NL East race being decided by relief pitching
It isn't September of 2007 that hangs over the Mets' psyches anymore. It's their bullpen of 2008.
|For more on the races, see Hunt for October.|
|• Rays at Orioles, 7:05 p.m. ET||Talk about it|
|• Indians at Red Sox, 7:05 p.m. ET||Talk about it|
|• Braves at Phillies, 7:05 p.m. ET||Talk about it|
|• Cubs at Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET||Talk about it|
|• D-backs at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET||Talk about it|
Sunday in the NL EastOn Sept. 10, the Mets held a 3½-game lead over the Phillies. Since then, the Mets have gone 4-6. The Phillies have gone 9-1. Opposing hitters have batted .224 against the Phillies in that span. And the Phillies have had to go to their middle relievers just 26 times. The Mets' staff has had a slightly different result. Opposing hitters are batting .301 over the past 10 games. And the Mets have had to use their middle relievers 34 times. The ERA of Mets relievers in those 10 games: 7.29. Sunday was the fifth time this month the Mets have used six relief pitchers in one game.
Elsewhere in the National LeagueThe Brewers' 10-game, three-city trip to Philadelphia, Chicago and Cincinnati couldn't have been more disastrous (eight losses, plus one lost manager). But they did win Sunday, thanks to 5 2/3 shutout innings from their beleaguered bullpen and a big, two-hit, three-RBI day from Prince Fielder. When they started the trip, Fielder hadn't homered in a month. But he has hit .447 since, with five homers, seven doubles, 14 RBIs and a .533 on-base percentage. The Brewers are back to within 1½ games in the wild-card race and play out the rest of the week at home, against the Pirates and the Cubs. The Brewers (5-15 this month) have to go 3-3 this week to avoid going down in history with the worst September record by any team that finished with a winning record since 1900. Current record holders: the 1977 Twins (7-18, .280 winning percentage). Don't wave goodbye to Arizona quite yet. The Diamondbacks blew out Colorado 13-4 on Sunday to finish off a 6-1 week -- while the Dodgers were losing their second 1-0 extra-inning game in a week to San Francisco. The Dodgers did score 10 runs Saturday, but they've scored one or none three times in their past eight games. So Arizona is within 2½ games with seven to play. But their seven are against the Cardinals and the Rockies. The Dodgers close it out against the Padres and the Giants.
Meanwhile, in the American LeagueThe Red Sox shut out Toronto on Sunday, while Tampa Bay was losing to Minnesota. So the Red Sox -- who clinched a tie for the wild card Sunday -- are just 1½ games back in the AL East. The Rays now have to hit the road for eight games in seven days, while Boston spends the final week at home. The question is, how much energy will the Red Sox expend to try to finish first? Our guess is not much -- not if it means overtaxing their pitching staff, anyway. The Red Sox remember 2005 all too well, when they went into the final day of the season trying to hang onto first place, lost to the Yankees and wound up getting swept by the White Sox in the division series. If faced with that scenario again, they should know that since 2000, 11 wild-card teams have finished within four games of the team that won their division. How much did it hurt them to finish second? Nada. Six of the 11 went to the World Series. The Twins won in Tampa Bay on Sunday, ending their grueling stretch of 24 of 30 on the road. The Twins won the first and last road games in that span. In between, they went 7-15. Now, they get to play three pivotal games at home against the White Sox, Tuesday through Thursday. But the Twins used their one hot starter, Francisco Liriano, on Sunday -- meaning their three starting pitchers in this series all are scuffling. Scott Baker (two wins in his past 10 starts) opposes Javier Vazquez on Tuesday. Nick Blackburn (one win in his past eight starts) takes on Mark Buehrle on Wednesday. Kevin Slowey (one win in his past four starts) duels Gavin Floyd on Thursday. The White Sox pitched all three of those guys on short rest last time out, but Monday's off day gets them back on normal rest for this series.
Get out your schedulesYour biggest pennant-race games on Monday's schedule: Phillies rookie J.A. Happ (six shutout innings Wednesday in Atlanta) gets a rematch with the Braves in Philadelphia. Braves starter Jair Jurrjens tossed eight innings of zeroes against the Phillies the last time he visited Philadelphia (July 25). The Mets kick off Shea Stadium's final regular-season homestand with a four-game series against the Cubs, who have already clinched. Mets rookie Jon Niese (8 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 7 K against Atlanta in his previous start) opposes Jason Marquis. Marquis, a native New Yorker, is 2-2 with a 4.70 lifetime ERA at Shea and hasn't won there since 2004. The Cubs spend the week playing the Mets and the Brewers. And manager Lou Pinella promised Sunday: "We're going to have to play representative lineups because it's not fair to the other clubs [if we don't]." One of the biggest potential X factors in October, Rays phenom David Price, will make his first career start Monday in Baltimore. Price whiffed two of the three Twins he faced in a relief outing over the weekend. Josh Beckett, who has a 0.94 ERA in three starts since Dr. James Andrew reassured him that his elbow was OK, faces the surging Indians in Fenway. In case you hadn't noticed, the Indians now are a game over .500 (78-77). They were 16 games under as recently as July 9. So they can wreak some havoc with their final-week duels with the Red Sox and the White Sox. Off Monday: Twins, White Sox, Dodgers, Brewers. Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
PENNANT PULSE 2008
Every day until the end of the regular season, an ESPN.com writer will write about a hot topic related to the pennant races.
• Sept. 28: Rogers: White Sox turn to Buehrle
• Sept. 27: Nelson: Mets on the brink
• Sept. 26: Crasnick: Wet, wild final weekend
• Sept. 25: Neyer: Twins in position in AL Central
• Sept. 24: Crasnick: Spoilers await contenders
• Sept. 23: Keri: Don't count out Diamondbacks
• Sept. 22: Stark: Good (and bad) relief in NL East
• Sept. 21: Shea: Cubs, Rays make it official
• Sept. 20: Nelson: It's Rays' day
• Sept. 19: Crasnick: Phils' time of year
• Sept. 18: Neyer: Three teams, two spots
• Sept. 17: Keri: Twins slipping up at wrong time
• Sept. 16: Klapisch: Mets repeating '07
• Sept. 15: Crasnick: Rays great at home
• Sept. 14: Stone: Watch Angels' bullpen
• Sept. 13: Nelson: Let's play two!
• Sept. 12: Stark: Brewers going flat
• Sept. 11: Klapisch: Astros hand ball to Oswalt
• Sept. 10: Rogers: Not '69 again for Cubs
• Sept. 9: Neyer: No sure thing from NL closers
• Sept. 8: Keri: Red Sox charging to top