With so many teams still scrapping it out as the season
enters the final stretch, the schedule plays a major role.
Those teams who have played more of 2005 at home - the Nationals for
example - will see a lot of road games in August.
Other teams, like the Phillies and Braves, will play more of August at
home. This will even things out to
begin the September intra-divisional showdowns.
In the final month, it all comes down to head-to-head play. Any
teams within five games at the start of September will have a chance to make the
playoffs. Here's how the NL East
will stand on September 1st.
1. Atlanta Braves
The Braves have a home-heavy August, playing 16 games in
Atlanta - including twelve in a row at one point - and just twelve on the road.
Down home southern cooking has done wonders for the Braves, owners of an
impressive 35-14 record. That's a .714 clip, second best home record in baseball
behind the surging Houston Astros. Barring
a meltdown, the Braves will win at least 16 games in August and begin the
September NL East shootout as top guns. If
they win on the road in August, the Braves will run away with the division.
That would make a tidy 14 straight seasons winning the NL East. Somebody, please! Break
up the Braves! With all these
rookies coming out of nowhere, you get the feeling Atlanta could field two teams
in the NL East and finish 1-2.
Come September, Atlanta will have a seven game showdown
against the Phillies, four of which are at Citizens Bank Park.
No doubt John Smoltz will be pressed to elaborate on his recent rants
against the place. There's nothing like having a home ballpark mess with the
mind of opposing pitchers. If the
Phillies can chase him early, the crowd will go bonkers and chant his name as he
heads for the showers. So far this
season, the Phillies are 5-7 against Atlanta.
If the Phillies can only manage a 4-3 record against the Braves the rest
of the way, they will have to watch the scoreboard and hope for help.
Bottom Line: If
one team dominates the other, the last seven games between the Braves and
Phillies will determine the winner of the NL East.
2. Florida Marlins
After playing their first nine August games on the road,
the Marlins play thirteen in a row at home from August 9-22. If they can stay close until then and play well on the
homestand, the Marlins will close the gap against the Braves and settle into
second place on September 1. The
tricky thing about August is that they play every day but one, including a
double-header. These games will be
exhausting, hard-fought contests. The
Marlins might even catch up to the Braves in August, but will they have enough
gas in the tank to surge past them in September?
The Phillies play the Marlins six more times this season, a
pair of September series at each stadium. These six games will be tough for the
Phillies, since they are sandwiched around a four game set with the Braves in
Bottom Line: The
Phillies-Marlins series on September 16-18 in Florida will decide who the Braves
really have to fear in the NL East.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies must gain ground in August if they hope to
survive. Fortunately, they play 16
games at home in August against just 11 on the road. The Phillies are currently 33-22 at home, 10th best home mark
in the show. They must manage a
record of 16-11 this August to keep within striking distance of the Braves.
Most likely by September they will be in third place, 4 or 5 games out.
Any August wins above 16 and the Phillies will be in a great position
come September. Their fate will be
in their own hands as they fight their way to the finish.
If Jim Thome gets hot down the stretch, he may yet save a lost season and
lead the Phillies to the crown.
Unless the Phils fall apart in August, the 2005 season will
hinge on a crucial September stretch playing the Braves or Marlins in 13
consecutive games, the final 6 of which are on the road.
The 13 games in 14 days on September 9-22 will determine the Phillies
fate. If they need to make up more
than five games, they probably won't make it through. If they stay close and then win 9 of these 13, the Phillies
will be right there at the end.
4. New York Mets
The New York Mets have been lurking in the shadows, never
falling back enough to be counted out. They
play 14 home games in August against 13 on the road.
If they jump on the Phillies at the end of August, they could cripple the
Phillies just as the race really begins. Superstar
power is what makes the Mets a dangerous foe.
Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza are proven
lethal weapons. Jose Reyes is
growing into a top tablesetter. If
he gets hot and the pitching holds, the Mets will make a run.
In the September showdowns, the Mets play 12 home games and
16 on the road, so a playoff spot is unlikely.
The Phillies face the Mets 6 times down the stretch, one in each park.
The Phillies can't afford to let the Mets become spoilers.
Bottom Line: New
York city has spoiled enough for Philadelphia.
It would be a tough pill to swallow for Philly if they do it again.
5. Washington Nationals
The Nationals play 12 games at home against 16 on the road
in August. The Nats will struggle
to hold their ground during a difficult stretch of 13 in a row on the road, four
of which are in Philly. Many of the
one-run games they used to win will turn into one-run losses.
Perhaps by August 15-18, the Phillies will be in a position to swat away
the Nats with a four game sweep.
If the Nats remain pesky until the end, the Phillies can
squash them for good in the final three games of the regular season in D.C.
All told, the Phillies have 10 more games against the Nationals, 6 at RFK
in the September/October stretch run.
Bottom Line: If
the Phillies let down against the Nats, look out below.
Heads will roll for sure.
If one team in the NL East gets white hot, they could beat all the others right out of the wild card race. The surging Houston Astros have a softer schedule than the NL East teams. Combine that with their starting pitching, featuring the big three of Clemens-Pettitte-Oswalt, and the Astros are a lock to get in. They play three more games in Philadelphia, giving the Phillies a chance to get a little payback for the painful sweep in Houston. But even a Philly sweep wouldn't end their season. Odds are, Houston will waltz in as wild card while the NL East teams take each other out down the stretch.