Meltdown Soup Mix

BlackCatSanto_display_image_mediumIf you have hopes for the Nats to come back and win the division this year there may be good underpinnings for that. September is notorious for division leader collapses. The list is quite long including the 1964 Phillies, 2007 Mets, and infamously the 1969 Cubs. These collapses share common traits to the point that the collapse appears to be some kind of formula. Add a little of this, a little of that, add heat and Voila’. It’s much like cooking soup. If it is a formula, then you should be able to see the components taking shape ahead of time. In other words, it may be predictable.

So, what are the ingredients? The list isn’t very long. It takes tired pitching, cool bats at precisely the wrong time, and a challenger that gets red hot at precisely the right time. Are these Mets vulnerable to all of the above? Let’s compare them to the 1969 Cubs.

Tired Pitching: Leo Durocher played his starters. This applied to position players and pitchers. Looking at his four starters the average innings pitched was 260. Ferguson Jenkins pitched 311.1 innings and Bill Hands pitched an even 300. Not only were the innings totals high, Durocher would leave starters in until late in the game. Jenkins averaged 7.2 innings for his 43 starts. Leo paid for it in September. Entering a game on September 3rd the Cubs had a 5-game lead. Eight games later they were 2 games back after losing 8 games in a row. The pitching collapsed allowing some 6.75 runs per game over that stretch. All four starters lost twice through the rotation. The Cubs would never regain the lead.

So, what of the current Mets’ pitching? Matt Harvey is on an innings limit that may result in an early shutdown a la’ Strasburg. Buster Olney is tweeting that the Dark Knight only has 3 or 4 starts left. DeGrom is showing some bald spots on the tread. His innings are up to 160, which is 18 more than all of last season. Since the All-Star break he is 2-1 with his last win coming against Baltimore almost 2 weeks ago. Syndegaard, aka “Thor” has won only one game on the road all season, a five-inning, four-run effort that was really won by the bats. Since the 14th of August the Mets are allowing 5.1 runs a game. Only once in that stretch did they allow less than 3 runs. This is hardly stellar pitching.

The bullpens are similar. Phil Regan was the closer. Leo sent him to the mound 71 times. So far this year Jerry Familia has pitched in 62 games with a couple of 4 and 5-out trips. The odds are that Familia will pitch even more than Regan did.
This pitching staff is suddenly vulnerable.

Cool Bats: The Cubs’ starting position players were worn out by September. Durocher would not platoon people. Billy Williams played every game. Five players played more than 150 including the Catcher Randy Hundley. The Cubs played more day games in the hot sun than anyone due to no lights at Wrigley. Over their last 25 games they had 12 where they scored 2 runs or less. Tired legs turned into tired bats.

The Mets’ bats have been on fire since the acquisition of Cespedes at the trade deadline. While the pitching has declined the bats have carried the team. Over the same 14-game stretch where the pitching allowed 5.1 runs a game, the offense scored 6.5 runs a game including back to back 14 run efforts. Admittedly this was against lousy pitching. But, still, that’s a lot of runs. The question becomes; is this sustainable? Odds are great that it isn’t. In order for the Mets’ collapse to take root the bats need to cool. Better pitching will help. But, while the Nats go to St Louis to see Michael Wacha the Mets get three more days of Phillies feasting. It’s not a rosy scenario. The odds favor the Mets bats staying productive. The lineup has been jostled a number of times. There shouldn’t be worn out players out there with the exception of Granderson who has played all but one game.

Hot Chaser: The biggest question of the day is; can the Nats get hot? I don’t mean warm. I mean white-hot. While the Cubs were losing those 8 games back in early September 1969 the Mets won 7 on the way to a 10-game winning streak. If you look at most of these late-season collapses, the chaser has that 10-game heater in early to mid-September. That definitive hot streak is the move that puts the chaser in the lead to stay. Does this iteration of the Nats have that in them? Without the heat there is no soup.

Prognosis: Were this a weather forecast I’d put the probability of a Mets collapse at something around 50%. Pitching is sustainable. Hitting is evaporative. The Mets pitching is definitely in decline. The hitting has carried them through it to this point. That’s not a recipe for the long haul. The focus shifts to the Nats. If they can go on a run the pressure on the Mets will show the cracks in the walls. The question is; can they do it?
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