With Labor Day behind us and September in full swing, one question is on every baseball fan’s mind: who will take the coveted middle spot in the National League East?
Since 1994 when the division came to resemble the five-team grouping it is today, ending in third place has become the most prestigious and highly sought position for a franchise to find itself come autumn. No gaudy banners come to mark the achievement. No misleading wild card hopes dangle tantalizingly for a bunch of also-rans. Everyone knows third place ain’t such a bad place to be.
Yet landing in third is not an easy trick to pull off in this division. With a couple of dominant teams and a few bottom feeders as your competition, it doesn’t require much to fall backward and become one of the big losers. On the other hand, if Alderson’s 2011 low-cost/high-reward bets had paid off or the injury report was shorter, we might be battling it out for the wild card right now. Better leave it to Marvel Comics to play “What if?” with past events and their improbable futures (but really—what would have happened if Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben lived?) We need to concentrate on the here-and-now. So what are the chances everyone stays exactly where they are in the standings for the next three weeks?
Philadelphia Phillies (Current record: W-89 L-48)
With their all-star rotation, the division winners for the last four years were out of this competition for the middle of the pack back in April. At this late point Charlie Manuel would need to start a hefty chunk of call-ups and play out the next few weeks like another Spring Training before the post season if he were truly vying for #3. With the Astros, Nats, Marlins left on tap, Philly can just about forget about dropping to third. Better luck next year, jerks.
Atlanta Braves (Current record: W-82 L-58)
National League wild card-leading Atlanta have too much to play for and too much to lose. Six games against Florida, three with Washington and five against the Mets ensure they’ll pad their hold on the wild card, if they don’t surprise Philly outright and challenge them for first. If this month shakes out like the previous five, Atlanta will likely keep winning, too.
Washington Nationals (Current record: W-65 L-74)
The biggest threat for third comes from the team presently occupying fourth place. I’d sooner expect the Mets to play slightly over .500 ball than the team with the Walgreens pharmacy logo on their caps, but who knows what they’re capable of, especially given that they meet the Mets for four more games. Sure, they might surprise a few people down the stretch and steal the third spot when no one is paying attention, but the only thing I hate more than a team who can’t revel in their own mediocrity is a team that can’t sink far enough away from it either. Look out for Washington.
Florida Marlins (Current record: W-63 L-77)
I know they recently took two of three from Philly, and kicked the Phi Beta Kappa out of Capuano last night, but the Fish are sinking fast. Eleven games of their remaining twenty-two are against playoff-bound clubs so they’ll have to struggle to keep it together. Mathematically, they can’t win the division. Metaphysically, they probably won’t catch third place either. But with their penchant for playing spoiler, the future Miami Marlins could give the Mets and Nationals an undisclosed amount of what was once, in the parlance of the organized criminal underworld, known as “the business.”
New York Mets (Current record: W-68 L-71)
Since the start of the season, ESPN and many other sport media outlets named the Mets as the leading contenders to break even or nearly so, thereby practically guaranteeing themselves third place. Others like Baseball Prospectus put them in fourth, and Sports Illustrated grimly forecasted a last place finish. No one could have ever guessed that the Amazin’s would be so consistently inconsistent in their race towards the NL East’s most enticing line in the standings; a dominant win streak here, a listless, pitiful performance there and you have the team cyclically returning to the ever-lovin’ Flushing .500 mark. Schedule makers probably foresaw the battle for third place and wanted to put some serious distance between the cream floating along the top and the cookie crumbles mushing away into oblivion at the bottom, thereby justifying the proliferation of intradivisional games this month; I’m fifty-four percent sure it had nothing to do with actually building drama for deciding the division champs.
The Mets are facing a chunk of games against every other NL East team, as well as sets against the Cubs and Reds, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a solid guess this club will go 11-12 over the duration. Plan on Parnell squandering another lead or three, and Duda and Wright dragging a few back from the brink; basically, the same-old, same-old. Third place may very well be in the bag, my friends.
I don’t know if I’d rush out to print a “New York Mets – 2011 National League East Third Place Winners” t-shirt just yet, but don’t let me stop you. No matter how late in the season it is, if you’re a Mets fan: Ya Gotta Suppose!
About the Author
CM Gorey is a writer and musician from New York who lives in São Paulo, Brazil. A contributing writer for Time Out São Paulo magazine and online arts magazine Thalo, he is also a composer of TV and film soundtracks, and performer with the electro outfit White Light Lametta. Suffering from a distance, he watches slowly generated, pixelated Mets games on an old netbook. After careful consideration, he has to admit that the return to the classic uniforms was a smart choice, regardless of his penchant for black uniforms.