Yesterday I broke down the mostly unexciting playoff race in the AL. Here is that article if you missed it. Today we look at the senior circuit, where the races are a whole lot tighter with a few surprise teams in the mix.
Starting in the NL East where the Braves and Phillies sit at the top. I don’t think many people saw those two teams battling it out for supremacy in the division. Both of the teams looked poised to compete for division and possibly World Series titles in a couple of years but here we are a week away from the trade deadline and the preseason favorite, Nationals, are sitting in third, 6 games out of first. There is still time for the Nats together and go on a run to close that gap and compete, but it’s looking like the Bryce Harper ear in D.C. will go quietly into the night. When the Braves signed Tyler Flowers a couple years ago, it was an unhearalded signing but his framing is what this young pitching staff needed. He has been worth six runs in framing alone, according to Baseball Prospectus. Throwback seasons from Anibal Sanchez and Nick Markakis along with another great Freddie Freeman year have complemented the great seasons from the top prospects who have made their wat to the show. Ozzie Albies has been a stud at second base. Giving the Braves 20 homeruns from a 21 year old at second has been a huge boost to the offense. In Philidelphia the offseason additions of Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana signaled a shift from rebuilding to contenting, but I doubt they thought it would happen this year. Rhys Hoskins has proved his cup of coffee in the bigs last year was no fluke and Aaron Nola has turned into the ace of the staff. Both teams were connected to Manny Machado before he was dealt and they both have to ammo to get whoever becomes available over the next week. Who is going to come out of this division is basically a coin flip at this point, but I am picking the Braves. With how well other teams are playing there is a very good chance the team that finishes second in the East misses the postseason.
In the Central, this has been the Cubs division to lose and early on it looked like they were trying to do just that. Their lead over the Brewers is just 2.5 games, so it is not out of the real of possibilities that the Brewers could take the division title but my money is on the division looking similar to this the rest of the season. This Cubs team is very similar to the one we have seen over the last couple of years. They replaced Arrieta with Yu Darvish and adding Brandon Morrow to the pen, who is currently on the DL, but the position players remain the same and so have the results. Even though I don’t think the Brew Crew have quite enough to catch them. The back end of that bullpen with Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress has been lights out. Lorenzo Cain is in the top 5 in the NL in WAR. If the Brewers get a little more out of the SS position and Eric Thames gets back to mashing like he was last year then they could challenge for the division but I would peg them to make an appearance in the Wild Card game.
The NL West features the tightest of all the races with four teams with in 5.5 games of each other. The Dodgers have a 1.5 game lead over the Diamondbacks and they just reeled in the biggest fish on the trade market in Machado. Adding him should be enough to keep the division lead and they could be the favorite to go back to the World Series. What Matt Kemp has done in his return to LA cannot go without mentioning. Everyone thought he was done and all he has done is hit .318 with 17 homeruns and 63 RBIs, almost matching his totals from last year already, all while playing roughly average defense, which is a huge step up from last season. Kemp’s UZR is -1.3 up from -9.2 last year. The D’Backs and Rockies are separated by one game. Paul Goldschmidt is heating up and if Jake Lamb finds his power stroke again this team could take off and take control of that Wild Card spot. Nolan Arenado has been his usual excellent self in Denver. Charlie Blackmon has not been as good as last year but still very good. With Jon Gray, their opening day starter now in the minors, pitching at Coors Field remain interesting like always. The back end of the bullpen has been solid even if their ERAs don’t show reflect that. Coors Field can do that to pitchers. Both of these teams have some pieces to make moves and that coule be what ultimately decides this race. Given the current state of the rosters I would pick the D’Backs to finish above the Rockies and take the second Wild Card spot.
Wild Card- Brewers and Diamondbacks
All state current through July 23
Photo Courtesy: MLB
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