With just under a month before the regular season concludes, we’re at a very interesting time in the Major League Baseball season. We’re at a time where there are teams fighting for their division, and teams fighting for a Wild Card spot, and, of course, there are teams that are virtual locks to be playing October baseball. We’ll highlight all 5 of the National League teams that we think will make it to the playoffs, including division winners, Wild Card winners, seeding, key player for each team, strengths, and weaknesses.
National League East: Washington Nationals
Current record: 79-56
Predicted record: 94-68
The Nationals have played well this season, and eventually pulled away from the rest of the National League East, leaving the rest of the division searching for a Wild Card spot.
Key player: Daniel Murphy
Murphy’s been tremendous for the Nats, positioning himself as an MVP candidate the season after departing from Washington’s rival, the Mets. Murphy (.340/.384/.595) has been the true staple for the Nationals in a season where offensive production has been lacking from guys like Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, who suffered an injury in July. Murphy’s 98 RBI is good for 2nd in the National League.
Strength: Starting rotation
While the Nationals offense has been solid, ranking in the top 10 in the National League in most major categories, the workhorse has arguably been the starting rotation. Led by Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark, who are posting similar numbers, with Scherzer edging out Roark most of the time, they’ve been solid contributors to a very good Washington club all year.
Firstly, the Nationals bullpen isn’t a black hole like some clubs. They are, however, largely comprised of guys posting ERA’s at or over 3.00, which can run a team into some trouble in the later innings. It’s not without its perks, though, after they picked up one of the best closers in the game, Mark Melancon. But they’ll need to be careful in getting the game to him. Luckily for the bullpen, there are three very solid starters that will provide six or seven strong innings.
National League Central: Chicago Cubs
Current record: 87-48
Predicted record: 103-59
The Cubs have played well all season, and have now staked themselves to a massive 16.5 game lead in the National League Central, leaving the rest of the division floundering and Pittsburgh and St. Louis searching for a Wild Card bid.
Key player: Kris Bryant
Bryant continues to put together an MVP caliber season, going .306/.402/.584, with a National League leading 36 home runs, and coming in 5th in RBI with 91. His 7.13 WAR is good for 4th in all of baseball. The All-Star’s been consistent for the Cubs all season, performing to expectations for a tremendous Cubs team.
Strength: Pitching staff
While Chicago’s hitting has been good, its pitching staff has been ever better. The Cubs have the best rotation in baseball, and there’s not much of a competition. They boast an MLB leading 3.10 ERA as an entire pitching staff, top to bottom. They’ve given up the fewest earned runs in baseball, as well, at only 421. Additionally, teams are only hitting .211 against the dominant staff.
Sure, history doesn’t actually have a bearing on how teams perform in the present, but baseball fans are superstitious, and players even more so. So it’s easy to say the Cubs will falter again, just as their predecessors have in the past. To consider something that will have more of an actual impact on the games, look at their road record. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it, but at 37-28, it’s certainly less successful than their home record, 50-20. Will their relatively youthful lineup be able to handle the pressure of the postseason on the road? Time will tell, but they do have some experience with it already dating back to last season.
National League West: Los Angeles Dodgers
Current record: 75-60
Predicted record: 93-69
The Dodgers have had some bad luck in recent months, starting with Clayton Kershaw going on the disabled list, but he looks ready to return. Then having to send Yasiel Puig down to AAA Oklahoma City in an attempt to positively impact team chemistry. Puig, however, is back in Los Angeles, apparently a changed player. Additionally, the Giants, their competitors in the West, have looked fairly uncompetitive in the division ever since the All-Star break. Los Angeles will have a chance to pull away from San Francisco six more times; three games in LA and three games in San Francisco.
Key player: Clayton Kershaw
Before getting injured, Kershaw was having arguably the best season of his career, and if he returns to normal form after returning (he’s coming off a rehab start), then he’ll certainly be an asset. For the Dodgers to succeed in the postseason, it’ll be important for him to perform to his regular ability. There’s talk about his inability to perform in the postseason, but, and even though it was because of an injury, Kershaw will be well rested moving into October. Kershaw has a 1.79 ERA through 121 innings over 16 starts, with a great FIP of 1.67.
Strength: Veteran leadership
Adrian Gonzalez is the veteran leader of this team. While the Dodgers don’t perform overwhelmingly well in either hitting or pitching, they’ll need to rely on good leadership to rally around. To tame the personality of someone like Yasiel Puig, it’ll take a strong head and patience. That is, if Puig didn’t change because of his time in AAA. The veterans on the team, like Gonzalez or Utley, will have to ensure that the younger guys keep their wits about them, like Corey Seager. Seager’s had an outstanding season with Los Angeles in his first full year with the club (.314/.376/.529) with 23 home runs and 62 RBI. It’ll be up to the veteran leadership to ensure he keeps calm and keeps performing the way he needs to in order to have success in the postseason.
Weakness: Team chemistry
The Dodgers have had their battles with team chemistry because of the Yasiel Puig show. He’s been too concerned about image, among other things, and not about baseball, which can have a negative effect on team morale. Moreover, the Dodgers just recently traded catcher AJ Ellis, who’s been in the Dodgers organization for the last decade. Ellis was also Kershaw’s personal catcher, with whom he shared a bond, even being close friends off the field. These are the kinds of things can be detrimental to the morale and chemistry of a team fighting to be a division champion.
National League Wild Card (1): San Francisco Giants
Current record: 73-62
Predicted record: 87-75
The Giants have certainly seen their share of second half struggles, going a terrible 16-29 during that stretch. They have the end of the season in sight, though, and it might be a drag to the finish, but they just have to go just over .500 to conclude the year to win the Wild Card spot.
Key player: Buster Posey
This one was a toss up between Posey and Bumgarner, but the nod goes to Posey (.289/.368/.443) because he’s been so instrumental in all three of the Giants World Series titles since 2010. Because Posey is possibly having the best year for the Giants this season, he’ll need to continue to come up big for San Francisco in their limp to the postseason.
Strength: The Bay
The Giants are 38-30 at home this season, and that’s including their second half collapse. Regardless of current performance, the Giants tend to play a little bit better at home, outscoring their opponents 312-272. With the peculiar dimensions in San Francisco, the home outfielders always has an advantage because they have better knowledge of how the ball will play off the fence. They’ve also utilized the walls on offense, hitting 36 triples on the year, which is second to only Arizona, who has its own wacky dimensions.
The pen hasn’t been great for the Giants this season. Arguably, Derek Law has been the best for San Francisco, who’s currently on the 15 day disabled list as of August 28. But it’s tough when a team that has been struggling offensively like the Giants have also has a bullpen that likes to give up runs. To compound matters, the rotation, Bumgarner aside, doesn’t do much in the way of helping secure wins. In order to make it to the postseason, the bullpen, among other things, is going to have to find its groove. Otherwise, San Francisco will be on the outside looking in come October.
National League Wild Card (2): New York Mets
Current record: 70-66
Predicted record: 86-76
As it stands right now, the Mets are on the outside looking in, but they’re just a game back of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot. The Mets were expected to be competitive in the East, but the Nationals have taken that division and run away with it; meanwhile, the Mets have been underperforming this season.
Key player: Noah Syndergaard
Thor has a 2.56 ERA in 26 games started this season, which is good for 3rd in the National League. His 188 strikeouts is 4th in the National League, and impressively, his 5.37 strikeouts per walk is 1st in the National League. Because of all this, Syndergaard has been the best pitcher in the Mets rotation, and he’ll look to continue his success moving near the end of the postseason, and then into October for New York.
Strength: Remaing schedule/Pitching staff
The Mets have a pretty favorable schedule ahead of them. 19 of the Mets 26 remaining games come against teams playing under .500. 10 of those 19 will be played at Citi Field. More than just Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have received help from the rest of the staff, including Jeurys Familia, who leads all of baseball in saves, with 45. Also largely contributing is Addison Reed, who’s made 65 appearances out of the pen this year and has posted a 1.98 ERA. Even Bartolo Colon has kept it up this season, posting a 3.35 ERA in 27 starts.
The Mets have become an injury plagued team throughout the season, and respect has to be shown to Terry Collins for managing all these injuries and for keeping his team competitive and sitting on the brink of a playoff birth. For the Mets, five players are listed as returning in 2017: Matt Harvey, Jon Niese, Neil Walker, Zack Wheeler, and David Wright. Jacob DeGrom is listed as day-to-day, while Lucas Duda is slated as possibly returning in September. Three Mets are still to be decided: Juan Lagares, Steven Matz, and Justin Ruggiano.
It’ll be interesting to see how things shakeout in the National League, but we at The Major League Blog think this is the most likely outcome.