And down the stretcher they come.
Yes, limping, exhausted, and in some cases a half-step ahead of the EMT’s, the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers have four days – and maybe a fifth – to decide two places in the National League playoffs.
Here’s how they look on the morning of Sept. 25.
All they have to do is start winning again. They are off today, then play three at home against the Washington Nationals, who need to win their remaining four games to avoid losing 100 for the first time since the Expos of 1976.
Lately: Lost 2.
What’s gone right: Ryan Howard’s MVP spike. His September includes a .342 batting average, 10 home runs and 28 RBI. Also in September, Shane Victorino is batting .324 and Jimmy Rollins .311. Closer Brad Lidge hasn’t allowed a run in a month, Cole Hamels has allowed as many as four runs in a start once since early August and Jamie Moyer has won five consecutive decisions (thanks, occasionally, to a big offense).
What’s gone wrong: Pat Burrell gets you the big home run once in a while, but otherwise he’s batting .203 in September. Pedro Feliz has one home run and six RBI in the past four weeks. Brett Myers has allowed 16 runs over his last 8 1/3 innings. Kyle Kendrick pitched himself out of the rotation.
Funny ballclub, the Mets. Funny, in a really warped, stumbling-around, extend-the-GM-four-more-years kind of way. But, say what you will, they do drama like no one else. Pedro Martinez goes against the Cubs tonight in what could be his last start in their uniform, and they finish with three against the Florida Marlins, which is how it all ended a year ago. Johan Santana is scheduled for Sunday.
Lately: Lost 4 of 5.
What’s gone Wright: As in, David. He’s had a huge September, as have the Mets’ other two run producers, Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. Santana has been every bit the ace they thought they were getting, particularly down the stretch. He’s nearing a career high in innings, hasn’t lost a decision since June, and with any luck would have 20 wins.
What’s gone wrong: It’s the pitching. Martinez has lost his three September starts and been knocked around pretty good. Oliver Perez has been typically inconsistent. And the bullpen, well, the bullpen you know all about. Luis Ayala’s September ERA is creeping up on 7.
All was lost – again – and then the Mets started losing – again – and a three-game winning streak can go a long way. It helps to get the Pittsburgh Pirates this time of year. The Brewers play one more against the Pirates, then three against the Cubs this weekend. The players are on their own, as it seems unlikely ownership will change managers again between now and Sunday.
Lately: Won 3.
What’s gone right: Um, well, they’ve won three. Prince Fielder has come to life; he has six home runs and 17 RBI since Sept. 11. After consecutive losses, CC Sabathia won on three days’ rest Wednesday night. Since the implosion in Chicago a week ago, Salomon Torres has a win and a save in three appearances. And Eric Gagne has a run of eight scoreless appearances.
What’s gone wrong: Among NL teams in September, the Brewers rank 14th in team ERA and 16th in runs scored. The bullpen has been only slightly better than the rotation, which is taking volunteers. They’re thinking Yovani Gallardo starts tonight, Jeff Suppan on Friday, Ben Sheets or Dave Bush on Saturday, and they’ll get back to you about Sunday.
Spoiler alert: Zach Duke has won once since June 9. In seven career starts at Miller Park, the Pirates left-hander has four losses, three no-decisions and a 7.44 ERA. To you, it looks like a gimme for the Brewers. To us, it screams spoiler. The Brewers have won three in a row, which, in the NL wild-card race, qualifies as sustained momentum. They’ll take their shot with Gallardo, a great talent who hasn’t thrown a big-league pitch since May 1, when he blew out his right knee. The Brewers are hoping for five innings.
Mets bullpen moment of the day: Ayala retired the first five Cubs hitters he faced, then gave up three consecutive hits, and now the Mets are in real trouble. Of course, they should know better than to leave things in the hands of their relievers, but Oliver Perez gave back all of a four-run lead and then the offense left runners at third with less than two out for the rest of the game. Their wild-card lead is gone, their pitching is soft, their psyches are burnt, their memories of last September fresh. And their bullpen ERA in September is 4.20.
Wounded knee: This might be it for Jeff Kent, 40 years old, mending from knee surgery and without a contract for next season. He got an at-bat Wednesday night in L.A. and singled, and he’ll spend the next four or five days fighting for a place on the Dodgers’ postseason roster. It’s likely the Dodgers can’t carry both Kent and fellow rehabber Rafael Furcal, and Furcal brings the added elements of switch-hitting and pinch-running.
“I wish it were better,” Kent said of his repaired knee. “It’s the best I’ve got.”
It’s possible Kent would be able to play some second base in the later rounds, and just as possible the Dodgers won’t be there.
“This is potentially the end of my career,” he said. “I want to be part of something special. There’s part of me that would feel left out if I didn’t go to war and participate. I’ll try to get to a place where I can show I’m capable.”
Tonight: Turns out, the White Sox had good reason to fear the ‘dome. Rather than finishing the Twins, which was their plan, they’re going to have to fight into – and through – the weekend. Gavin Floyd, who won seven games in 29 starts before this season and 16 games in 31 starts this season, gets the ball. The good news for the White Sox: They’ve won eight games against the Twins and Floyd has won three of them, with a 1.86 ERA in four starts. The scary news: Floyd’s September ERA is more than 5. Meantime, the Twins wonder which Kevin Slowey shows up: The one who shut out the White Sox on six hits July 28 or the one who gave up eight runs in three innings against the White Sox on June 8. If nothing else, the Twins have brought both teams’ final series into play. They get the Kansas City Royals at home, the White Sox get the Cleveland Indians in Chicago. Sunday matchups, for drama’s sake: Zack Grienke vs. Scott Baker in Minnesota, Cliff Lee vs. Mark Buehrle on the South Side.
Completely random observation: A white Ford Bronco idled Wednesday afternoon at a stop light in Burbank, Calif. The license plate: “NOT OJ’S.”