September has arrived and with it the potential for great drama, especially in the National League as the Dodgers and Giants are now all but evenly locked in an epic battle; the NL MVP race suddenly has fascinating possibilities; and the Mets have a now-or-never window to climb back in the NL East race.
Some thoughts and predictions for the month ahead:
Let’s start here partly because it says a lot about the state of the NL East. That is, Bryce Harper is raging hot, a big reason the Phillies have scored seven or more runs in their last six games, while Austin Riley is blossoming into a superstar in Atlanta, combining with Freddie Freeman to give the Braves two MVP candidates and a lineup that is doing plenty of damage even without Ronald Acuna Jr.
The Mets don’t have anyone in that category. Pete Alonso has had a good second half but nothing like those of his rivals. Harper has a spectacular .723 slugging percentage/1.210 OPS in the second half, making a big push for his second MVP Award, while Riley has been nearly as impactful, with a .665 slugging percentage and 1.074 OPS.
For now, though, Fernando Tatis may still be the frontrunner, with his 36 home runs and 24 stolen bases, but his Padres have faded, though still in the wild card race, and he’s no longer playing shortstop as a way of protecting him against further injury.
Max Muncy has the best numbers on that Dodgers’ juggernaut and deserves consideration, and if the Giants can hang on and win the NL West then shortstop Brandon Crawford would have a shot as the linchpin of that team who is having a tremendous season.
PREDICTION: HARPER. He was so overhyped that the trendy thing to say is he’s now underappreciated, and that may work in his favor. He’s also having the best second half of anyone, which bodes well for a strong finish.
The Giants’ lead is down to a half-game as the biggest surprise team in baseball may be showing some cracks, taking a three-game losing streak into Wednesday night’s action while trying to avoid a sweep at home to the Brewers.
At 84-48 the Giants are certainly no fluke and they do all the little things well, as they showed in their six games against the Mets, but I wonder if some of the huge contributions they’re getting from role-type players will fall off as the games get bigger.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers keep charging, winning 15 of their last 18 games, and let’s face it, they can thank the Nationals at least partly for the huge trade-deadline boost they received in getting Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.
It’s still puzzling why the Nats dealt Turner, who was another year away from free agency, but the Dodgers had the farm-system depth to cash in and that addition of superstar talent may be the key reason they’re still the favorite to win a second straight World Series.
Nevertheless, the desperation to avoid the do-or-die wild card game, likely against the Padres or Reds, makes for great drama as the teams with the two best records in the league battle it out. The only downside is they don’t go head-to-head after this weekend, but both play the Padres the final week of the season, all but ensuring a wild finish.
PREDICTION: DODGERS. They’re just too relentless offensively and Scherzer’s intensity adds an element that doesn’t hurt either.
After a trade-deadline frenzy that created a huge chasm between the haves from the have-nots in this baseball season, the schedule is proving to be a gigantic X-factor , especially in the NL East.
Big picture, September works against the odds of the Mets rallying to overtake the Braves and Phillies, but they do have a window to take advantage of the schedule and it is right now.
Overall the Mets have no excuse for their feeble production offensively, but as badly as they played for most of August, everything changed in the NL East based at least partly on the schedule.
Consider that over 10 days, from Aug. 13-22, the Braves went 9-0 against the Nationals, Marlins, and Orioles, while the Mets went 2-8 against the Dodgers and Giants.
Since then the Braves are 2-5 against the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers, while the Mets have won four straight against the Nationals and Marlins.
So if you’re hanging on to hope that the Mets, currently 5.5 games out of first place, can make a run, they play their next nine games against the Marlins and Nationals, while the Braves have one more in LA, facing Scherzer, and then four in Colorado, where the non-contending Rockies have one of the best home records in the majors at 43-22.
The problem, of course, is that the Braves then get nine at home with the Nationals, Marlins and Rockies, who are hapless on the road, while the Phillies still have 20 games with the Marlins, Rockies (in Philly), Cubs, and Orioles.
So it would be a steep climb for the Mets, and their ongoing offensive struggles make it hard to believe they can make a big run. As such they are likely to look back at their inability to stretch their lead in June and July, when they had a soft schedule and the Braves and Phillies were stumbling around, as the real opportunity lost.
As an executive from an NL team told me Wednesday: “I think the only reason the Braves were so aggressive at the trade deadline was because the Mets had let them hang around. If they were 8 or 10 games out at the time (instead of four back), after they’d just lost (Ronald) Acuna, I doubt if Alex (Anthopolous) makes all those trades that have really helped them.”
Indeed, the Braves are 19-8 since their deadline moves. Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, and Joc Pederson have combined for 20 home runs since being acquired, while Richard Rodriguez has helped stabilize a sometimes-shaky bullpen with his 1.29 ERA in 14 appearances.
The Phillies too helped themselves at the deadline. Kyle Gibson has given the much-needed No. 3 starter, pitching to a 3.16 ERA over six starts, and while Ian Kennedy has been up-and-down as the new closer, his arrival allowed the Phillies to move lefty Ranger Suarez to the starting rotation, where he has pitched very well lately since being stretched out.
Meanwhile, the Mets didn’t do enough to help their starting rotation, and while Javy Baez has had a few big moments, he hasn’t had enough of an impact overall.
PREDICTION: BRAVES. It’s not exactly a bold prediction, I know, and I do think the weak schedule gives the Phillies a real shot, but the Braves know how to win and the emergence of Riley has been vital as they go for a fourth straight NL East title.
Source: Yahoo Sports