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Congratulations, Mets!

By Bill Baer
Posted Monday, August 18, 2008

Weird, huh? A Phillies fan congratulating the team that just surpassed his in the standings. Don't worry, the title is full of snark. What I'm implying is that the Mets' recent success is due to a light schedule that doesn't get any heavier as the month of August wanes. In fact, the Mets' schedule has been pretty easy since the start of July. Consider:

July 8-10: Swept the San Francisco Giants (52-71) on the road.

July 11-13: Swept the Colorado Rockies (57-69) at home.

July 17-20: Split the series with the Cincinnati Reds (55-70) on the road.

August 5-7: Took 2 of 3 from the San Diego Padres (48-76) at home.

August 12-14: Swept the Washington Nationals on the road (44-81).

August 15-17: Won the first three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates (55-69) on the road.

Between July 1 and present (prior to August 15's games), the Mets have won 13 of 17 games (.765) against sub-.500 teams.

Granted, the Mets have also beaten the Phillies (66-58) in 5 of 7 games, but have barely edged the St. Louis Cardinals (70-57), winning 4 of 7, and are 3-3 against the Florida Marlins (64-61).

Looking ahead, the Mets are looking at a relative cakewalk of a second-half of August. They have three against the Atlanta Braves (56-68) and four against the Houston Astros (63-61) at home to follow. While they have a losing record against both teams this season, the Braves traded away Mark Teixeira, have a ton of injuries, and have conceded their playoff aspirations; the Astros, like the Mets, owe their recent success more to an easy schedule (swept the Reds and Giants both in four-game series) than anything -- the 'stros are definitely a sub-.500 team realistically speaking.

Then the Mets have two games in Philadelphia against the recently punch-less Phillies and finish off the month with three in Florida against the Marlins.

September, however, is a tough task. Their only breathers are six games against the Nationals (four on the road) and six against the Braves (three on the road). They face the Brewers in Milwaukee, the Phillies at home, and finish off the season at home with four against the Cubs and three against the Marlins.

The Phillies, in September, have a favorable schedule: Six games against the Nationals and six against the Braves (against whom the Phillies are 10-2 this season). If the Phillies sweep the Nationals (which appears to be the trend, as they've been swept in six of their last eight series dating back to July 22), and split the remaining series against the Dodgers (four games), Mets (two), and Cubs (four), they could still finish the month with a 15-14 record.

So, if the Phillies finish August 15-14 and the Mets 17-12 (they're 10-6 now), the Mets would enter September with only a one-game lead -- half of what they have now -- with a tough month ahead, and the Phillies have a relatively easy month.

Obviously, my analysis of the schedules contains a lot of conjecture and the Mets could just as easily win their next 16 and the Phillies could lose their next 16. The point that should be taken away is that the Mets, between now and the end of the month, need to separate themselves from the pack in the NL East, otherwise, they'll have a devil of a time trying to do it in September. For the Phillies, they simply need to tread water and clamp things down in the final month.

Both teams play the Brewers in September, but the Phillies face them four times at home while the Mets have to start the month in Milwaukee. The Mets also have to face the powerhouse Cubs in New York in the second-to-last series of the season. The one potential bright spot could be that the Cubs have sealed the division and home field advantage by the time September 22 rolls around (unlikely), and start resting their important players.

Last week, I analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the three NL East contenders and came to the conclusion that the Phillies have the least weaknesses, and even if you now fault them on offense (which is likely due to a .239 BABIP in August), they still edge the Mets out everywhere but in the starting rotation. Even that's even a stretch considering that Brett Myers has found himself and Jamie Moyer has a higher ERA+ (123) than every Mets starter besides Johan Santana (142).

Considering that the Mets no longer have the unusually high BABIPs of Fernando Tatis and Carlos Delgado circa July to ride offensively, and closer Billy Wagner is on the disabled list (the bullpen has crapped the bed as a result), the task of taking advantage of a cakewalk August may be even tougher.

You can read more of Bill's work at his blog, Crashburn Alley, or at Baseball Digest Daily. He can also be reached via e-mail: crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Congratulations, Mets!
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