gave up more home runs. It was also during the 2006 campaign that the injuries began. First, it was a hip injury. Then it was his right calf. Then his left calf was torn. Finally, a torn rotator cuff. Season over. There was still some optimism in 2007 when Pedro returned. Despite a serious drop in velocity (couldn’t hit 90 mph any more), the strikeouts were still there, and the walks remained manageable. Yet, even though he had a 2.57 ERA in the five starts he made last year, his line drive % was telling a different story. Hitters were on him, evidenced by the .284 BAA. Predictably, Pedro missed significant time in 2008 as well. When he returned in June, his velocity was higher than last year (88-91mph), but the line drive % remained high – only this time, the strikeouts were down, walks were up, and he’s been giving up homeruns at a career high rate. As of this writing, his ERA is 5.07 and it’s no fluke. Can Pedro stay healthy and keep the ball down? Pedro is scheduled to get the ball on Saturday.
PHILLES: In 2007, the Phils averaged a whopping 5.51 runs scored per game. This year, they’re at 4.83, which is still good, but is also a noticeable drop. From here in New York, it seems that the media and fans are mostly attributing the decrease in production to Jimmy Rollins. But the bigger problem has been with Ryan Howard. His BA, OBP, and SLG have all decreased quite a bit for two consecutive seasons now. His sufficient HR (39) and RBI (119) numbers appear to be masking his .325 OBP. And although a .502 SLG is nothing to scoff at, it is a cause for concern when he had a .584 last year and .659 the season before that. Add it all together and his adjusted OPS is a 109 – which is a bit low for a first baseman, and especially so for a guy with Howard’s reputation. Unless he is hiding an injury, I don’t think that this is a decline just yet. He could very realistically go berserk in September.
Will They Get Noticed?
METS: I’m continually amazed at how little appreciation Carlos Beltran receives from Mets fans. Perhaps some false expectations were created by his career year in 2006 when he crushed 41 home runs in his second season in a Mets uniform. Or perhaps it’s because he’s been put into the clean-up spot 108 times this year and we’ve come to expect more power from that position in the batting order. Beltran may never hit 40 dingers again, but here’s what you can count on him for – one of the top defensive centerfielders in the game with good pop, a very strong ability to get on base and plus speed. As viewers, it’s easy to be impressed by diving catches and leaping grabs at the wall. They guys who are underappreciated are those who are so good they get to the ball fast enough so they don’t have to dive. Beltran’s one of those guys. And he’s also one of those guys who can appear to be able to win games all by himself. We haven’t seen that Beltran yet in 2008.
PHILLIES: When most people think of the Phillies lineup, the names that immediately come to mind are Howard, Rollins, Utley, and Burrell. But Jayson Werth is the guy who has impressed me most so far this year. This is a gentleman that walks, is slugging over .500, manages to steal bases without getting caught, and still somehow finds a way to give a stray badger shelter below his lower lip. Multi-tasking. Werth hasn’t been great against righties (.790 OPS) but absolutely kills lefties (1.051 OPS and 1 HR every 8.87 ABs). If he could get that OPS vs. righties up just a bit, he’d really be something pretty special.
I’ve got about an hour until game time, so I’ve gotta go on my way. Enjoy the series, UmpBumpers!