Catharsis: From the Brew Crew to the Blue Crew

In four NLDS games, the Phillies have disposed of the Milwaukee Brewers with relative ease. Three of the four games saw strong starting pitching from Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton (combined 23 IP, 3 ER, 1.17 ERA) with great support from the bullpen (10 IP, 4 ER, 3.60 ERA). The offense wasn’t impressive (3.75 runs per game) but did enough to back up the pitching.

Picking the LVP — the Least Valuable Player — of the series is easy: Corey Hart. He was 3-for-13 in the series with 4 strikeouts and grounded into a double play that helped Brett Myers escape a tense first inning in Game 2. To add insult to injury, he made a base running gaffe in Game 3 where he was too aggressive rounding first base on a single to right field and Jayson Werth threw a laser to first baseman Ryan Howard who tagged him out.

Picking the MVP of the series is a bit harder. Shane Victorino was 5-for-14 with a home run (yeah, that grand slam off of C.C. Sabathia), five RBI, and three stolen bases. Pat Burrell came into Game 4 0-for-8 but went 3-for-4 with two dingers and four RBI in the Phillies’ 6-2 win in the clincher. Cole Hamels pitched eight shutout innings in Game 1, Myers pitched 7 strong innings giving up only two earned runs, and Blanton threw six strong innings giving up only one earned run.

In general, the Phillies’ starting pitching was the MVP, but if you have to award it to one person, Victorino’s the winner.

The Phillies advance to the NLCS for the first time since 1993; the Dodgers advance to the NLCS for the first time since 1988.

Stay tuned for a preview of the Dodgers-Phillies NLCS preview at The Hardball Times. Once again, I’ll be collaborating with John Brattain. And sometime between now and the weekend, I’ll have my picks for the regular season awards posted.

Proponents of 7-game LDS Are Wrong

Should Major League baseball turn the League Division Series from a 5-game series into a 7-game series?

The question has been brought up in various segments on ESPN and some writers have opined on the idea, such as Hal Bodley: they think that a 5-game LDS series is too luck-based and suggest that a 7-game series is more fair in that bad teams can’t depend on absolute luck and advance to and potentially win the World Series, like the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s a hair-triggered reaction to the downfall of the Chicago Cubs, who were the National League’s best team almost all year, but have quickly fallen behind two games to none to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. The Dodgers finished with a record 13 full games worse than the Cubs did, so the Dodgers obviously should never have been close to a victory. It’s not like they have good pitching and good hitting, right? I mean, who’s this Manny Ramirez guy, and what’s up with the other guy named Chad Billingsley?

Would a 7-game series really solve anything? The only thing it would accomplish is uniformity — the LDS would be just as long as the LCS and World Series. Given a larger sample size, of course, the effect of luck is diminished, but we’re only talking about two games.

Additionally, adding two games (likely three days if you include an off-day for travel) would mean that the World Series would finish in early November. Not that there’s a whole lot of difference between November 3 and October 31, but as they say, “if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.” It’s just a precedent that needn’t be set.

The sudden cries for a 7-game LDS reminds me of when we as kids used to play Roshambo (Rock, Paper, Scissors) and whenever you beat your opponent in a best-of-three, he’d angrily ask for a best-of-five, then when you beat him again, he’d ask for a best-of-seven, and then a best-of-nine, and a best-of-eleven … until he finally won.

While I don’t think all of the sudden support for a 7-game LDS is due to pity for the Cubs, it’s hard to imagine that if the Cubs were up 2-0 on the Dodgers that there’d be any discussion on the matter. Oftentimes we root for the underdog, but for some reason, the top dog Cubs are getting a lot of support (likely due to their reputation and large fan base) and aren’t receiving too much criticism for their failures.

The Cubs aren’t going to lose the LDS due to bad luck; they simply played badly. Occam’s Razor, right? Kosuke Fukudome has been awful, similar to most of his 2008 regular season. The defense, especially in Game 2, looked worse than Little League-quality. The Dodgers’ pitching has been pretty damn good, a credit to Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley.

Do you really think that teams that have played the way the Cubs have played deserve more opportunities to advance in the post-season? The teams that play the best advance. What’s wrong with that?

I guess it’s just a bad concept when the plot doesn’t unfold exactly the way you want it to: the Cubs are the hapless lovable losers who are cursed by a goat, and this is their hundredth year without a World Series championship on their mantel. Wouldn’t it be great if the Cubs exorcised their demons the way the Boston Red Sox did in 2004, or the Chicago White Sox in 2005?

That’s life. Just because things don’t turn out the way you’d like doesn’t mean you can change the rules around. I can’t give myself authority to fire the person who got the promotion instead of me. I can’t edit my lottery numbers so that I won last week’s jackpot.

The call for an amendment to the current LDS set-up is infantile and unjustified. There may be legitimate arguments to be made for such an amendment, but all that has been presented thus far has been unwarranted, hair-triggered, emotional appeals for the Cubs.

A Legendary At-Bat

No one with a solid grasp of logic picked the Phillies to win Game 2 of the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers. C.C. Sabathia is just too good and had been too dominant to go against him.

Brett Myers, pitcher and absolutely not a hitter extraordinaire, would have none of that. Unfazed by Sabathia’s 1.65 ERA as a Brewer, Myers was buried early in the count 0-2, but worked it back to 3-2, fouled off a tough pitch, and eventually worked the walk.

Here’s what the at-bat looked like in MLB Gameday:

Brett Myers first at-bat vs. C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS

As the baseball gods would have it, Myers’ walk paid dividends. Jimmy Rollins came up and worked a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Shane Victorino took two pitches for a 1-1 count before fouling off a tough fastball. C.C. thought he could get him with a slider, but thought wrong as Shane drove the slider over the left field seats for a grand slam, and the Phillies went up 5-1.

If you add up the 9 pitches Myers saw, the four that Rollins and Victorino each saw, and the three that Sabathia had to throw to strike out Chase Utley, you arrive at 20 pitches. Since Sabathia had Myers 0-2 and Myers is a pitcher, you could make the argument that Sabathia threw 17 more pitches than necessary because of the Phillies’ patience at the plate.

For a pitcher that threw 335 pitches in three starts in a span of nine days, the extra 20 pitches shaved an inning or two off of Sabathia’s max, which means more exposure to the Brewers’ flawed bullpen (which, unfortunately, looked pretty good last night).

When looking back on the Phillies’ road to the NLCS, Victorino’s grand slam will stick out like a sore thumb, but Myers’ at-bat was extremely important. Don’t forget it!

UPDATE: Myers worked another full count, but this time flew out to center fielder Mike Cameron on the tenth pitch. Myers’ plate approach is immaculate. All by himself, he’s seen 19 pitches in two at-bats.
Here’s the MLB Gameday view of the second at-bat:

Brett Myers' second at-bat against C.C. Sabathia in Game 2 of the NLDS

UPDATE #2: What do you know? In Myers’ third at-bat, this time against righty Seth McClung, he swung at the first pitch he saw and dropped it into shallow right field for a single to load the bases with two outs for Jimmy Rollins, who unfortunately lined out to Prince Fielder to end the inning.

UPDATE #3: Oh yeah, Brett Myers pitched well, too. His first inning was shaky, but his overall start was great. 7 IP, 2 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 4 K.

Also, when the game ends (bottom of the 8th now), the LI and BABIP spreadsheets will be updated.

One Step Below the Nobel

While I’m loath to link to my pre-season predictions for the 2008 baseball season, I need to do so to cite some relevant quotes. You see, the Detroit Tigers were being hyped a lot prior to the season because of the acquisition of both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Many thought that the offense would be legendary, capable of scoring more than 1,000 total runs. I didn’t buy it, and I clashed with the author, and friend of the blog, of Moondog Sports.

If you scroll down to the comments, you’ll see a conversation between us that went like this:

Moondog Sports: If Detroit can maintain a decent rotation and bullpen, they’ll probably score about 17,000 runs with that lineup. This may be the best lineup I’ve ever seen.

Crashburn Alley: The Tigers’ lineup is overrated. They’ll be #1 or 2 offensively, but they won’t score 1,000 runs. They’ll score 950 at best… you heard it here first. Their pitching is hopelessly mediocre though. You have Verlander and ?. Bunch of league-average or worse pitchers.

Moondog: OK, tell you what. The Tigers score 1,000 runs this season. If they don’t, I’ll link to the Huffington Post.

If they do, you have to link to Bill O’Reilly.

What say you?

Crashburn: I’ll easily take that wager. But I don’t care much for the HuffPo anymore, I don’t think I’ve been there in a few months. Hmm… how about the loser has to write a complimentary piece about the other’s blog, minimum 500 words?

Moondog: Agreed.

And so the prolific clash of the titans began. I was right about them failing to score 1,000 runs (they scored 821) which was all that mattered, but I was wrong about them being “#1 or 2 offensively” (they were #4).

Moondog, as a man of his word, has written that complimentary piece about me and my blog over at Moondog Sports. Click here to read it.

Yeah, you guys don’t want to go against me when it comes to baseball. I’m all-knowing and all-powerful. What’s that? Oh, I predicted a Rockies-Indians World Series just for kicks. It’s not like I actually thought those two teams would be good.

Ahem. Oh, I picked Clint Hurdle for NL Manager of the Year? Joke. It was a joke. So was picking Aaron Harang for the NL Cy Young.

Hey, to be fair, I was pretty spot-on with my “Most Overrated” picks, and I called the great season from Brad Lidge and the breakout season from Andre Ethier. This back needs some patting.

I didn’t say this, did I?

Eric Gagne should be great for them so long as he stays healthy.

I did. Is that grounds for automatic expulsion from the blogosphere?

Stay tuned for next year’s predictions!

Ryan Howard Ain’t Even Close to MVP

The media hype machine is at it again: lauding yet another undeserving candidate for the MVP award. I’m sorry to have to report this, but Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is about as deserving of the NL MVP award as I am of Pennsylvania’s Best-Looking award (I’m not sure if that’s an actual award, but if it is, I wouldn’t mind a few write-in votes on my behalf, thanks).

There’s no question that he’s been Midas at the plate in September, sporting a 1.267 OPS going into tonight’s series opener against the Washington Nationals. However, the games in September count equally as the games in April (one either in the win or loss column, in case you were wondering), and Howard posted a sub-.800 OPS in three months (March/April, .640; June, .726; August, .791).

His overall .875 OPS (prior to tonight’s game) ranks 21st in the National League and tied for 5th among NL first basemen. Heading into Sabermetric territory, he ranks 11th among all MLB first basemen in VORP and 13th among all MLB first basemen in PMLVr. It’s a joke, really, that Howard is mentioned as a leading MVP candidate when you have Albert Pujols and his ridiculous 1.099 OPS and amazing defense as well as Lance Berkman’s 1.044 OPS and nearly as amazing defense. Howard isn’t exactly a Hoover with the glove, y’know?

It is a testament, it seems, to human gullibility to fanciful plots. The Phillies succeeded despite Ryan Howard’s mediocre (and at various points, downright depressing) offensive performances in the first five months; they’ve won a few games in the last month or so (la de frickin’ da). Apparently, the first five months are erased once the kids head back to school.

The most depressing statistic of Howard’s, to me, is his on-base percentage. In his first two full seasons in ’06 and ’07, he put up OBP’s of .425 and .392, respectively. This year, it’s .337 compared to the league average of .346. It’s not that he’s not walking, as he’s only on pace to finish with 7 less unintentional walks than last season. A good part of his missing OBP is the 50% drop in intentional passes, 35 to 17. Pitchers and managers are just willing to take their chances with him now, since holes in his swing and bad mechanics have been found and abused.

The remaining chunk of his lost OBP is from balls in play. His BABIP this season is .285 with a 22.4 LD% (roughly, we’d expect a .344 BABIP). Oddly enough, a look at his batted ball rates makes his 2007 season stick out like a sore thumb (courtesy Howard’s player page on FanGraphs). His batted ball rates closely mimic those of his 2006 season except that his BABIP is a good bit lower. This isn’t a point in Howard’s favor though, as you don’t reward a player for simply being a bit unlucky on balls in play.

Ryan Howard batted ball rates

Howard’s SLG is fine, but still a good 50 points under his career average. Including tonight’s game, Howard has more HR and the same amount of doubles as he did last season when he slugged .584, but the difference is that he’s had nearly 75 more at-bats.

Albert Pujols is having one of the best seasons of his career, which is really saying something, considering his career 169 OPS+. Ditto Lance Berkman with a career 148 OPS+. Howard is having the worst season of his career. It would be an insult to any baseball fan with a grasp of logic if Howard wins the NL MVP award (or even the Silver Slugger). That means, of course, to buckle up and put on a helmet to protect yourself from the barrage of bad votes to be cast by the BBWAA.

Hey, notice how I didn’t even bring up Howard’s strikeouts? That’s because they don’t mean a damn thing.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive “Who Should Win the Awards” article that is guaranteed to waste between 5-10 minutes of your time depending on how fast you read and how quickly you decide to X out of Crashburn Alley.

EDIT 9/28: If you’re wondering where the Liveblog from last night’s game is, I’ve archived it.

All Right, Who Did It?

Oddly enough, this is not a joke. Three suspicious packages were found at Citizens Bank Park earlier today and they were detonated by a bomb squad. Per Todd Zolecki:

Citizens Bank Park was evacuated briefly this afternoon after three suspicious packages were found just outside the ballpark, a Phillies official said.

Turns out the packages were harmless — just hot dogs. This space is reserved for the multitude of hot dog-bomb jokes that you can make.

If there was a legitimate bomb threat, though, we’d have to whittle through a list of suspects.

Phillies fans could be behind it because it’d be an artistic metaphor for the Mets’ poor play in the Septembers of aught-seven and aught-eight.

Mets fans could be behind it because it’s their only shot at the division.

Jo-Jo Reyes could be behind it because he didn’t want to get shelled… again.

John McCain could be behind it to add another excuse to postponing the debate.

Harry Kalas could be behind it because he didn’t want to have to endure three hours of his colleague Chris Wheeler pronouncing Jo-Jo Reyes’ last name as “Ray-ass.”

Ah, screw it. We all know Saddam would have been behind it. Posthumously.

Why Vote for Webb When You Can Vote for Hamels?

With Brandon Webb earning his 22nd victory of the 2008 season yesterday, his candidacy for the NL Cy Young award grows ever stronger. What a lot of people don’t know is that Webb might barely be top-five material when it comes to that award, and Philadelphia’s own Cole Hamels is a better selection.

Cole Hamels vs. Brandon Webb, NL Cy Young 2008

As we can see, Hamels averages nearly a third of an inning more (doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not nothing), has a lower ERA and WHIP, and strikes out more and walks less. The only mark against Hamels is the home run rate, but he’s a fly ball pitcher and Webb is a ground ball pitcher, so that’s to be expected.

Back at the end of July, I noted that both Cole Hamels and Johan Santana (another unmentioned Cy Young candidate) had been unlucky. At that point (July 23), Hamels had four no-decisions and three losses in quality starts. Since then, Hamels has had 11 starts, eight of which were quality starts. In those eight quality starts, he hasn’t lost, but has had two more no-decisions.

Webb has 23 total quality starts this season. He’s lost in only one of them and got two no-decisions in the others. In his non-quality starts, Webb has also received one win.

With all of this talk about quality starts, it’s important to realize that it’s just a very quick way to separate a pitcher’s good performances from the bad. It’s very general. To utilize the quality start in a more efficient way, I suggest reading Brian Joseph’s article at MVN called Revisiting and Reinventing the Quality Start.

Of course, this Webb-Hamels debate leaves out other, more deserving candidates, like Tim Linceum, Johan Santana, and Ryan Dempster. Hamels is probably fourth on the list behind that trio, and Webb might be fifth.

A case can also be made for closer Brad Lidge. In my previous entry, I noted that many are making a case for K-Rod for MVP and/or Cy Young in the American League (which is completely ridiculous), but Lidge should get some limited support for the NL Cy Young. He leads all relievers, by far, in WPA. It is arguably one of the best seasons by a closer since Eric Gagne in 2003.

The Phillies are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers, their likely NLDS opponent, for the best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.25. Lidge, with a 1.87 ERA (238 ERA+) in nearly 70 innings, is a big part of that (15% to be exact). The Phils also have the fewest blown saves in the league with 15, and none of those are Lidge’s — he’s a perfect 40-for-40 in save opportunities.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of awarding relief pitchers since they pitch three times fewer innings than starters, but practically speaking, Lidge has been the difference between October baseball and October golf for the Phillies. Let’s take a look at the Phillies’ record if Lidge blows a specific percentage of his saves and the Phillies lose as a result.

Brad Lidge Saves

If Lidge saves “only” 95% of the games, the Phillies are tied with the Mets. If he saves “only” 90% (four blown saves, which appears to be the average), they’re two games back.

It’s not fair to just take away games from the Phillies as if this hypothetical world is a vacuum, but it still gives you a good idea of how Lidge’s success has pushed the Phillies this far.

All told, Hamels should be at the back end of the top-five in the NL Cy Young race and Lidge should be at the back end of the top-ten.

The Best Team Never to Win 90 Games

Looking at the Phillies’ records from present back to 2001 is interesting: not once have they won 90 or more games, but they’ve been in contention down to the very end in just about every season. They won 89 last season, and they’re at 89 now with five games left. Even better, the Phils have won 85 or more games every season since 2003. Could they be the best team never to win 90 games in a six- or eight-year span? They’d have to be up there especially if you add another qualifier — “never to win a post-season game.” Before last season, that qualifier would have been “never to make the playoffs.”

How much better is this year’s team compared to last year?

2008: 4.92 runs per game
2007: 5.51 runs per game (+0.59)

2008: 4.20 runs allowed per game
2007: 5.07 runs allowed per game (+0.87)

2008: 0.72 run differential
2007: 0.44 run differential (-0.28)

In the National League this season, only the Cubs are better in that respect.

How about a more in-depth look at the pitching?

2008: 4.26 starters’ ERA
2007: 4.91 starters’ ERA (+0.65)

2008: 3.29 relievers’ ERA
2007: 4.50 relievers’ ERA (+1.21)

Obviously, the biggest reason for the bullpen’s success is Brad Lidge, who has a 1.87 ERA and leads all relievers in WPA by far. Many are talking about Francisco Rodriguez as a viable candidate for the AL MVP, which is laughable, but if you’re going to include K-Rod, why not Brad Lidge? He’s certainly a much better candidate for MVP than Ryan “120 OPS+ compared to Albert Pujols’ 184 OPS+” Howard.

Is the post-season rotation improved over last season’s quintuplet of Hamels, Kendrick/Lohse (both in Game 2), and Moyer? The only difference is that Brett Myers will get Game 2 and, aside from his last start against the Marlins, has been immaculate since being called up from his demotion to the Minor Leagues.

The Phillies, as likely winners of the division, will end up playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the NL Division Series. In his only start against the Dodgers this season, Myers scattered 9 hits over 7 shut-out innings while walking 3 and striking out 8.

Hamels pitched against the Dodgers twice this season with eerily similar results. He pitched 7 innings in both, gave up 5 hits in both, and allowed two runs in both. The only differences were in walks and strikeouts: 2 BB, 7 K in the first one, 0 BB, 5 K in the second.

The Dodgers haven’t seen Jamie Moyer this year.

Lastly, one more item to look at as it relates to the playoffs: the Phillies, with five games left, have one more turn through the rotation before the NLDS starts on October 1. Hamels on the 23rd, Myers on the 24th, Blanton on the 26th, Moyer on the 27th, and Happ on the 28th. That means that Hamels and Myers will have plenty of rest in-between starts, at 7 days apiece.

Things are looking pretty good. Right now, the pressing questions are, “Who is going to be on the mound when the Phillies clinch?” and “How can they celebrate better than Brett Myers did last season?”

Proof Charlie Manuel Reads This Blog

Yahoo! Sports: Happ to take Kendrick’s start for Phillies

Left-hander J.A. Happ, who has made only two starts this season, will replace Kyle Kendrick in the rotation for Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.

Kendrick (11-9) allowed seven runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings in a 10-8 loss to the Florida Marlins last Tuesday. He has allowed 13 runs in only 5 1-3 innings in two starts this month, leaving his overall ERA at 5.44.

Me, yesterday:

[…]if Kyle Kendrick gets one more start with the way he’s been pitching, it may hamper the Phils’ post-season chances. Since the start of July, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 1.9 WHIP to complement a lousy 3.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9. Shortening the rotation to four starters, or replacing Kendrick with J.A. Happ is a necessary use of strategy at this point.

That’s all the proof you need that Charlie Manuel is a Crashburn Alley reader.

Or that he (and/or others in the organization) just have common sense. You know, whatever. Same thing, really.

Tonight’s Game @ Atlanta

It’s a cliche at this point, but tonight’s game against the Braves is an emotional roller coaster, best illustrated by this FanGraphs chart:

Phillies @ Braves 09/16/08

Vocabulary

Sombero: When a player goes 0-for-3 with 3 strikeouts.

Golden Sombero: When a player goes 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts.

Platinum Sombrero: When a player goes 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts.

According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, there have been 109 instances where a player has struck out five or more times in a game, with the record being six (seven times).

One Patrick Burrell has gone 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts tonight. Enjoy your new hat. Please come back next season.

UPDATE: Brad Lidge has topped his high-LI mark. It was previously the strikeout of Joe Mather in the ninth inning on August 3 (LI of 10.86) but his strikeout of Gregor Blanco to end tonight’s game had an LI of 10.87.

The LI and BABIP spreadsheets have been updated, by the way. I don’t know if anyone uses ’em but they’re fun for me.

Thoughts on the Phils’ Run

After his Milwaukee Brewers got swept by the Phillies in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park, Ned Yost was relieved of his managerial duties. Many fans of the Brew Crew will tell you that it was a long time coming — Yost should have been canned a long, long time ago. I’m not going to discuss that here, though. It is interesting to note, however, that this is the third person to lose his job after playing the Phillies: starter Matt Morris, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willie Randolph (technically it wasn’t directly “after” playing the Phillies, though it was a bit of punishment for last year’s epic collapse), and now Yost.

Want to play rough tomorrow, Bobby Cox? Bring it — I’m sure Frank Wren won’t have a problem with canning you.

Friend of the blog MattS (whom I quoted in my appearance on the Live from Gotham podcast) noted that CoolStandings.com had the Phillies at 69.1% to make the playoffs yesterday, up from 39.6% on Saturday. That’s significant. The Phils picked up all four games they trailed the Brewers by going into the four-game series, and also picked up three games on the New York Mets, including their loss tonight at the hands of the Washington Nationals (meaning the Phillies are now only 0.5 games behind in the NL East).

There are still a lot who doubt the Phillies, taking into account their recent offensive ineptitude and the somewhat unsurprising struggles the various members of the bullpen have had. Still, though, between the Phillies, Mets, and Brewers, the red pinstripes have the best average run differential (+0.72 per game). And even compared to the Brewers, the Phillies can feel good about their starting pitching with Cole Hamels and the resurgent Brett Myers, whose second-half performance is topped only by C.C. Sabathia.

After a bit of a grace period, the Mets’ bullpen appears to be back to hemorrhaging leads. Both of their recent losses to the Atlanta Braves were bullpen-authored. Since September 9, the bullpen has thrown nearly 17 innings (nearly an average of 3 innings per game) and put up an ERA of 8.10 and a WHIP of 1.80. Equally as unimpressive are the BB, K, and HR rates: 5.4, 5.4, and 2.2 respectively. The walk and HR rates are really, really high, and the K-rate is way too low, especially for relievers.

To what can we attribute the Phillies’ recent success (7-3 over their last 10)? The easy answer is starting pitching, as the only bad starts have come from Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton (Sept. 8). However, the offense has hit at least one home run in eleven straight games, their longest streak since July 22-August 6 (the Phils went 9-2). The Phillies’ offense is more dependent on power hitting than most other offenses, so if they’re not hitting home runs, they’re not going to score many runs any other way.

Additionally, the Phillies have an average .304 BABIP over those last ten games, a huge step up from the .269 BABIP they had in August and the average .231 BABIP they had going into the series with the Florida Marlins.

Let’s have an updated look at the teams’ remaining schedules…

PHILLIES

9/16-18: @ ATL

9/19-21: @ FLA

9/22-24: vs. ATL

9/25: OFF

9/26-28: vs. WAS

METS

9/16-18: @ WAS

9/19-21: @ ATL

9/22-25: vs. CHC

9/26-28: vs. FLA

BREWERS

9/16-18: @ CHC

9/19-21: @ CIN

9/22: OFF

9/23-25: vs. PIT

9/26-28: vs. CHC

The Phillies easily have the easiest remaining schedule. On the season, they’re 10-2 against the Braves, 6-9 against the Marlins, and 9-6 against the Nationals.

The Mets have the unfortunate circumstance of having to play the Cubs in a four-game series, but there is a silver lining for the ‘politans: the Cubs will probably clinch the division before the series starts, so they will probably not be facing the Cubs at full strength. On the season, the Mets are 10-4 against the Nationals, 6-9 against the Braves, 0-2 against the Cubs, and 9-6 against the Marlins.

The Brewers have it bad — real bad. Six whole games against the Cubs and at least three of them will be against the “try hard” or “pre-clinch” Cubs. On the season, the Brewers are 4-6 against the Cubs, 7-8 against the Reds, and 11-1 against the Pirates.

Should the division and/or Wild Card leads come down to the final series of the season and it’s within a game or two, the Phillies have only the Nationals to slay while the Mets have to fend off the pesky Marlins and the Brewers have to deal with the Cubs.

Last season, of course, the Phils went 2-1 in the last series of the season against the Nats, with Brett Myers closing out Game #162 which saw the Phillies clinch their first post-season berth since 1993. The Phillies also closed out the season against the Nationals in 2005, sweeping the three-game series.

If the Phillies win the Wild Card, they’ll face the Cubs in the Division Series with the likely match-ups being Hamels/Zambrano, Myers/Harden, and Moyer/Lilly.

If the Phillies win the East, they’ll probably face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS though I’m not sure how the Dodgers will order the rotation. I’d assume they’d open with Chad Billingsley but manager Joe Torre might prefer veteran starter Derek Lowe in the opener (Lowe, of course, won the clinching game each of the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series in 2004 for the Boston Red Sox).

However, all of this talk of the post-season is much too hasty. There are still 12 games to be played. And if Kyle Kendrick gets one more start with the way he’s been pitching, it may hamper the Phils’ post-season chances. Since the start of July, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 1.9 WHIP to complement a lousy 3.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9. Shortening the rotation to four starters, or replacing Kendrick with J.A. Happ is a necessary use of strategy at this point.  It will leave a sour taste in my mouth if the Phillies lose either the division and/or the Wild Card by two games or less having allowed Kendrick to make two or more starts.

But I didn’t mean to dampen all that optimism with a bit of reality. The Phillies will steamroll their way through the playoffs, just like they did last year, right? Oops, there goes that self-defense mechanism. Just too used to getting shafted (read: Phillies, Wild Card circa 2003 vs. Marlins; circa 2005 vs. Astros).