Mets Playoff Odds Better Than Yanks

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The trading deadline has passed, and although both New York ball clubs had major holes that needed filling, only the Yankees were active, while the Mets were not. No sooner had the deadline passed than both teams found themselves suddenly handicapped with hope-crushing injuries. The Yankees have lost Joba Chamberlain for an unknown length of time, potentially crippling an already-wounded rotation. Meanwhile the Mets got “precautious” with closer Billy Wagner, placing him on the disabled list shortly after having to disable rotation stalwart John Maine.

In light of the Mets’ multiple losses from their pitching staff and their inactivity at the deadline, when you look at the odds of which of the two teams stands a better chance of winding up on the playoff slate, you might not expect it to be them. Instead, it’s the Yankees whose bid is looking increasingly precarious, according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report. This might seem strange, because the Mets seem to be having problems getting clear of the Marlins in sorting out who should be in third place in the NL East. However, Clay Davenport’s research in the Playoff Odds Report relays that they still have a shot, nearing 40%, of winding up on October’s postseason slate. Most of that comes from their chances at overtaking a Phillies team still reliant on a relatively mediocre rotation; going into Thursday’s action, the Mets stood a 33.7% chance of winning the division title, and a little more than a 5% chance of coming out on top in the wild card scrum.

The math might seem strange — the Mets still need to sort out what to do in Maine’s absence, and might have some understandable concerns over whether or not Aaron Heilman will be able to hold especially narrow leads, and that’s before we get into their fixing a lineup that’s down two starting outfielders and its second baseman. But consider the remainder of the schedule: The Mets have nine more games to play against the sad-sack Nationals, nine against a Braves team that’s going to pieces, and five against another cellar-scraping squad, the Pirates. That’s almost half of their remaining schedule.

Admittedly, there might be some built-in optimism within the system — which runs a million seasons nightly to update each teams’ odds after the previous night’s outcomes — in that it can’t make a lot of allowances for the fact that the Marlins rotation, which ranks among the game’s worst, has been shored up by the returns of Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez and the addition of rookie Chris Volstad. Even if that group turns in mediocre performances, that might be good enough to win with the aid of the Marlins’ potent offense.

If that sounds familiar, it should, because that’s been the Phillies’ winning strategy, this year as well as last. While staff ace Cole Hamels would shine anywhere, bend-but-don’t-break rotation regulars such as Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, and the traded-for Joe Blanton typifies the unit’s more workmanlike virtue. However, with the Mets’ lineup in tatters, it’s perhaps just as well that they’ve only got five games left against Philadelphia, because it isn’t like that they have the rotation or the lineup to go toe to toe with the Phillies. With so few direct shots at the Phillies, however, the Mets can perhaps better focus on what it will take to win the games they have to play: The margin isn’t directly between the two teams, but is instead a matter of what the Mets can do to win as many of their remaining 48 games as possible.

Their fortunes will already change somewhat when they get second baseman Luis Castillo back from his rehab assignment and with Maine apparently so well on the mend that he’ll be back next week. But in light of the news that they probably won’t get Ryan Church back, they’d be well-served to add a veteran outfielder who can help their lineup really pound that weak-stretch slate of opponents. Although that schedule might encourage them to let it ride, too much of their fortune depends on Danny Murphy’s readiness and Fernando Tatis’s improbable comeback. Opposing pitching will make adjustments, and right now the Mets can no more afford struggling from either pitcher than they can Endy Chavez’s limits as a hitter.

As for the Yankees, their situation has gotten this dire in part because they’re in a division that no longer has a patsy, because they have 27 intradivisional games, and because they’re already only 23-22 against their divisional rivals. While it’s easy to anticipate that a team such as the Orioles or Blue Jays might pack it in as injured or hurting players get shut down for the season, there’s also no way to count on it. Making matters worse, the Yanks also have four series (and 13 games) remaining against out-of-division teams with their own playoff hopes — the Angels, White Sox, and Twins. Place that many tough matchups on the schedule, and it’s no wonder that the odds of seeing an October send-off for the House That Ruth Built are as low as they are.

It would be easy to overstate the statistical significance of losing Chamberlain. There’s obviously a qualitative difference between Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, but if Chamberlain’s back as soon as possible, in terms of a direct impact that’s only two or three starts. The problem is instead that this could be significant beyond those individual games themselves. First, there’s the risk in terms of added stress on a bullpen that’s already going to have to help fill in the innings between the point when a Sidney Ponson or Dan Giese gets hooked and the point when they can (theoretically) turn the lead over to Mariano Rivera. There’s also the problem of employing more defense-dependent starters such as Kennedy or Giese; Chamberlain’s not so handicapped by one of the league’s worst defensive units because so few balls are in play, but the alternatives to him won’t be quite so free from the baleful impact of a creaky D.

Ms. Kahrl is a writer for Baseball Prospectus. For more state-of-the-art commentary, visit baseball

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