Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres or Atlanta Braves: Whose Decline Shocks Most?
Three weeks ago, all three of the teams listed in the headline were in first place. A couple of them were in a somewhat commanding position. The Texas Rangers had an eight-game lead at one point, the San Diego Padres had a lead of six-and-a-half games, while the Atlanta Braves had a three-game lead.
But all three teams have struggled at some point over these last three weeks.
The Rangers have suffered losing streaks of four and five games and had lost their ace pitcher, Cliff Lee, for one start. Plus their MVP candidate, Josh Hamilton, was also sidelined with a myriad of injuries.
Now they have won five in a row, sweeping the New York Yankees this past weekend, and their ace looks as good as ever. They never had an issue with blowing their playoff chances since their division is terrible and their lineup is stacked with power hitters.
Even if their pitching was struggling, their lineup were always going to produce runs.
Who wasn't going to produce runs to get out of a slump was the Padres, but they never produced lots of runs all season. They rank 12th in the National League in runs scored.
However, they pitch very well and are first in the National League in team ERA with a 3.33 mark. With a big ballpark and the league's best pitching, the Padres jumped out to a surprisingly large lead in the National League West.
So when the pitching began to suffer and the lineup still could not score runs, the team went into a losing streak. August was the worst month for the Padres in team ERA (3.71) and WHIP (1.388), and they lost 10 games in a row.
The Padres have pitching, but not much offense, so when their pitching went south for a little while, it was no surprise that their total losses went north.
But what was surprising was the Braves and how they began to falter. Unlike the Rangers and Padres, the Braves have both a lineup which produces runs, and a deep pitching staff.
Led by catcher Brian McCann, ROY candidate Jason Heyward, and relative unknowns Omar Infante and Martin Prado, the Braves are third in the National League in runs scored. They are also fourth in team ERA, and have a strong bench and bullpen. Those factors forge a powerful combination in the batter's box and on the hill.
That combination is why it was surprising to see the Braves go into that late August, early September tailspin. Going into Monday night's contest, the Braves were 9-11 in their last 20 games.
That left them a game behind the Philadelphia Phillies, who have worked to overcome a seven-game deficit. The Phillies are now healthy with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley back in the lineup, and the big deadline deal for ace pitcher Roy Oswalt has worked out brilliantly.
Since that trade with the Houston Astros, Oswalt is 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA and combined with another ace in Roy Halladay and the full lineup, the Phillies have taken over first place.
Compounding their drop to second place in the National League East, the Braves also saw other teams besides the Phillies get on a roll. The Colorado Rockies are smack into their annual September comeback, winning 10 in a row, and the San Francisco Giants have come on to challenge not only Atlanta and Colorado for the Wild Card, but also for the NL West.
Since both depend more on one part of the game than the other, it was no surprise that the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres fell off for a bit.
But the Atlanta Braves have good bats and arms, and one or the other should have picked up the slumping side.
With the surging Phillies, Giants, and Rockies, it will take both their strong and versatile lineup and their deep pitching staff to avoid missing the playoffs in Bobby Cox's last season.
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