Week 24 in Pete Khazen's regular season trip around Major League Baseball's National League in 2007 looks at the tension in the three tightening division races.
Wikipedia defines "tensile
strength" as the maximum amount of tensile stress that a material can be
subjected to before failure. The definition of failure can vary according to
material type and design methodology.
Applying this to sports, more so
baseball, as the material one could argue that tensile strength could be defined
as the maximum amount of stress that can be placed on a team before they
ultimately fail. Some teams clearly hold up far better than others.
And as we roll down the final two
weeks of the season, it's apparent some teams are reaching their breaking point
while others are realizing they are far stronger than maybe even they thought
themselves to be.
Here's the latest and greatest
from around the league as the race for October gets more and more interesting by
York Mets (83-67) - Slip, slip, slipping away. The
Mets had a commanding lead a couple weeks ago, but a Phillies sweep this past
weekend coupled with a string of losses has the division up for grabs. The Mets
are clinging to a one and a half game lead and have lost five straight. Losing
two to the Nationals down the stretch clearly isn't good for business. Now we
know the Mets' tensile strength is fairly solid considering how they performed
just a year ago. Even David Wright, who floundered in the NLCS last season, is doing his
part to try and bring home winners. Wright has four home runs and nine RBI in
his last 10 games, and he just hit the 30-30 club. But the Mets defense
definitely isn't helping matters. During two of their recent five losses they
amassed 10 total errors in the field, and one could argue that defensive errors
are a sign of not being there mentally, and potentially a sign of weakening as
pressure is applied.
Philadelphia Phillies (82-69) - The Phils have been rock solid.
And though in engineering terms it's not really possible for a material to get
stronger as you apply tensile strength, it sure seems like the Phils are
toughening up down the stretch. There's nothing like a 13-run outburst followed
by a 14-inning win on the road to boost confidence. Chase Utley is in the midst of a
13-game hit streak at the right time of the season, and Aaron Rowand is just hammering the
baseball. Rowand has hit safely in six straight games and has three home runs
and seven RBI during that period.
Atlanta Braves (78-73) - The Braves aren't completely
out of the playoff picture yet. They need to get red hot these final two weeks,
but if one team can do it, the offensively loaded Braves are the team.
Tim Hudson finally
snapped a streak of three losses with a complete game shutout over the Nationals
on Sunday. Jeff Francoeur has been pouring it on with his bat. He's hit safely
in 11 of 12 games and has driven in 18 runs in September thus
Washington Nationals (68-83) - Playing spoilers, the Nationals
aren't about to just give up on the season. You have to love it when teams are
professional and play with pride. And these Nats do that. Unless he completely
collapses in the final two weeks, Dmitri Young will finish the season
with a batting average over .300. Clearly a comeback player of the year
candidate, Young is hitting .323, but is currently battling a stiff neck after
being struck by a line drive. He's day to day.
Florida Marlins (65-86) - The big fish in
flopped this season. Still a lot of fans would gladly take years like the
Marlins had in 2007 in exchange for just one of their two World Championships.
One person who has proven himself, albeit in a non-playoff competitive
atmosphere is closer Kevin Gregg. You could have thrown a dart in the bullpen before the
season began trying to find the Marlins closer for this season. Gregg earned the
job and saved 30 games while carrying a 3.18 ERA. Not too
(78-72) - The
Brewers are getting hot at the right time and are in a dead heat with the
Chicago Cubs after winning four straight. They retook the division lead Tuesday
night by a fraction of a percentage point as they have played two fewer games
than the Cubs and have one less win and one less loss. The Brewers don't have a
day off the rest of the way, which can be good or bad pending on how you look at
it. They did suffer a blow to their postseason hopes Tuesday, though. Staff ace
Ben Sheets left the
game in the second inning with tightness in his hamstring and his prognosis is
still unknown. But the Brewers bats are alive and well. Prince Fielder has hit safely in
all 16 games this September and has cranked seven home runs bringing his season
count to 46.
(79-73) - The
Cubs took three of four in St. Louis this weekend and had a dramatic
come-from-behind, ninth-inning, three-run rally Monday at home against the Reds.
But they didn't have that magic Tuesday night. Carlos Zambrano looked unstoppable
Friday night against the Cards, but he didn't have the same stuff on three-days
rest Tuesday against the Reds. With the bats, it's been a "who is going to be
the hero today? mentality. Alfonso Soriano has hit a couple timely long balls, while Mark DeRosa had a 5-for-5 night on
Monday. The pressure is on, and the Cubs are holding up so far. After this home
stand, they finish on the road, which some will argue is better for teams in the
playoff hunt as it takes the edge off a bit.
Louis Cardinals (70-80) - Nearly two weeks ago, the Cards
were a win away from being in first place in a tawdry Central Division. About
that time Rick Ankiel
was enigmatic, and then the HGH story broke. Since then, the Cards have lost 12
of 13 games, winning only the nightcap of a Saturday doubleheader with the Cubs.
With a youthful lineup thanks to far too many veteran injuries, they continue to
fight with admirable grit, but it's just not enough. They're particularly
struggling with their starting pitching. Mark Mulder made his return from
surgery recently and is haunting Redbird fans who know he's got another year on
his contract. Mulder is 0-3 with a 12.27 ERA and hasn't lasted more than 4.0
innings in a contest.
Cincinnati Reds (69-82) - The Reds never let opponents
walk over them, so they are loving the spoiler role right now. Cincy is a tough
team to beat with that strong lineup, especially with Aaron Harang on the mound. He
racked up two more wins this week, improving to 15-4, with his most recent W
coming Tuesday when he knocked Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs from their perch in
the Central. Edwin Encarnacion has had a hot stick. With five multi-hit games in
his last 10, he also has three home runs and 10
Pittsburgh Pirates (66-85) - The Pirates also refuse to give
way and let these playoff contenders run away with the glory. The Bucs have been
a thorn in the side of both the Cubs and the Brewers, but they might just be
running out of gas. Pittsburgh has dropped four straight, though
they still have two more in San
Diego and three in
Chicago to make some more noise. They
might have to do it without shortstop Jack Wilson who hurt his hamstring
Tuesday night. After struggling the first half of the season, last year's NL
batting champ Freddy Sanchez has come on in the recent months. He has his average up
to .310 and will likely finish the season comfortably above the .300
Houston Astros (65-86) - It's been a disappointing year
for the Astros, particularly Lance
Berkman. Just a year ago he batted .315 with 45 home runs and
136 RBI. This season he stands today with a .277 average, 30 home runs, and 93
RBI. In an interesting move, the Astros were slated to have Roy Oswalt and Woody Williams pitch the final two
games of their series this week against the Brewers, but opted to toss two
rookies instead. Knowing what was at-stake, interim general manager
Tal Smith called Cubs
GM Jim Hendry to
explain the situation and cool developing tensions in the Cubs clubhouse. Roy
Oswalt became the proud papa of his second child on Tuesday.
Arizona Diamondbacks (85-67)
Diamondbacks had lost four of six, including two of three to the Dodgers this
past weekend, and were watching their lead in the West slip away. Then
Micah Owings got the
start on Tuesday, and he did his best Brandon Webb impersonation tossing
a complete game, two-hit shutout over the Giants keeping the D'Backs in
Diego Padres (83-67) - The Padres have won five
straight and are right back on the Diamondbacks' tails. Greg Maddux brought home the latest
victory on Tuesday night, outpitching Pittsburgh's Tom Gorzelanny. Interestingly
enough, it was the first time in 10 starts that Maddux issued a walk. Think
about that next time your pitcher walks a couple guys in a single inning and
you're wondering if he can handle the pressure. Staff ace Jake Peavy won again this past
week, moving above the 200-inning mark, and improving to 18-6 with 225
punchouts. Now he's got a legitimate shot at 20 wins this
Colorado Rockies (79-72) - Still in the thick of things.
The Rockies continue to show they're not
going to break. It looks like it'll just be a matter of whether or not the teams
above them do. The Rockies swept a doubleheader against the
Dodgers to pull back even with them in the battle for the playoffs. One team at
a time, right? Todd Helton reached the career 300-HR milestone this week, and he
cranked number 301 in Tuesday's nightcap for the game winner. Jeff Francis had one of his best
outings of the year on Tuesday, giving up just one run over 6.2 innings and
striking out 10 Dodgers for his 16th win of the season.
Angeles Dodgers (79-72) - It's been a roll of the dice
all season long with this team. High expectations with a solid pitching staff
and great lineup just haven't materialized, but because they are so talented,
they are still in the mix. Closer Takashi Saito has been lights out,
but Todd Helton got the best of him Tuesday for his first blown save in what
seems like ages. Still Saito is a big reason the Dodgers are still alive. He's
1-1 with 39 saves in 43 chances and a 1.49 ERA.
Francisco Giants (67-84) - What can be said about the
Giants? As the rest of the four teams in the division fight it out for the
playoffs, the Giants are the odd man out sitting 17.5 games off the division
pace. Perhaps that's the cost of sticking through a marriage with Barry Bonds for the glory and
revenue of a home run record chase.
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