East has NL's best pennant race
The two-time defending NL Champion Phillies have been riddled with injuries this season as all but two members of their starting lineup, two starting pitchers, and their top two relievers have spent time on the disabled list. When
Still, with the gang back together and the rotation reinforced by the deadline acquisition of
Indeed, the Phillies have scored just 4.28 runs per game in August, but they are winning with pitching and defense by holding their opponents to a measly 3.25 runs per game for the month. If their big bats start thumping, look out.
Philadelphia's threat from below makes the Braves' lead, which they've held since May 31, seem awfully tenuous. Neither team has a noticeably more favorable schedule down the stretch, and the two were effectively in lock step in August, with the Braves leading by 3-1/3 games on July 31 and by three on the morning of September 1. Still, the Braves have gone 68-41 (. 624) since April 30, and though they recently lost
The Braves' rotation was reinforced by the arrival of 2009 first-round pick
Assuming the Phillies start hitting again, these are the two best teams in the league, and this division could well come down to the season's final weeks as they play six of their final dozen games against each other, wrapping things up with a three-game set in Atlanta. Get your tickets now.
This was one of the most compelling races in the majors for most of the season. From mid-May to mid-August, the favored defending division champion Cardinals and the underdog Reds were never more than three games apart atop the division, but since they last held a one-game lead on August 13, the Cardinals have gone 4-12 and fallen seven games behind.
The Cards hold a 10-5 edge in the head-to-head series, but the three-game set with the Reds in St. Louis this weekend will be their last meeting of the season. After that, the Reds have the easier schedule, primarily because they'll face the Diamondbacks, who they swept two weeks ago, for four games. The Cardinals draw the Braves next weekend. The Reds' dirty little secret is that they haven't played well against good teams this season. Fortunately, they have only seven games left against teams with winning records. They also have 13 remaining against the Brewers and Astros. Cincinnati is a combined 13-3 against them thus far.
A comeback in the division now seems like an insurmountable challenge for the Cardinals. Their need to rest rookie starter
Meanwhile, as you may have heard, the Reds called up Cuban fireballer
Expected to spend the season in the division's basement, the Padres have stood alone in first place since June 18 and spent only four days below the top since April 20. The time has long since passed that one might have expected a course correction, but San Diego's current five-game losing streak is their longest of the season, and they have just five games remaining against teams with losing records: Wednesday's finale against the Diamondbacks and four in late September against the Cubs.
The Giants, by comparison, have nine games left against losers (three each against the D'Backs, Cubs, and Brewers), and seven head-to-head with the Padres, including the final three of the season in San Francisco. The Padres hold a 9-2 advantage in the season series, which more than accounts for the difference in the division. Of course, another way to look at it is that, when not playing each other, the Giants have a better record than the Padres.
San Diego's early success was based almost entirely on the ability to keep opponents from scoring, but through almost constant tweaking, the Padres have managed to bring their offense up above the league average. Believe it or not, they've scored 4.62 runs per game since the start of July, a rate that would rank fifth in the league had they been producing at that clip that all season. The Giants, a remarkably similar team built around strong pitching and barely enough offense to get by, have similarly worked to upgrade their offense by installing rookie
The problem for the Giants is that their pitching isn't holding up. They've allowed 4.93 runs per game in August, and ace
The NL East seems most likely to produce the wild card, simply because of the relative quality of the top two teams in that division. The Giants are obviously right there in the standings, but they led the wild card race for three weeks before the Phillies passed them on August 14 and are headed in the wrong direction as evidenced by their 13-15 record in August. The Cardinals are falling even faster.
The Dodgers are the only one of the five teams listed here that doesn't finish the season playing another contender. (On the final weekend, the Phillies play the Braves, the Giants take on the Padres, and the Cardinals and Rockies meet.) However, the Dodgers are in fifth place in this race, have a losing record over the last three months (39-43 since June 1), and have been without shortstop
The Rockies have just six games left against non-contenders (provided you count the Dodgers as a contender). Colorado had a negative run differential (-4) in August, and starting third baseman