A companion to my earlier piece on AL teams, here is a rundown of unusual team accomplishments in the senior circuit. More after the jump.
The Dodgers won 35 of their first 60 games of the season, a nice .583 clip, but shifted into another gear for their next 60, going 51-9 (.850). Those 51 wins over that stretch are the most in any season since at least 1913 (I did a spot check of the 1906 Cubs; they went 46-12-2 for games 61-120, but were 37-2 for games 101-139). Two pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood) with 20 starts and 150 ERA+ ties the franchise record set in 1957 (Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres) and equaled in 2015 (Kershaw and Zack Greinke). Hands up if you guessed that Koufax and Drysdale did it at least once!
The D-Backs have almost wrapped up a wildcard berth on the strength of their starting pitching that has consumed almost two-thirds of their IP (66.0%), the fourth best result in the majors this season. The rotation includes five pitchers with 20 starts and 120 ERA+, and four with 140 ERA+; the latter mark is a live ball era first, and the former has also been achieved since 1920 only by the 1942 Tigers.
For the Rockies, it’s a tale of two halves of the season, going 44-26 over their first 70 games, but only 31-39 since. Colorado will shortly have two players (Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon) with 80 extra-base hits, tied with 34 other teams (incl. three Rockies teams) for the most on one club. If both reach 90 XBH (a stretch but not inconceivable, as Arenado needs 12 more, and Blackmon 13), the Rockies would match the 1927 Yankees (you know who the players were) as the only teams with two such players. Blackmon needs one more double and one more triple to record the twelfth 30/15/30 season (2B/3B/HR), but only the second (after Jimmy Rollins in 2007) of the expansion era.
The Padres will record their 7th straight losing season, their longest streak of mediocrity since a 9-year run (1969-77) starting from the franchise’s inception. San Diego’s typically anemic offense is sporting four players with 350 PA and more strikeouts than hits, matching last season’s club, and marking the fifth straight year with at least three such players (the Astros with four seasons, and Nats with three, are the only other teams with more than two such seasons in the last five).
The power surge that has swept through the majors this season somehow missed San Francisco, as the Giants‘ current total of 112 HR is easily the lowest in the majors, 24 fewer than the next-to-last Pirates. But, that’s not really news, as the Giants are poised to record their fifth season of the last 10 with only one 15 home run man, something that had previously occurred in the expansion era only in the strike season of 1981, and in 1975 (when no Giant had 15 dingers).
It took a while, but the Cubs are finally looking more like the team that scorched the NL last season en route to a world championship. Taking a 43-45 record into the A-S break, Chicago has rebounded with a 34-18 second half to move 5 games clear of the pack with three weeks left in the season. What has held the Cubs back this year and may ultimately prove their undoing is a reliance on older pitchers who, as is their wont, haven’t been able to match their performance of a year ago. Currently, Chicago has turned to pitchers aged 31 or older for 53.3% of the team’s innings, their highest level since World War II and far ahead of the 2016 level of 43.3% that itself is the sixth highest mark since 1946.
The surprising Brewers have hung tough all season but a 9-18 slide coming out of the A-S break may ultimately deny them the NL’s second wildcard berth, The Brewers have a decent shot at having three qualified batters (Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana) aged 30 or younger with 120 OPS+ and 25 home runs, a trio seen in Milwaukee only three times previously, most recently in their division-winning 2011 season. On the mound are three under-30 pitchers (Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies) with 20 starts and (currently) 115 ERA+, the most in franchise history. Things are looking up for the Brew Crew!
The Cardinals are keeping pace with the Brewers thanks to a 20-12 run since Aug 5. Eight Redbirds should reach 20 doubles, with an outside shot at tying the franchise record of 9 players if Aledmys Diaz gets a call-up (he needs four more). If Jedd Gyorko can get over a hamstring strain, seven of the eight have a decent shot at also reaching 200 total bases; that would tie the long-standing franchise record established in 1930 and not equaled since 1953.
The Pirates should finish the season with all of their games started by pitchers in their age 30 season or younger. It would be the 11th such season for the franchise since 1901, seven of them between 1995 and 2011. Like those seven seasons, this one will likely be a losing campaign; Pittsburgh’s only winning seasons with a starting corps all aged 30 and under came in 1971 and 1972.
Cincinnati has a shot at having a franchise record-tying 5 players with 25 home runs and 100 OPS+, with Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett both needing just one more blast, and Adam Duvall (103 OPS+) and Scott Schebler (105) needing to stay above the century level. The last time the Reds had five such mashers was not in the Big Red Machine days but, rather, as the Redlegs in Frank Robinson‘s 1956 rookie season.
It’s been almost three months since the Nats last lost three games in a row. That’s what happens when three of your rotation men (Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg) are sporting a 150 ERA+. Those three qualified seasons almost match the franchise total of four for all seasons before this one. Three such pitchers who, like the Washington trio, are also posting a .700 W-L% has happened only once before, on the 1906 Cubs with Mordecai Brown, Jack Pfiester and Ed Reulbach.
Miami‘s massively talented outfield all stayed healthy this season and will all crest 4.0 WAR, just the eighth outfield to do so with all aged 27 or younger. (Quiz: which outfield did this twice?) The ageless Ichiro Suzuki has reinvented himself, at age 43, as an elite pinch-hitter, batting .289 in that role with 26 pinch-hits. Ichiro’s next PH appearance will set a new major league record for the most in one season; he needs three more pinch-hits to break John Vander Wal‘s 1995 major league record of 28 in one season.
Just two years removed from their pennant-winning season, the Met front office reached the conclusion that the window of opportunity for the present group had closed. After blowing up the team mid-season, it will be a very different club that takes the field next year. Met watchers, though, have seen this movie before; one year removed from a pennant, the 1987 club used 7 different pitchers for 12 or more starts, a total not equaled until this season with 7 pitchers having already made 13 starts.
The Braves have been better this season but their methods continue to baffle this observer. For the second year in a row, Atlanta will give 45% of its PAs to players aged 31 or older. The Braves have done this before, in 2002-03, 1999-2000, 1969-70 and 1948-50, but all but two of those teams were winners, and six of the nine made the post-season. Losing with older players just doesn’t make any sense; much better to get the same result but develop your younger talent at the same time.
For a team taking a different approach from the Braves, look no further than Philadelphia. The results haven’t been pretty this season, but only one Phillie regular is older than 27. Five of those 27-and-under players will reach 25 doubles this season, one less than the franchise record set by the 2001 club. Oddubel Herrera should post 40 doubles, a level not reached by a Phillie outfielder aged 25 or younger since Del Ennis in 1948.