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September 25, 2005

Prospectus Today

NL Reset

by Joe Sheehan

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I'll cover the NL in a special weekend edition of Prospectus Today.

When I wrote that Friday, I fully expected to have a lot of interesting things to say about the National League this weekend. The Braves had played poorly enough to open the door in the NL East, the Padres were in the same position in the NL West, and there were four teams with at least some chance at the wild card.

Two days later, though, you look at the landscape and it's hard to see where there's going to be much drama in the last week. The Braves--behind a huge comeback win Friday night--have stretched their edge to five games with eight days left. Their magic number is three. The Padres, who allowed the Diamondbacks a big comeback win last night, have that same sized edge over the Giants. That they have the exact same record as the last-place team in the NL East is merely an unpleasant detail. Their magic number is four, and the only reason to keep an eye out is that they host the Giants for four games this week. They need only to win one to end this thing.

The wild-card race is closer. The Astros survived a missed Roger Clemens start to win for the ninth time in 11 games, stretching their lead over the Phillies to two games. The Phillies followed up their emotional 11-10 win on Friday--in which they blew a 6-1 lead only to score five runs in the ninth--with a no-show Saturday, allowing Eric Milton and his rocket launcher to shut them down in a 3-2 loss. The Marlins, who have lost two extra-inning games and blown two late leads since last Saturday, have been all but eliminated at five games back of the Astros.

So the Braves are going to win the East, and the Padres are almost certain to win the West. The Cardinals--more on them this week--locked up the Central back around Memorial Day. That leaves:


Astros      85-70   .535   --    1 @ ChC, 3 @ StL, 3 vs. Chc
Phillies    83-72   .535    2    1 @ Cin, 3 vs. NYM, 3 @ Was
There's not much edge in the schedule for either team, and they have the same number of home and road games. Assuming Clemens makes his next start--which he should--the Astros will be able to use their big three in five of the final seven games, a big factor for them. They got Morgan Ensberg back this week, giving them the best offense they can have, such as it is.

There's no way to look at these two teams separated by two games and not think back to the first week of September. The Astros went into Philadelphia and took three games by a total of four runs, including an 8-6 win on September 7 in which Billy Wagner gave up a three-run homer to Craig Biggio with two outs in the ninth.

That pitch is the difference between these two teams right now, and as well as the Astros have been playing, it's likely to end up as the difference between them when the season comes to a close next week.

One pitch. One home run. One trip to the playoffs. One chance at a championship.

One great game we have here, isn't it?

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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