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The Stretch Story, or How the Phillies Won the NL East and the Mets Blew It . . . Again

After the games of September 10, the Phillies sat 3.5 games out of first place in the NL East.  They were 79-67 and had gone just 6-8 since their dramatic come-from-behind extra-innings win against the Mets on August 26.  (So much for momentum.)

The Mets, on the other hand, were 82-63.  They were sitting pretty - 3.5 games above the Phillies.  They had shaken off that horrible game and had gone 9-3 since August 26.  They vowed not to let 2007 repeat.

But, they did.  Over the course of the next 17 games (16 for the Phillies), the Mets once again collapsed.  They went from 3.5 games up on the Phils to 3 games down.  It wasn't as bad as last year's collapse of 8 games in the standings (Mets had been 7 games up but finished 1 game down), but a 6.5 game swing over the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season is nonetheless quite horrific.

So how did it happen?  Beyond just the fact that the Phillies closed 13-3 while the Mets closed 7-10?

It's quite simple:  The Phillies outperformed the Mets in every facet of the game.  But, in particular, the Phillies' bullpen was dominant, whereas the Mets' bullpen was miserable.

Offensively, the Phillies averaged 5.75 runs over the last 16 games.  The Mets averaged 4.41.  The Phillies hit .277/.357/.495 for a .852 OPS over the last 16 games.  The Mets hit .253/.341/.412 for a .753 OPS.  In other words, the Phillies were Nate McLouth or Jack Cust over the last 16 games; the Mets were Brandon Phillips.

The starting pitching was the one area that was close, although the Phillies still outperformed the Mets.  The Phillies' starters held their opponents to a .246/.305/.412 line while the Mets' starters held their opponents to .268/.346/.360 line.  That's quite comparable except for the middle number -- the Mets' starters had a lot more men on base compared to the Phillies' starters.  Even though the Phillies' starters gave up more extra base hits, without as many men on base, the damage was limited.

As any Mets fan will tell you, the bullpen was the real problem.  And the numbers bear this out.  The Phillies bullpen, lead by Brad Lidge, was dominant over the last 16 games.  It held its opponents to an incredible .648 OPS -- .234/.311/.337.  The Mets' bullpen, on the other hand, allowed their opponents to hit like David Wright and his .924 OPS.  The cobbled together replacements for Billy Wagner allowed opponents a .335/.400/.524 line.  There's your answer.

Winning the NL East two years in a row is a wonderful pleasure for a Phillies fan.  To do so while watching the Mets collapse two years in a row -- by 8 games last year and 6.5 games this year -- tops off the pleasure with a tasty scoop of schadenfreude.  What could be better?