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August 9, 2013

What You Need to Know

Running Out of Races

by Daniel Rathman


The Thursday Takeaway
Fans rooting for maximum entropy in September have suffered blow after blow over the past few weeks, particularly in the National League. The teams currently in first place have won, won, and won some more; those that are now giving chase have suffered setback after setback, leaving them with more ground to gain and less time to do it.

The blows kept raining down on Thursday afternoon—when the Pirates edged the Marlins 5-4—and evening, when the Dodgers downed the Cardinals 5-1.

Jose Fernandez’s first duel with fellow 2011 first-round pick Gerrit Cole resulted in a knockout: Miami’s ace tossed eight innings of dominant, two-run work to best the right-hander who may one day front Pittsburgh’s rotation. Thursday’s rematch was a split decision in which the right-handers both lasted only five innings, though the arrow pointed in Fernandez’s favor, as he allowed only two runs compared to Cole’s four. Unfortunately for Fernandez, Chad Qualls coughed up the lead shortly thereafter, and Pittsburgh’s bullpen held the line until Steve Ames ceded the game in the bottom of the 10th.

Hours later, in St. Louis, Carlos Martinez took the mound fresh up from Triple-A, needing to give Mike Matheny as many innings as possible after Shelby Miller was forced to depart without recording an out on Wednesday. Jake Westbrook, the original scheduled starter for Thursday’s game, was shelled in relief, and Martinez, who labored through 4 2/3 frames in his stead, was forced to bite the bullet. The Dodgers surged ahead 4-1 on a three-run blast by A.J. Ellis in the fifth inning, and that was all she wrote.

Thursday’s results extended a recent trend that stands out most when stretched, arbitrary endpoints be damned, to precisely 19 games. The table below shows the record of each first- and second-place team in the National League over its last 19 contests, the change in the margin separating the current winner from its runner-up, and the margin between the teams at the end of play last night, when the Braves, Diamondbacks, and Nationals were idle.

Division

First Place (Record)

Second Place (Record)

Change

Lead

NL West

Dodgers (16-3)

Diamondbacks (8-11)

8

5 ½

NL Central

Pirates (14-5)

Cardinals (8-11)

6

4

NL East

Braves (15-4)

Nationals (6-13)

9

15 ½

Add it all up, and the teams that would win their divisions if the season ended today have combined to go 45-12 over their last 57 contests. Those that would finish second have amassed an aggregate 22-35 record over the same span. Two of the divisions, the West and Central, have seen their top two clubs trade places during this stretch, and then watched their new leaders pull away. In the third, the Braves already enjoyed a sizable cushion and have proceeded to dig the Nationals a seemingly bottomless pit.

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