Debate the NL East with Jayson Stark!
"With the Mets and Phillies tied atop the National League East standings heading into their three-game series starting on Tuesday and the Marlins just a half-game out, there hasn't been a better time to debate: Who is going to win the NL East?" The tightest division in baseball got even tighter over the weekend. So let's haul out our Ouija boards and try to sort out who's going to win the NL East.
THE CASE FOR THE PHILLIESThey've led the division, or at least have been tied for the lead, for the last 51 days in a row. They just traded for Joe Blanton, who should be a massive upgrade on Adam Eaton. And they're getting Brett Myers back after four sessions in the minor-league midseason renovation shop, during which he punched out 28 in 27 innings. So if those two moves stabilize their rotation, the numbers would indicate the Phillies ought to win this division--considering they lead the Mets and Marlins in runs scored, bullpen ERA and fielding percentage.
THE CASE FOR THE METSIt's September in reverse for the Mets. It took them less than four weeks to slice a 7.5-game Phillies lead to a half-game, just before the All-Star break. And they went from 5.5; out on the 4th of July to a tie for first quicker than you could say, ''10-game winning streak.'' So while there's still a debate about which of these teams is better, there's no doubt who's hotter. Since Jerry Manuel became their manager, the Mets are 19-12. They've averaged more than six runs a game. And they have a much more positive vibe, on and off the field.
THE CASE FOR THE MARLINSOK, it's time to stop obsessing on the Marlins' run differential (minus-25). And their rotation ERA (5.15). And those messy defensive numbers (12 more errors than the next-worst defensive team in the National League). They're 98 games into the season. So who cares what their record ought to be. The Marlins are deep enough into the season that they are what their record says they are--namely, one very dangerous team. They lead the major leagues in homers (140). They have nine walkoff wins and 27 comeback wins. And their starting pitching is looking better all the time, with Josh Johnson off the DL, Anibal Sanchez not far behind and their best pitching prospect, Chris Volstad, finally in the big leagues. So why are people so quick to assume this team is going away?
THE VERDICTThe fashionable choice would be to pick the Mets, but I'm not going to let the last couple of weeks talk me into that. If I line up the Mets and Phillies, I'm hard-pressed to find an area in which I think the Mets are substantially better. The Phillies have outscored them, outpitched them and outfielded them. And you can look that up. I'd take the Phillies' lineup and bullpen over the Mets' lineup and 'pen. And while the Mets may have better starting pitching, the Blanton trade and those never-ending Pedro Martinez questions have narrowed that margin considerably. The Phillies haven't played well for a month now. But the Mets have enough age, health and chemistry issues that I'm still picking the Phillies to win the East. Disagree? Go right ahead. That's what we're here for.
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