With less than 40 games remaining in the MLB regular season, the playoff races are heating up and nowhere is this more evident than in the National League. In contrast to the American League Playoff Race, which now boasts two runaway divisions thanks to the meltdown of the White Sox, the National League still has two division races that are within 3 games. The Padres are the only league leaders with more than a 3 game lead over their division rivals, and with the best record in the NL, this doesn’t come as a surprise.
As we move through the National League, we will determine who gets a coveted playoff spot and who heads home early.
The Atlanta Braves hold the top spot back east, thanks to an immaculate home record (44-17) and a crushing run differential (+117). Their pitching staff has allowed fewer runs this year than all but two teams, the Padres and the Cardinals, who are both playoff contenders. Tough upcoming games on their schedule include the Cardinals (4 games) and the Phillies (6 Games). The rest of their schedule is littered with the underachieving teams from the east (Marlins, Mets, Nationals) some very weak teams like the Rockies and the Pirates. Their 6 remaining games against the Phillies will truly be the determining factor of who wins this division, but right now, it’s the Brave’s to lose.
The Philadelphia Phillies are the only team with a halfway decent shot to catch the Braves in the east, and they have the pitching to do it. Their schedule helps a bit due to the fact that they only play the Padres for 3 games and the Braves head to head for 6. They do need to watch out for teams such as the Dodgers and Brewers, however, who are more than likely out of their division races, but still potent enough to beat top level teams. We will more than likely know if the Phils have a chance to win their division after their trip to California later this month. Unless they win 4/6 of those games, they will be finished.
Prediction: The NL East Division Title returns to the ATL as Jayson Heyward and the Braves hang on for just long enough to beat out the Phils.
The NL Central is a hotly contested race, with an unfamiliar face atop the standings. The Cincinnati Reds are reminding us all of the days of the Big Red Machine, as they bruise their way through the season. They are the only team in the NL to score 600 runs or more so far this season, even outscoring the Rangers and Twins, the respective AL West and AL Central division leaders. Their pitching won’t “wow” anyone, but they have potent bats up and down the lineup. The Cardinals loom within striking distance, but Cincinnati has enough games against the Pirates, D-Backs & Astros to pad their lead. I don’t see them giving this up, but there are still quite a few games left.
The Cardinals are the usual favorites to win the NL Central, especially in the absence of the Cubs, but they have been on the outside looking in almost all season long. They have about as many “Gimmes” left on the schedule as the Reds do, but tough late season series’ against the Padres and Braves who are in the middle of playoff races themselves could be their undoing. Their pitching, which is second in the NL in terms of runs allowed, will have to perform flawlessly down the stretch to have any shot of them winning the Central this year.
Prediction: The Reds will keep swinging hot bats and get pitching that is just good enough to keep them out in front of the Cardinals. Welcome back to the playoffs Cincinnati!
As a Dodger’s fan, it pains me to say this, but the Padres and Giants have been playing great, especially after the All-Star Break. Due in small part to the pitcher-friendly ball park in San Diego, the Padres boast the fewest runs allowed in the Major’s this season. Combined with a +123 run differential, they score enough runs to keep the fans and their coach comfortable late in the game. They play well, both home and on the road, and with a 5.5 game lead over the second place Giants, it is hard to see them giving up this division. Throw in the benefit of 9 games against the D-Backs and Pirates, and the Padres should see another NL West title. They do close out the season against the Giants, up north, but by then it will probably be too late for anything of note to happen during that series.
The Giants are having a great year at the wrong time. Their pitching staff is in the top 4 of the NL, but some shaky play on the road (32-33) puts them in a bad spot with less than 40 games left. Their one shot at redemption comes in the form of a very easy remaining schedule (think lots of games against the D-Backs, Rockies, Cubs, and Dodgers). They have 6 games left against the Padres, but will probably need to sweep them, or win 5/6 to really make up any ground.
Prediction: The Padres have padded their lead enough to win this division comfortable, although it shouldn’t go on auto pilot just yet. As long as they keep pitching like they have, there is no stopping them this season.
The wildcard in the National League is a 3 team race, right now, with the Phillies holding the slightest of the advantages over the Cards and Giants. Compared to the American League, the playoff teams in the NL don’t have nearly as many games left against playoff contending teams, which means that it will more than likely be a slugfest to the very end. The Phillies probably have the advantage in terms of “Big Name Pitching” but it hasn’t performed as great as it was supposed to, and we have seen stretches where the Phils bats just go dead. The Cardinals and Giants have been playing very consistently all season, but I have to give the advantage to the Cardinals. They have far and away the highest run differential out of the 3 wildcard teams (+109) and enough pitching to get them where they want to be.
Prediction: The Cardinals win the Wildcard by 2 games over the Phillies. Giants finish third about 4 games out.