MLB - 3 Up 3 Down (08/31/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Three Up, Three Down – reviewing baseball from the month of August.

A look at the notable and disappointing teams from the month of August with updated rest of season projections and playoff probabilities for each team.

Three Up

Chicago Cubs
Season: 74 wins – 55 losses, 3rd in the NL Central
Month of August: 19 wins – 8 losses

Wrigleyville is Winnerville! The Chicago Cubs are on the verge of their first playoff appearance since 2008. The Cubbies haven't won the World Series in 107 years but optimism is high in the Second City. Chicago has the fourth-best record in the majors and holds a 5.5 game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the Wild Card race.

How are the Cubs winning? Hitting. Since the All-Star break, when rookie Kyle Schwarber joined the team full-time, the club leads the National League in home runs (57) and walks (149). Schwarber has been a huge contributor. He became the first Cubs player in the modern era to hit 12 home runs within his first 42 games (per Elias Sports Bureau).

What could October look like in the Windy City? Chicago has two aces in Jake Arrieta (14 consecutive quality starts – 11-1 record and a no-hitter in that span) and Jon Lester (2.57 ERA in 84 postseason innings) plus a gaggle of young productive hitters. A deep postseason run is possible.

The Cubbies are 94.0 percent likely to make the playoffs and 5.6 percent likely to end the curse and win the World Series.

New York Mets
Season: 72 wins – 58 losses, 1st in NL East
Month of August: 19 wins – 8 losses

The Mets have a 5.5 game lead over the Washington Nationals in the NL East. 5.5 games! After the hot start to the season we gave the Mets less than a 40 percent chance of playing beyond the 162nd game. Now with just over a month of regular season baseball left, yes New York has to face Washington six more times including the final three games of the regular season, it looks like the Mets' dreams of postseason play will become a reality.

New York, like the Chicago Cubs, is riding an offensive surge to the top. It starts with trade deadline acquisition Yoenis Cespedes, who has eight homers in 27 games as a Met. The Amazins' have produced 43 homers in August, a new franchise record for dingers in a month. Before the All-Star break the team was averaging 3.48 runs-per-game. In the second half New York is scoring an NL-best 5.36 runs-per-game.

The only concern for New York is its record against good and bad teams. The Mets, for example, are 18-1 vs. the Phillies and Rockies but 0-13 vs. the Cubs and Pirates. Luckily for the Mets, the team only has three games the rest of the season against clubs that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today.

New York is 87.1 percent likely to make the playoffs and has an 8.1 percent chance to win the World Series – the sixth best odds in baseball.

Texas Rangers
Season: 68 wins – 61 losses, 2nd in AL West
Month of August: 18 wins – 9 losses

Texas' once flat lining postseason hopes have been revived. Since the All-Star break, the Rangers have won 15 of 17 home games including a sweep of the division leading Houston Astros. In the second half of the season Texas has 25 wins, the fourth most since the break.

The bounce back isn't credited toward power hitting or elite pitching, instead the team has been using small ball tactics to win. The Rangers are third in the league in stolen bases (76) and are tops with 35 bunt hits – 14 more than the next team. The club also uses aggressiveness with base running. Texas takes an extra base on 45 percent of their hits - the fourth highest rate in the majors per Extra bases taken is the percentage of time a runner advances more than one base on a single and two or more bases on a double.

A month ago the Rangers had a 5 percent chance of making the playoffs. A hot August has seen Texas take a 1.5 game lead in the Wild Card race. The team is not a lock for postseason action but the Rangers are now ten times as likely (54.5 percent) to reach the playoffs than at the start of August.

Three Down

Washington Nationals
Season: 63 wins – 62 losses, 2nd in NL East
Month of August: 12 wins – 16 losses

It's been a no good, very bad month. Well, actually year, for everyone's pick to be the runaway NL East champions. The preseason World Series favorites, with supposedly one of the best starting rotations in baseball, have not lived up to expectations. One possible excuse for the disappointing season has been injuries but that problem may be over.

On August 25th, Washington's projected Opening Day lineup started for the first time all season. The Nats beat the Padres that night 8-3 with a strong outing from Stephen Strasburg. Every day starters Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Denard Span have combined to miss 256 games this season. A healthy lineup could be the start of something good.

Washington also knows it needs to take advantage of the six remaining games against the division leading Mets. The Nationals have adjusted their rotation slightly. The Nats have lined up Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg for their September 7th-9th series against the Mets. Scherzer will be on two extra days of rest, while Zimmermann will be on one.

The NL East is still up for grabs but Washington's playoff hopes are fading. The Nationals have a 16.0 percent chance of reaching the postseason and will likely need to win the division to do so.

Los Angeles Angels
Season: 65 wins – 65 losses, 3rd in AL West
Month of August: 10 wins – 18 losses

Mike Trout and Albert Pujols have combined to hammer 67 home runs. That is the kind of power from the middle of the lineup that propels a team to the playoffs. Except, it isn't. A losing August plus a rejuvenated Rangers team has the Angels sitting 3.5 games out of the second Wild Card in the American League.

In August, Trout, the best player in baseball has hit .227 with one home run. Pujols has found his power but he isn't doing much else with a .215 average with runners in scoring position. The pitching staff is struggling as well. Last year's CY Young candidate Garrett Richards has a 5.17 ERA in his last six starts and Jered Weaver, recently returned from the DL, hasn't found his velocity.

The rough August has laid waste to the Angels' playoff chances. The Halos now have a 12.1 percent chance of reaching the postseason and the team's World Series odds have dropped from 5.4 percent to 0.3 percent.

San Francisco Giants
Season: 69 wins – 61 losses, 2nd in NL West
Month of August: 13 wins – 15 losses

The World Series champions are in a tight playoff chase. The offense has been sputtering with Hunter Pence and Joe Panik on the disabled list but the real cause for concern is losses against other challengers for the Wild Card. San Francisco is 5.5 games out of the last playoff spot. The Giants have combined to go 3-8 against the Pirates and Cubs in August.

San Francisco was greater than 50 percent likely to make the playoffs at the end of July but now the Giants have just a 2.5 percent chance of winning the Wild Card. San Fran's best chance to return to the playoffs is to win the division. The Giants have five more games against division leading Los Angeles but have just an 8.9 percent chance of upending the Dodgers for the NL West.