Last week, I wrote about the American League’s wild-card fiasco. While most teams in the AL have sealed their spots in the playoffs, the National League offers more intrigue for baseball’s fan base. Here is a breakdown of what each NL contender needs going into the final stretch of the season.
First Place; NL East
(76.9% chance of making playoffs)
Biggest need: Keep doing what they are doing
Going into this season, the consensus amongst…well…everyone…was that the Braves were a year or two away from being one of the MLB’s most dominant teams. They seem to be a year early as they have held onto first place as Philadelphia continues to slump.
While the buzz around the league has been around the young stars, the team has benefitted from some late-career comebacks by its veterans. Nick Markakis made it to the all-star game for the first time in his 13-year career and ranks in the top-five in batting average in the NL. Anibal Sanchez, who most thought wouldn’t even get picked up in free agency, has a 3.09 ERA in 20 starts for Atlanta. Mike Foltynewicz is also having his best season since debuting in 2014. If the season were to end today, Foltynewicz would set career-highs in ERA and WHIP. Not to mention, he already has surpassed his single-season innings total and has more strikeouts than he did last year.
The Braves only have a 3.5 game lead over Philly, but as long as they continue what they are doing, they will avoid the Wild Card round.
Second Place; NL East (3.5 games back)
(26% chance of making playoffs)
Biggest need: On-Base Production
For most of the season, it seemed like the Philly bandwagon was going to coast its way into the playoffs. The team has been on and off since the start of August and now finds itself in a hole with 20 games left in the season. The biggest reason for the drop off: the Phils aren’t getting on base.
The Phillies currently don’t have one player hitting over .270 who has played in 34 or more games. They rank 23rd in the league in OPS and have struck out more times than any team in baseball outside of the White Sox and Padres. They tried bringing in veteran pieces like Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, and Jose Bautista but they haven’t been able to ignite the Philly offense. The team has plenty of power, but that lumber won’t go to use if there isn’t anyone on-base when the team’s sluggers go yard.
First Place, NL Central
(99.9% chance of making playoffs)
Biggest need: bullpen relief
Like I wrote about last week with the Red Sox, the Cubs’ bullpen statistics on paper are amongst the best in the league. However, since the all-star game, they trail the top-four NL contenders in ERA and don’t have a clear solution at the back end of the bullpen since Brandon Marrow went down. After many people questioned the signing of Morrow in the offseason, he has been lights out with the Cubs. However, he has been sidelined with elbow soreness and might not be able to pitch again in the regular season. While he is “optimistic” about returning before October, the Cubs have had to rely on Pedro Strop to hold down the closer role.
Since joining the Cubs in 2013, Strop has quietly never posted an ERA over 2.91. While that is great for a middle-inning reliever, Strop is known in Chicago for causing headaches late in tight ball games. He is going to need to be the steadiest part of the bullpen if the Cubs want to bring another championship to the city.
Second Place; NL Central (4.5 games back)
(83.8% chance of making playoffs)
Biggest need: Chase Anderson returning to dominance
After a successful 2017 campaign, Anderson has lost his spark. He already has surpassed his loss total from last season and has allowed a major league-leading 28 home runs. Anderson needs to keep the ball in the ballpark if the team has any chance of catching the Cubs before October. Every team needs an ace they can turn to in a Game Seven situation, and the Brewers were counting on Anderson to be that guy heading into the season. Yes, Jhoulys Chacin has been the go-to guy, as he sports a 14-6 record and 3.59 ERA. However, if the Brewers don’t end up winning the NL Central crown, they are probably going to turn to Chacin in a winner-take-all game. That would leave Anderson to toe the bump in a game one situation in the NLDS.
Milwaukee has the lumber to compete in the playoffs, but they will need more than that if they get to the later rounds.
St. Louis Cardinals
Third Place; NL Central (5 games back)
(67.3% chance of making playoffs)
Biggest need: literally everything to go in their favor
As of right now, FanGraphs has the Cards chances of winning the division at 2.6 percent. It’s safe to say that won’t happen with 20 games left unless Chicago has a Mets-like meltdown. The team is also without Michael Wacha, Kolten Wang, Adam Wainwright, and Jedd Gyorko. However, Wainwright, when healthy, is one of the most dominant pitchers in the MLB. He could be a key piece for the Cards if they make a stretch run.
First Place; NL West
(49.7% chance of making the playoffs)
Biggest need: win their series against the D-Backs and Dodgers
Yes, you read that correctly: even in first place, Colorado has a worse chance of making the playoffs than the second place Dodgers. Like the Braves, the Rockies have had a wacky road to getting to where they are now. They have a negative run differential (-9) and have the 22nd worst ERA in the MLB. The team has even tried to recapture its 2007 magic by bringing back Matt Holliday into the fold.
The biggest part of the season starts now for Colorado. They currently have a three-game series with the Dodgers from Sept. 7-9 and a four-game series against the third-place Arizona Diamondbacks. In total, they have half of their games against the teams that are 1.5 and 2.5 games back of the division title. That will be an uphill battle, but it is doable (at least that is what Rockies fans are telling themselves).
Los Angeles Dodgers
Second Place; NL West (1.5 games back)
(77.2% chance of making playoffs)
Biggest need: get Kenley Jansen back
The Dodgers are built to get back to the World Series. If it weren’t for a few poorly timed injuries, LA would be at the top of its division. Their biggest question mark now for them is whether Kenley Jansen will return to form after dealing with heart complications. He claimed his medication was to blame for a few games a week ago and is now off of them. With a few games left to go, he and the Dodgers’ medical staff need to figure out how to get him right before they make a run in the playoffs.