As the calendar turned to May, things started to change. The Expos hot streak continued and the Montrealers – playing some of their games there – went 17-10 in May. While the Expos pitching was okay, the offense was leading the way. Apparently, the Expos did in fact replace Vladimir Guerrero because the Expos scored 158 runs in May, second to the Cardinals who scored 160. The streak carried the Expos (30-21) to the top of the division, leaving them 1 ½ games ahead of both Atlanta (28-22) and Philadelphia (28-22). The Mets were 4 ½ behind and the Marlins were suddenly looking up at everybody else in last place with a 24-27 record, 6 games out of first.
Like the Sinatra song says, "ridin' high in April, shot down in May." That was the tune coming from South Florida. Surprisingly, it was the young pitching staff that was struggling and the Marlins finished the month 11-17. The Mets showed some improvement and were back at .500 (25-25). The Phillies and Braves were good, but just hanging in the middle of the pack, seemingly waiting their turn.
Yet a third team would take their turn at being the beast of the east in June. Suddenly, the Mets were putting it all together and went 19-7 in June. The pitching staff was suddenly picking up the pace and was second in the league in fewest runs allowed in June with 106, trailing just the Dodgers (95). Like the Marlins before them, the Expos fell into the first place jinx and went 12-14 for the month, tumbling out of first. The Braves (44-33 overall) also had a good month, but the Mets moved ahead of Atlanta to capture the division lead by ½ game as the month of June came to an end. The Expos (42-35-2.5) and Phillies (41-36-3.5) were hanging in, but the Marlins (37-41-8.0) had started to fall off the pace.
It seems fitting that as our nation celebrated another birthday, the birthplace of independence would come alive. The Phillies offense would come alive to lead the league in runs scored in July. Philadelphia would put together an 11 game win streak and move into first place, giving the division their fourth different leader of the season at a month's end. Even as hot as Philadelphia got in July, the Marlins showed that they weren't dead yet and bested the Phillies 17-11 record with an 18-8 month of their own. The Mets (13-15) were hanging in there, but Montreal (10-18) and Atlanta (9-18) stumbled.
The Braves had been an interesting team. Even with the loss of Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez, their offense was strong. The pitching was getting the job done even if it wasn't the dominating pitching that Atlanta fans were used to. Consistent and steady was the word in Atlanta until July's bump in the road, which left them at 53-51 in fourth place in the division, 4 ½ games behind the Phillies (58-47).
The Mets (57-47) had moved to 10 games over the .500 mark, thanks to winning eight out of ten as July wound down, and trailed the Phillies by just ½ game as July came to an end. Florida (55-49) found themselves just 2 ½ games out, while the Expos seemed to suddenly miss Javier Vazquez and Vladimir Guerrero and were 6 games out.
Ah, the dog days of August. The division was tight in August with Montreal, the hottest team in the division, finishing the month 16-12 and Philadelphia having the slowest month at 14-13. The Mets had moved ahead of the Phillies as the Phillies lost five out of six late in August. As the month ended though, the Mets lost a couple games while the Phillies turned things around. August ended with the Mets and Phillies tied for the division lead at 72-60. Florida (70-61) was just 1 ½ games back. The Braves had fallen to a season low of four games under .500 only to win 8 straight and put themselves at 68-64, 4 games behind Philadelphia and New York. The Expos (68-65) trailed by 4 ½ games.
An early September series between the Mets and Phillies at Citizens Bank Park saw the Phillies win two out of three. The Phillies would then go into Atlanta and win three out of four against the Braves, putting them 1 game ahead of New York. It wasn't over though because a weekend series in New York saw the Mets win two of three against Philadelphia as the see-saw battle continued with both teams tied heading into the final three weeks of the season.
The Phillies offense took over. In a span of ten days, the Phillies built a 3 ½ game lead over the Mets. On September 24, the Phillies beat Montreal, eliminating them from the division race. Two days later, Florida was eliminated, followed by the Braves on the 27th.
Meanwhile, the Giants clinched the West and Chicago and St.Louis continued their season long battle in the NL Central in a dead heat as the final week of the season was under way.
The Mets stumbled and lost five straight and when the Phillies beat Pittsburgh on September 29th, they eliminated all competition to win the National League East. In the Central, the Cubs beat Atlanta on the final day of the season to win the division, leaving the Cardinals to settle for the wildcard.
In the American League, the Yankees struggled early, but maybe George threw a fit or something, because they got hot and ran away with the AL East, finishing 94-68, 7 games ahead of Boston. The American League powerhouse was Oakland. Led by their strong pitching, the A's finished 109-53, winning the West by 12 games over Anaheim. Get ready for an upset in the Central. Youth prevails as the Indians finish 89-73 winning the division by 2 games over Minnesota.
As for the worst teams. The Cincinnati Reds (64-98) were the worst in the National League. Pittsburgh finished just three games ahead of the Reds at 67-95. In the American League, the Tigers were again the worst of the worst, finishing with a 55-107 record 34 games out of first. Texas finished 41 games behind Oakland at 68-94.
Tomorrow, it's the cyber post-season.