Nine Questions

Question #1: Who will win the NL East?

There has been an overwhelming sense that the Atlanta Braves had locked up the NL East. However, if you look at the standings today you will find the Phillies, who topped the Marlins yesterday, 8-7, moved a half-game ahead of Atlanta, which lost 5-0 in Pittsburgh. It is the first time the Phils have been in first place since May 30 and, in fact, they were seven games behind the Braves on July 22.

Bottom line: Atlanta has been in first place 105 days this season and Philadelphia 53 days, but only the last day of the season counts.

Question #2: Who will win the NL West?

There has been an overwhelming sense that the San Diego Padres had locked up the NL West. Then they lost 10 straight and the Giants and Rockies righted their ships.

Last night, Mat Latos showed why he is a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award this season as he bounced back from the stomach flu to strike out 10 in a 2-1 Padres win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Latos held Los Angeles to one run and four hits in seven innings

Last night, Tim Lincecum stepped up and showed us why he has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards. Lincecum (13-9) retired his first 12 batters and 17 of the first 18 and he struck out 11 in 6.2 before tiring and giving up three runs in a 6-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lincecum has won two in a row in September since he went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA in August.

Bottom line: San Diego has been in first place 137 days this season and every day since April 20.

San Diego 78 59 .569 40-29 38-30 +105 Won 2 2-8
San Francisco 78 61 .561 1 42-27 36-34 +76 Won 4 7-3
Colorado 74 64 .536 4.5 45-22 29-42 +50 Won 5 7-3

Question #3: Who will win the NL Wild Card?

Here are the standings:

Atlanta 79 60 .568 +119 Lost 3 5-5
San Francisco 78 61 .561 1 +76 Won 4 7-3
Colorado 74 64 .536 4.5 +50 Won 5 7-3
St. Louis 72 64 .529 5.5 +84 Lost 1 3-7
Florida 70 68 .507 8.5 +32 Lost 2 5-5

Bottom line: Nothing is safe for Atlanta right now. Both the Giants and the Rockies are playing with the postseason experience that is lacking on the Braves.

Question #4: Is Mat Latos your NL Cy Young Award winner?

Mat Latos has been tremendous as the ace of the Padres pitching staff. Last night, Latos (14-5) set a big league record with his 15th straight start of five or more innings with two or fewer runs allowed. He had been tied with Greg Maddux (1993-94) and Mike Scott (1986) with 14. His 10 strikeouts matched his career high, and his 113 pitches were a career high. He walked none.

Bottom line: Latos lowered his major league-leading ERA from 2.25 to 2.21.

Question #5: Will there be a National League Triple Crown winner this season?

Not that long ago in this space we wrote about the battle between Albert Pujols and Joey Votto in each of their quests to win the NL Triple Crown. We pointed out there was a third candidate who, in essence, was a wild card. That wild card may now be the favorite as Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies has leapt into the lead in the race and into the lead in the NL MVP race as well. And in the process, Cargo may find a way to lead his Rox into the postseason.

Gonzales led Colorado to their fifth straight win as the Rockies topped the Reds, 4-3. The key blow was delivered by Gonzales who slammed a three-run homer in the 1st inning to propel the Rockies to 4.5 games behind Atlanta in the wild card Race.

Bottom line: Gonzalez has 32 homers and is in a third-place tie with Joey Votto and Mark Reynolds. Cargo trails Albert Pujols who has 35 homers and Adam Dunn who has 34. Gonzalez now leads the NL with a .340 batting average and 100 RBI.

Question #6: Who are the potential National League Triple Crown spoilers for Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto?

When you look at the NL leader boards you see that spoilers Albert Pujols leads with 35 homers and Adam Dunn is second with 34. A Triple Crown winner is accorded full rights and privileges to the Triple Crown club even if he ties in a category like Carl Yastrzemski did when he won the TC in 1967. Yaz tied for the home run title with Harmon Killebrew that season. If Prince Fielder gets hot, his 30 homers puts him within striking distance.

While Carlos Gonzalez leads with 100 RBI, Joey Votto is close behind with 98, and Albert Pujols is a grand slam away from taking the lead with 97. Adam Dunn and David Wright each have 91 RBI but are unlikely to overtake the leaders because of the weaknesses of their teams.

Perhaps the most intriguing sleeper comes in the NL batting race. In the race Gonzalez is hitting .340, Joey Votto is hitting .321 and both Troy Tulowitzki and Starlin Castro are hitting .317.

So who is the spoiler?

Omar Infante of the Atlanta Braves. Infante is hitting .339 but only has 402 plate appearances.

Allow me to explain, well actually let me all the folks at my favorite explain the minimum requirements to lead a Rate Stat.

Batting Average, OBP, Slugging Percentage, OPS

  • Prior to 1920, a player must have appeared in 60% of the team’s games to qualify for a title. This number was rounded to the nearest integer.
  • From 1920-1937 (unclear, and previously thought to be until 1944), a player must have appeared in 100 games.
  • From 1938-1944, the AL used 400 at bats and the NL stayed with 100 games as found by Paul Rivard of SABR.
  • From 1945-1956, a player must have 2.6 at bats per team game. Note however, that from 1951-1954 a player could lead if they still led after the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to their at bat total.
  • From 1957 to the present, a player must have 3.1 plate appearances per team game. Note however, that from 1967 to the present a player could lead if they still led after the necessary number of hitless plate appearances were added to their at bat total.

The key point here is that in order to qualify for the batting title, a major league player needs 3.1 plate appearances per game played. In a standard 162 game season, that comes out to 502 plate appearances. The Braves have a record of 79-60, which means they have played 139 games. To qualify, at the 3.1 rate, Infante must have had at this point 431 plate appearances, which means that he is 28 appearances short. If you add 28 at-bats to Infante, the other way to determine eligibility, he is hitting 128-for-403, which translates to a .318 batting average.

Bottom Line: When we wrote about the NL Triple crown race last, the best bet would have been to put your money on Albert Pujols. Since August 27, Pujols has played in 11 games in which he has hit .158 with 1 homer, 4 RBI, a .227 OBP and a .289 slugging percentage and has six hits and eight strikeouts.

Question #7: Would you vote for a pitcher with an 18-6 record for the Cy Young Award?

Ubaldo Jimenez won his club-record 18th game Monday despite tying a season high with six walks as the Rockies beat the Cincinnati Reds, 10-5. Jimenez broke the franchise mark of 17 wins set by Kevin Ritz in 1996 and tied by Pedro Astacio in 1999 and Jeff Francis in 2007.

Even though he leads the National League in victories, Jimenez (18-6) hadn’t won since Aug. 4. He snapped a personal four-game losing streak, over five starts, going 0-4 with a 3.00 ERA. He received zero or one run of support in four of those five starts.

Bottom Line: Jimenez is 18-6 overall and 2.79 ERA, including 9-1 with a 3.35 ERA at Coors Field. His WHIP is 1.151.

Question #8: Would you vote for a pitcher with an 11-10 record for the Cy Young Award?

After Felix Hernandez scattered four hits in eight innings and the Mariners topped the Indians, 3-0 on Sunday, King Felix was first in the majors in strikeouts (209), first in league in innings (219), second in the league in ERA (2.30), and tied for 41st in wins, in part because he has the second worst run support in the league. Over the last 21 games, Hernandez has pitched into the 7th inning every time, has a 1.72 ERA, yet he had a record of 9-7.

Bottom line: He is 11-10 with a 2.30 ERA and a WHIP of 1.085.

Question #7: Can the Sox catch the Twins?

The Chicago White Sox have been doing everything they can to pressure the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central race. They have won 7-of-10 games. The problem for them is that the Twins of won 8-of-10 to widen their lead.

Last night, Jim Thome homered again, Delmon Young drove in four runs, and Francisco Liriano (13-7) raised his second-half record to 7-0 in 10 starts as the Twins beat the Kansas City Royals, 10-3. The Twins have now won five straight, 10 of their last 12 and 33 of 45.

There were many who scoffed when the Twins signed Thome this off-season, wondering when they would find enough times to place the DH in their order, but the signing has proven to be one of the best of the year. Thome, who has four home runs in his last three games, is hitting .278, with 22 homers, 52 RBI and brings a tremendous presence in the Twins clubhouse.

Meanwhile, the White Sox ran into Justin Verlander (15-8) and he and the Tigers stopped the Chicago road winning streak at seven, 9-1. In addition, Chicago lost designated hitter Manny Ramirez, after he was hit was a second pitch by Verlander and starting pitcher Freddy Garcia (11-6), who was forced to leave with a stiff lower back.

Bottom line: The Twins have their largest lead in 10 days.

Twins 82 57 .590 47-23 35-34 +120 Won 5 8-2
White Sox 77 61 .558 4.5 38-27 39-34 +76 Lost 1 7-3