Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Home Stretch- NL East

Like most races this year, the NL East has developed into a two-team contest. The Braves had been dominating the division for most of the season, but a strong month or so by the Phillies combined with a fairly weak July for the Braves has pulled the Phillies to within 2.5 games.

The Phillies have been walking wounded this year. Every key position player- be it Rollins, Victorino, Utley, or Polanco- has missed  significant time this season, and Ryan Howard is currently on the DL with a sprained ankle. With Howard seemingly coming increasingly close to being ready to return and the rest of the core returning to full strength, the Phillies could be on the verge of a serious playoff push.

The Braves are moving in the opposite direction, and at exactly the wrong time for the club’s playoff hopes. Caught in the midst of a dogfight for the division championship, the Braves also got the unfortunate news that Chipper Jones will miss the rest of the season (and potentially be forced to retire) with a knee injury. Though they are working on the finishing touches to bring in Derrek Lee from the Cubs as I write this post, Lee’s bat and clubhouse leadership will not replace what they’ve lost in Chipper, especially if Lee continues the subpar year he’s been having.

PECOTA gives the Braves a 65% chance to take the division. The Phillies take the other 35%, with a below one percent chance of October baseball distributed between the rest of the division. The Wild Card situation complicates this division slightly, as there are at least two teams in each division in the Senior Circuit with more than a one in ten chance of playing October baseball through a Wild Card win. That should make the NL’s race to the postseason as fun to watch any in the last decade.

To complicate things further, the Phillies and Braves will play six games in a two-week stretch to finish the season. First, they have a three game set in Philadelphia from September 20th to the 22nd. Then, all eyes will be on these teams as the Phillies travel to Atlanta to end the season with a three game October series from the 1st to the 3rd. If this division continues to stay close, this stretch will probably determine which NL East team will have a shot at the title.

I'm going to take the Braves in this one. Their pitching is as strong top-to-bottom as any team on the Senior Circuit, and I think that gets it done. It's going to a fun race to watch, however, and it seems quite likely to come down to that final series.

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