Okay, perhaps it’s not full Dickensian London and Paris on the cusp of the French Revolution, but the baseball fortunes of the fan bases for the Mets and Phillies provide us interesting contrasting tales here in 2018, even if they end up with the same record when it’s all said and done. And perhaps the most curious thing is that we can argue who had the better year and who’s positioned better for the next few seasons.
The Mets were thought to be contenders, got off to a fabulous start, got sidetracked by injuries and poor performance, had a poor May and an abysmal June, started to get guys back from the disabled list and now at the end of the year they are playing well. At one point, a 100-loss season seemed entirely in play; now they may wind up with fewer than 90 losses and might even reach 80 wins.
The Phillies were thought to be at least a year away. Early in the year they received more press for the alleged bumbling of their new manager than for their actual play on the field. But their starting pitching was surprisingly good early on, as was their hitting. They bounced back and forth between first and second place most of the year and ended up making numerous moves around the deadline to bolster their team. But things started to go south the second week of August. The playoffs are out of the question and a sub. 500 record at the end of the year is in play, as they finish the year with one more against the Mets, seven against the Braves and four in Colorado.
Others have pointed out that one of the deciding factors in the NL East this year was the Mets’ performance against the Braves and Phillies. New York is 4-12 against Atlanta and 11-7 against Philadelphia. On Monday night’s SNY broadcast, the announcers pointed out that this is the seventh straight season that the Mets finished with a winning record against the Phillies, which is the longest such streak in franchise history.
And the thing is that it’s not nearly as close as the overall record makes it look. The Mets are 1-5 in games started by Aaron Nola and 10-2 when someone else began the game. What if the schedule broke different and Nola made only two starts against the Mets, which is what Zack Wheeler did against the Phillies despite not being on the DL this year? How would a 4-14 record against the Mets sound or feel?
Essentially, the Phillies were in the pennant race for five months in a year when they weren’t expected to be a contender. On one hand, you have to be ecstatic about that if you’re a Phillies fan. After the Eagles won the Super Bowl and the 76ers made the playoffs for the first time in ages, the Phillies made late spring and early summer fun for the first time since Roy Halladay was pitching for the club.
But it’s also a team that in its last 37 games is 13-24. The offense has gone into hibernation, the starting rotation has become Nola and the four dwarfs, the relief pitching seems unsettled and – I say this as a Mets fan and one who has watched some bad defensive play for the better part of the last decade – their fielding is horrendous.
Their top prospects – J.P. Crawford, Mike Kingery and Aaron Altherr – have done their best Dominic Smith impersonation. After a good start, Odubel Herrera has been a huge disappointment and Maikel Franco has settled into a league average player rather than a superstar. Hector Neris, their closer who got off to such a fine start, has allowed 11 HR in 44 IP and was busted to the minors. Jake Arrieta has a 4.67 ERA since the All-Star break and that’s the second-best mark after Nola among their starters. And at (-127) DRS, they have the worst defensive team in the majors.
Can you feel good about that going forward?
Meanwhile, the Mets’ bad stretch came much earlier and for a while they were battling with the Marlins for the basement, rather than the Braves for the division lead. But they’ve been playing at a .544 winning percentage since the All-Star break, an 88-win pace over a full season. Wheeler has joined Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to give the team three top-tier starters. All three would be in the top 15 in the NL in ERA if Syndergaard had enough innings to qualify.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops for the Mets, however. The infield defense still could use some tightening up and the bullpen needs a major infusion of talent. And it’s an open question what the two lefties in the starting rotation will give the club going forward.
But the Phillies need Altherr, Crawford and Kingery all to make the step forward next year that Rosario has seemingly done over the last five weeks. They need Herrera to rebound and Franco to take the next step. And they need a couple of the non-Nola starters to be better than bottom tier SP4s. And even if all of those things happen, and nothing unexpected occurs like Nola and Rhys Hoskins missing months at a time, they’re still left with a questionable pen and a bad defensive team.
It will be interesting to see how the final two weeks play out. Can the Phillies step up against teams fighting for playoff positioning? The Braves are playing for home field advantage in the NLDS and the Rockies are looking to win the division and avoid the one-game Wild Card. Can the Mets go into Washington and finish with a winning record against a team that has won the previous two season series by a 25-13 mark? Can they take advantage of their final six games being at home, a place where the team has performed miserably (33-42) this season?
After games of August 7, the Phillies were in first place and held a 17-game lead over the Mets. While unlikely, it’s still mathematically possible that the Mets can overtake the Phillies down the stretch. Most likely, the over/under would have Philadelphia finishing with five more wins than New York. The expected standings at FanGraphs shows the difference at eight games. If you can find someone to offer that wager, it might be worth your while. The combination of how poorly the Phillies are playing here over the last six weeks, combined with their ending schedule, makes it unlikely to me that they would add to their current lead.