A couple of NL races getting interesting

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With some degree of certainty, I can say that one of these three teams - the New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers - is going to miss the postseason.

If you are asking me which of the three that is going to be, well, ask me again next Sunday when the last pitch of the regular season is thrown. I have given up trying to figure out how the NL is going to shake out, specifically which team is going to be the wild card winner.

After what happened on Thursday, though, I am just about ready to hammer down the final nail in the coffin of the Milwaukee Brewers' 2008 season.

Milwaukee, which earlier this week (and amazingly) fired manager Ned Yost on Monday with 12 games to play, held a 6-2 lead with two outs in the ninth on Thursday at Wrigley Field, only to see the Chicago Cubs score four times to tie the game before winning it in the 12th.

If that is not a death knell for the Brewers, then I don't what is. Especially when the Mets and Phillies, behind their respective aces, go out and take full advantage of the Brewers' collapse with wins later in the evening.

Heading into this weekend's series in Cincinnati, the Brewers find themselves 1 1/2 games back of the Mets in the wild card. After the three-gamer with the Reds, Milwaukee will close its campaign at home with sets against the Pirates and Cubs, who likely will be playing for nothing.

Still, the Brewers may very well be in a swoon from which they cannot recover.

Speaking of the Mets, after bringing back the painful memories of their 2007 freefall, they seem to have gotten back on track.

Johan Santana has been worth his weight in gold for the Mets this season. Just how good he has been for them hasn't been written about enough. Santana has given the Mets a chance to win in every start he has made. He has 14 wins, and the bullpen has blown six leads for him.

You just don't go into a long funk with him in your rotation. They needed a big start from him on Thursday and he delivered. Plus the offense is starting to click again.

When it is all said and done, I think the Mets are going to overtake the Phillies for the NL East lead. They trail the Phils by just a half-game, but are even in the all-important loss column.

New York should be able to take two of three, at least, this weekend from the Atlanta Braves, while the Phillies will have their hands full with a Florida Marlins club that will have a lot of say in how all this is going to play out over the next week or so.

After this weekend's tilt with Atlanta, the Mets return home for their final seven games, with a four-gamer on tap with Chicago and a three-game set to close the regular season with the Marlins.

New York will probably catch a break with regard to the Cubs, who should wrap up the NL Central this weekend. Should they win the division, you would have to think Lou Piniella would skip Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden, giving them a little extra rest in preparation for the postseason.

While we are talking about the NL East contenders for a second, I can't believe I fell into the Carlos Delgado-for-MVP vortex over the last couple of weeks. Ryan Howard is so clearly the league's Most Valuable Player it is ridiculous. I don't care if he finishes hitting .230 and breaks every strikeout record there is, Howard has gotten big hit after big hit for the Phillies when it has mattered the most this month.

Not to mention he is going to finish the season with close to 50 home runs and over 140 RBI.

Remind me if I am mistaken - at the end of the day it is runs scored that wins baseball games, right? Not average. Howard has 144 hits this season and 138 RBI. That is production. Plus he is hitting .320 with runners in scoring position, while driving in 85 of his league-leading RBI total.

The man is a beast, and he is soon going to be a two-time MVP.

Where would the Phillies be without the big fella here in September? If Pat Burrell ever awakens from his slumber, the Phillies are going to be a tough out in October.

Following their series with the Marlins this weekend, the Phillies return home for six games against the Braves and Washington Nationals, who have given both the Mets and Fightins' fits here over the last couple of weeks.

Back to the Marlins, who are just five back in the wild card. Florida is flying under the radar here. But, if you haven't been paying attention, the Marlins are starting to hit again and they may have the best young pitching staff in the league.

Speaking of that, not this year, but next November when the Cy Young Award is handed out, Ricky Nolasco will finish in the top-3. You heard it here first.

Now back to reality. Florida plays three games this weekend with the Phillies, then a makeup game with the Cincinnati Reds followed by a three-game affair with the Washington Nationals, before closing its season with a three-game set at Shea Stadium against the Mets.

Remember that it was the Marlins who walked into Flushing last year and took two of three from the Mets on the season's final weekend to dash their playoff hopes.

If I was a betting man I would place cash on the Mets and Phils both getting in, with Milwaukee and Florida coming up short. But, with the way things have gone in the NL this season, I won't be surprised when both National League Division Series get underway a week from Wednesday and we are watching both the Brewers and Marlins.

By the way, if that happens, close all the bridges in New York and Philadelphia.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Michael Rushton at mrushton@sportsnetwork.com.
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