On Monday night, the Phillies clinched the National League East title and the best record in the NL, and on Tuesday, the Reds wrapped up the NL Central while the Rockies were eliminated from postseason contention. That leaves three teams -- the Braves, Giants and Padres -- fighting for the final two spots in the National League. Those three clubs, as well as the Reds, enter Wednesday separated by just two games in terms of overall record. At this point in the season, records alone don't tell us which of those other four 87-to-89 win teams is really the strongest and thus the biggest threat to preventing the 94-win Phillies from capturing a third straight NL pennant.
Here's how those four stack up entering play on Wednesday:
There are a few other methods of determining just how successful a team has been. One is Bill James' Pythagorean record that converts runs scored and allowed into wins and losses. That method produces this ranking:
The problem with these measures, however, is that they take into account the entire season, while the four teams in question have undergone a number of changes that make the teams they are today much different from the teams they were in, say, May. The Giants opened the season with an outfield of
The Braves began the year with an infield of
The Padres and Reds have had less turnover, though San Diego did add
If we limit our view to the four teams' September records we get this:
Of course there are all sorts of small-sample biases involved there, not the least of which is strength of competition. Still, the one thing each of the three sets of standings above have in common is that the Giants and Braves hold the top two spots and the Reds and Padres the bottom two.
If the season ended today the Padres would be the odd team out, and indeed, they have been steadily losing their grip on a playoff spot this month. They entered September leading the NL West by four games thanks mostly to a dominant pitching staff.
Of course, San Diego's real problem continues to be its offense. The team has averaged just 2.81 runs per game over their last 28 contests, scoring more than four runs just twice over that stretch.
The Reds are in a unique position among this four-team clump because they entered September with an eight-game lead in the Central and have more or less cruised to the division title since. Accordingly, the Reds have cooled off significantly from what was their best month of the year in August (19-8, .704). Like the Padres, the Reds recent slump has been due to a lack of offense. Though they are still the have scored more runs than any other NL team, and more per game this month than these other three teams, the Reds have averaged just 4.2 runs per game in September with essentially the same lineup they've used all year.
Part of the problem has been second baseman
Bruce will play regularly in the postseason, but the Reds might not get much more from Rolen or Phillips, the latter of whom may be doing his team more harm than good by playing through an injury. Still, their offense has been too good for too long to not perk back up and their pitching has been as strong as ever of late, with
The Reds are certainly a more well-rounded team than the Giants and Padres. The same was true of the Braves, who led the NL East by seven games in late July, before the injuries took hold. It will be a great testament to
Wren's higher-profile in-season fixes have been less successful.
The Giants all-or-nothing attack ranks second among this quartet this month with 3.75 runs per game. San Francisco has scored nine or more runs in four of its last 11 games but also scored one or none in eight of 13 games from September 8 to 22. It's easy to see why they've been so inconsistent. The Giants are way behind their monthly splits in nearly every offensive category except home runs. Rookie
Fortunately for the Giants, their pitching has made the rest of the league look like the Padres at the plate. The Giants have allowed more than two runs just twice in their last 16 games and more than three runs just once in their last 21 games. This month alone,
So which team is second-best to the Phillies in the Senior Circuit? It's clear that the Giants' pitching and the Reds' offense make them superior to the Braves and that the Padres are the weakest team of this quartet for all of the reasons that everyone has been doubting them all season (no hitting and no-name pitching).
That doesn't mean the Padres will be the odd team out come Monday, however. The Braves have to play the Phillies three times over the weekend while the Padres have an outside chance of reclaiming their division via three games in San Francisco. With those three teams separated by just two games with five left on the schedule (four for the Braves, who are off on Thursday), nothing has been decided. But as long as the Giants' starters are pitching the way they have in September they will be the team from this quartet that no one wants to face in October.