Tagged: NL East

NL East

Note: a “straight
run differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and
runs allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on
basic runs created and component ERA without the adjustment to make it an ERA figure (i.e. IP and
the multiplication by 9 not included).  I then applied the
Pythagorean
Formula
with an exponent of
1.83.

As recently as ten days ago, all five teams in this division
were within six games of the lead.  Oh, what an interesting difference a
week can make in the post-Memorial day environment.  With summer now upon
us three teams have winning records and are within 5.5 games of the top, while
a fourth team clings to playoff contention and the fifth is regressing to its
mean, with hopes and dreams for next season dancing in its (collective) head.

 

BRAVES

42-28, .600 winning percentage, 0 GB, 4.91 runs/game (1st in
NL), 3.96 runs allowed per game (6th in NL); straight run differential
projection of 97 wins and a .599 winning percentage; component run projection
of 90 wins and a .554 winning percentage.

Over the past fortnight, the Braves have played the
Diamondbacks, the Twins, the Rays and the Royals.  Atlanta is 9-4 over
these games, winners of five straight, including 2 of 3 from the Twins and the
Rays, and a clean sweep of three games from the Royals.  Over these last
thirteen games, the Braves have scored 67 runs (5.15 per game) while allowing
54 (4.15 per game).  They’ve allowed a few more than they have been giving
up on average, but they continue their league-leading offensive ways.  And
while the D-Back and the Royals aren’t exactly top-flight competition, the
Twins and the Rays are, and the Braves took four of six games from
those two teams.  Bobby Cox’s team is no fluke and figures to be in the
hunt the whole way down the road.

Looking ahead the Braves visit the White Sox starting tonight before returning
home to face the Tigers and Nationals as they end the month of June.  

Calcaterra refutes the “grit” notion, arguing that the Braves’ success stems from
skill rather than an immeasurable intangible.

A possible distraction for this ballclub has been the Chipper
Jones’ saga: will he or won’t he retire.  Chipper himself has played coy, refusing to give a definitive answer.
 The funny part has been that he’s been hitting close to .500 since all the speculation started.

While the Braves’ outfield could use some help, their pitching is likely to improve.  

ATL--Eric Hinske.jpgAn unheralded free agent signee, Eric Hinke is hot at the right time in the right place.

 

MARLINS

33-36, .478 winning percentage, 8.5 GB, 5 GB Wild Card.
 4.70 runs/game (4th in NL), 4.36 runs allowed per game (8th in NL).
 Straight run differential projection of 83 wins and a .510 winning
percentage.  Component run projection for 79 wins and a .490 winning
percentage.

Over the past two weeks, the Marlins have visited the Phillies,
the Rays, and the Rangers, and they have hosted the Rays.  They were 5-5
over that stretch, and while they were swept by the Rangers, Florida did take
four of six games from the Rays in their two weekend series.  The Yankees
thus own the Marlins some thanks or something,  Over their past ten games,
the Marlins have scored 63 runs while allowing 55 (no per game figures for ten
games, just move the decimal point).  Scoring has thus been up in their
games, as they are scoring and allowing more runs per game over the stretch in
question.  

As play progressed, the Marlins visit Baltimore before returning
home to end June, playing the Padres and the Met in two tough series.

Defensive lapses have proved costly to
Florida of late.

Is Ricky Nolasco the new Carl Pavano (in a that’s not
a compliment kind of way)?

While rookie OF Mike Stanton has hit his first MLB home run in “grand
fashion”, he is still making the adjustment to the Show and
striking out a whole, whole lot (44% of his plate
appearances).  As expected, Cameron Maybin has been shipped back to AAA to make
room for Stanton on the Major League roster.

A couple more promotions and demotions have occurred as the
Marlins try to work past their bullpen blahs and improve what has been a weak link outside of Leo
Nunez. 

FLA--Josh Johnson.jpgWhile Ubaldo Jiminez and Roy Halladay have generated a lot of
justifiable hoopla, Josh Johnson’s awesomeness has been kind of lost in the
shuffle.  J. J., who faced Halladay the night Roy threw his perfect game
in Florida and picked up a tough luck loss in a game in which he allowed only
one unearned run, has been masterful this season.  He
outpitched Halladay twelve days after the perfect game completely shutting the
Phillies down over eight innings.  Johnson’s game log is impressive, with a bunch more
performances that include two or fewer runs allowed over seven or more innings.
 Johnson is sporting a career-high K rate, a career-low walk rater, which
of course translates into a career-best K/BB ratio; along with that he has a
career-best HR/9 rate, a career-low batting average against, a career-low BABIP
against, a career-high strand rate, and while his groundball-to-flyball rate is
slightly down, his home run to flyball rate is also at a career low.  All
this career-best stuff leads to two conclusions: (1) he’s having a career
season and has pretty much a dominant starting pitcher; and (2) he probably
won’t sustain his current level of statistical dominance, but,
then again, he doesn’t need to do so to remain one of the three best starting
pitchers in the National League, and even if his numbers slide some he’ll still
be
 among the best starting pitchers in baseball.

 

METS

30-30, .565 winning percentage, 2.5 GB, 0 GB wild card.
 4.51 runs per game (9th in NL), 3.91 runs allowed per game (5th in NL).
 Straight run differential projection at 91 wins and a .565 winning
percentage; component run projection for 79 wins and a .490 winning percentage.

Note the wild disparity between the straight run differential
projection and the component run projection.  I checked the data three
times and it’s all correct and the spreadsheet is calculating things the right
way.  The Mets are one of the following: (a) really lucky, (b) really
efficient, or (c) some combination of lucky and efficient.  Their actual
run differential is 311 runs scored and 270 runs allowed, but their component
run differential–what we’d expect them to have scored and allowed–is 300 runs
scored versus 346 runs allowed.  So, where my projection is really screwing
up and misreading reality is on the runs allowed question.  It’s been
pretty accurate with other teams, so I’m wondering if someone else who runs
projections and calculates run projections is getting the same strange reading
of the Mets.  I suppose I should be happy for the guys in Queens, but I’m
more concerned that the Mets are wrecking my statistical model.
 (Actually, it’s probably that I’m running a less-that-optimal runs
allowed projection, which is referred to in the “introduction” to
this post.)

Over the past two weeks, the Mets have played the Padres, the Orioles,
the Indians, and the Yankees.  They beat the crap out of who they should
have beaten and dropped two of three to the Yankees in the Bronx.  The
finished the stretch of games 9-3, having scored 57 runs (4.75 per game) and
having allowed 34 (2.83 per game)  That the Padres and Orioles aren’t
exactly offensive powerhouses, the Yankees are, so the Mets have
pitched and fielded pretty darn well over this stretch, and they have been hot
since the beginning of the month, with a 13-4 record in June.  They are
playing a lot better than I thought they would this season, for I had them
pegged as the Cubs of the East, and they are doing this despite three potential
points of weakness: (1) Jason Bay’s underperformance; (2) Jeff
Francouer’s near-total lack of production; and (3) Johan Satnana’s declining velocity.

NYM--Johan Santan 0620.jpg  

The main problem I have with the Mets outperforming expectations
is that it virtually guarantees that GM Omar Minaya will continue to hold his
position and that the Mets’ front office will remain shielded from the
intensive scrutiny that they should be receiving for their previous follies.
 Oh, who am I kidding?  Not living in New York, I am not exposed to
the constant scrutiny the Mets receive, so I’m not aware of it.  But I do
wish to encourage the New York sports media to go nuts figuring out how the Mets’
front office has managed to disappoint repeatedly in the last few years.

Speaking of the Mets’ GM, Mets players want him to go get them an ace, so
maybe the players realize that the team’s actual runs allowed are out of line
with what should be going on.  And maybe they, too, realize the
implications of Santana’s declining velocity.

 

NATIONALS

32-39, 10.5 GB, 8 GB Wild Card.  4.15 runs/game (12th in
NL), 4.66 runs allowed per game (12th in NL).  Straight run differential
projection for 73 wins and a .449 winning percentage.  Component run
projection for 71 wins and a .440 winning percentage.

Over the past two weeks the Nationals have been fading
fast
 have played the Pirates, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, and Royalls,
and they are 5-8 in their games during that stretch, including a sweep of
PIttsburgh, dropping two of three in Cleveland, and being swept by both the
 Tigers and the White Sox.  In those 13 games, the Nationals have
scored 44 runs (3.38 per game) while allowing 60 (4.62 per game), a showing of
offensive ineptitude.  Explaining why they’ve lost more than they’ve won
seems a waste of time since allowing 1.24 more runs per game than you’re
scoring is a one-way ticket to the cellar.

In better news, the Royals seem just the sort of tonic the
Nationals are in need of and they are in Washington for two more games.
 The Nationals beat Kansas City behind some strong pitching on
Monday night.

To finish June the Nationals will finish the KC series before
traveling to Baltimore–another tonic–and Atlanta–not so much on the tonic
end of things.

Obligatory Stephen Strasburg link dump to follow.

Are strikeouts a bad thing for Stephen
Strasburg?  Thomas Boswell wants to minimize the stress on SS’s arm and so
would like to see fewer deep counts, fewer pitches, and more weak tappers.
 He’s got a point, sort of.

It turns out that hitters aren’t alone in being overwhelmed by
Strasburg’s stuff: he’s too much for the umpires to handle as well.

Murray Chass has questions
regarding Strasburg’s innings pitched
.  Rob Neyer provides answers.

In other Nationals’ pitching news, John Lannan was sent down to
Double-A, which leads to some questions, but a glance at his peripherals provides some
answers, with Josh Alper of Fanhouse hitting the nail
squarely on the head: 

For his career, he’s struck out just 4.3 batters per nine innings
and walked 3.5, a ratio that makes it very difficult to sustain success over a
long period of time. His groundball rate has dropped since 2008, a further sign
of trouble for a pitcher who simply can’t miss bats often enough.

 

PHILLIES

35-32, .522 winning percentage, 5.5 GB, 3.5 GB Wild Card.
 4.60 runs per game (7th in NL) and 4.28 runs allowed per game (7th in
NL).  Straight Run Differential Projection for 86 wins with a .528 winning
percentage.  Component run projection for 82 wins and a .508 wining
percentage.

Over the last fortnight, the Phillies are 5-7 in their games
versus the Padres, the Marlins, the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Twins.
 That is good competition but it seems as though the Phillies are waiting
for their Godot or their Mojo or something.  In taking two
of three from the Yankees in the Bronx, there were thoughts that the series could turn their season around, but they promptly
returned home and dropped two of three to the Twins.  While lots of teams
have dropped two of three to the Twins, the problem for the Phillies was that
they dropped a game on Saturday in which they led 8-3 at one point, meaning
they had to really subtract some serious Win Probability to
lose that game, and then they lost behind Roy Halladay who was seemingly
outpitched by Carl Pavano (?!) on Sunday afternoon.

Over their past twelve games, the Phillies have scored 56 runs
(4.57 per game) while allowing 72 runs (6.00 per game).  Despite the fact
that two of their losses included back-to-back thumpings by the Red Sox, the
Phillies’ run prevention efforts have been subpar and are a significant
contributor to their recent slide in the standings.  While their offensive
woes have received more attention–and justly so, since their offense has been
highly touted–their inability to compensate for their muffled bats with
tighter defense and better pitching, particularly from the bullpen, has been a
real and perhaps growing problem.

The Phillies finish June by visiting Cleveland, then returning
to Philadelphia to “visit” the Blue Jays before traveling to
Cincinnati.  

Despite their recent struggles, everyone around
Philadelphia insists things are still cool.

The Phillies’ mojo–or at least their shortstop Jimmy Rollins–is due back today.

 

 


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Two Significant National League Streaks Snapped

First, the Diamondbacks of Arizona snapped their 10 game losing streak.  They had to rally a couple of times before beating the Rockies 7-6 on a game-ending Ryan Roberts single in the bottom of the ninth.  The D-Backs have now been involved in five consecutive “walk-off” endings, the first four coming at their expense.  Arizona ended another streak Friday night: a 31 inning scoreless streak.  Good for them, that’s the kind of stuff that really eats at a ballplayer’s (and a team’s) confidence.  They have a long, long road back, however, for their division, the National League West, is pretty good, and those other four teams can really pitch.  Not to mention that they are 7.5 games out of fourth place; not quite Orioles’ territory, but not that far away, either.

Second, the Los Angeles Dodgers snapped the Atlanta Braves’ nine-game winning streak, winning 5-4 in Chavez Ravine thanks to a James Loney RBI single in the seventh inning.  The Los Angeles Times calls it a flashback to the Dodgers teams of the 70s.  The Braves, who had a nine-game losing streak in April, have been baseball’s hotted team over th past two weeks and entering play on Friday had opened a three-game lead over the slumping Phillies.  The NL East appears, like the NL West and the AL East, to be developing into a possible four-team race, although counting the Nationals out of the NL East race may be a mistake.  Starting play on Saturday, the entire NL East is within 5.5 games of the lead, with Philadelphia 2 games out, New York 4 games behind, Florida trailing by 4.5, and Washington 5.5 back, but only two games under the .500 mark.  The Dodgers, for their part, trail NL West-leading San Diego by only one-half of a game.  

Whew!  This is shaping up to be a pretty entertaining summer!

Nationals Rising Up

To paraphrase the great and fictional Harry Doyle:  In case you haven’t noticed, and–judging by the attendanceyou haven’t, the Nationals have managed to win a few here and there, and are threatening to climb…into first place(?!).

Crazy as it sounds–and believe me, it sounds outright nuts–the Nationals begin play on Friday in sole possession of second place in the National League East, trailing the three-time defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies by a mere one game
2010 features the best start by the Nationals since they moved to D.C. in 2005.
While I’m not explicitly trying to channel my inner Tim Kurkjian, this really is a “great story,” in the same way that fictional Major League was a great story: a perennial losing team, with a cast of castoffs–Livan Hernandez and Matt Capps, for example–meet a couple of talented younger players–Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, with Stephen Strasburg lurking in the wings–and the team defies (incredibly low) expectations.  What makes it better is that it is really happening.
The Twins are a great story, and the Rangers are looking like they are going to be a great story, but we knew that the Twins would be good, and if we’d really thought about it, we would have agreed that the Rangers would probably be good, too.  But, no matter what happens over the rest of the season, for this weekend, at least, Washington, D.C. has a legitimate great story that doesn’t feature sex scandals, partisan bickering, or the egomanical fumblings of Daniel Snyder.  Just the pure joy of winning baseball.  
It’s great.
It’s so surprising even Nationals’ fans don’t seem to believe it.
I suppose all of the above should be accompanied by the caveat that the worm might quickly turn, and the Nats might revert to form since the Braves, Marlins, Mets, and Phillies all have much more talent on their rosters, and the Nationals are kind of defying gravity, sporting the only negative run differential in the division.  They aren’t the Pirates, for goodness’ sake, but they will not maintain their recent winning ways if they can’t turn the run differential thing around.   
So, enjoy it while you can, especially fans in the D.C. area.
I know I will.
UPDATE: Mark Zuckerman, a baseball beat reporter whose job got downsized the hard way when the Washington Times went belly-up, and the writer of the blog “Nats Insider”, thinks the Nationals may be legit:
We’re now 35 games into the marathon. By the end of this road trip, the Nationals will have reached the quarter pole of the season. Even if they lose their next five, they’ll still come home with a .500 record.

It’s time to start thinking of the Nationals as legit. Are there obvious holes and problem areas? Absolutely. The bullpen is still woefully thin. Right field remains a major question mark, Roger Bernadina’s recent surge notwithstanding. The rotation is relying on Livan Hernandez,Scott Olsen and Luis Atilano to carry the load, and I’m not sure how long you can realistically continue like that.

But in the grand scheme of things, these are fairly minor quibbles. They may cause members of Red Sox Nation to go into full-blown panic mode. But if this is the worst NatsTown has to worry about right now, life is pretty good.

It’s May 14 and the Washington Nationals are leading the NL wild-card race. Their third baseman is one of the best all-around players in the game. Their Hall-of-Fame catcher is batting .367 and before retiring may record his 3,000th career hit while wearing a Nationals uniform. By the end of the night, they may have the league leader in wins (Clippard), saves (Capps) and ERA (Hernandez). And the greatest pitching prospect in a generation will be joining the roster in about three weeks.

Who’d a thunk it?
Hmm.  We’ll see