This overview covers the National League, who once again blew the All-Star game and home field advantage in the World Series. Hopefully this will help you in win yoru office pool and feel smarter at the same time!
With the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins all still very much targeting the Mets, the race may only heat up from now on. There are two safe bets here: Florida will fade because of a lack of quality pitching, and the other 3 teams will all hit hot streaks sometime in the 2nd half.
The Mets didn’t are the team to beat right now, solely because of their position in the division. However, with an injury to Carlos Beltran, an offensive machine, the struggling bullpen and rotation will need to step it up. The latter gets a much-needed lift with the anticipated return of Pedro Martinez. Luis Castillo, acquired from the Minnesota Twins for virtually nothing, will provide hot-hitting Jose Reyes more opportunities to steal bases with his patient style of batting, and hsi excellent defense is only a benefit in the field.
The Braves made a ton of noise at the trade deadline, getting big-time slugger Mark Teixiera, and pitchers Octavio Dotel and Ron Mahay. In other words, 2 glaring weaknesses, first base offensive production and the lack of left-handed pitching in the bullpen, were addressed. With the emergence of Buddy Carlyle as a legitimate starter, they now have the offense and bullpen to frighten any team in the league. Provided John Smoltz doesn’t hit the DL with his lingering shoulder problem, they should make a move very soon.
The Phillies are headed in the opposite direction: Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Michael Bourn all have been placed on the disabled list. This takes away 2 of their top outfielders who had over 50 stolen bases combined, not to mention all offensive production juggernaut Utley provided. With no-name replacements filling in key roles over the next few weeks, it’s do-or-die time for a team already reeling from an unsettled closer situation.
Prediction: The Braves just became almost unstoppable after a very successful trading session. They overtake the Mets and Phillies for their 15th pennant in the last 16 years.
Taking a glance at the standings would make you think this is a two-team race. And that’s where you couldn’t be more wrong. While it’s clear that so far, the Brewers and the Cubs have been the cream of the crap, you can’t just say the Cardinals are completely out of it. The big question here is, who can sustain a run of good ball-playing?
The Cards are still very much contending for the pennant. The Cardinals are only 6 1/2 games behind, a gap that can be made up with one extremely good month; just ask the Oakland A’s. Albert Pujols has been pretty good, but not nearly what we’ve come to expect. Adam Wainwright can be safely projected to have a good year, getting at least 15 wins. Two glaring problems, though: there’s no speed on the basepaths (Scott Rolen leads them with 4 SBs), and the rest of the starting rotation isn’t really too great. The team ERA is over 5, I think. That alone could hold back the effects of a resurgent offense.
The Cubbies are looking re-energized, having upgraded their roster in the offseason. Aramis Ramirez, despite a DL stint earlier, is still among the top 3B in the NL in terms of production; he’s also benefiting from Alfonso Soriano’s greatly improved numbers from April and May. Carlos Zambrano is looking like a true ace, Ted Lilly has been more than solid, and Bob Howry showed not even an injury to closer Ryan Dempster will hold the bullpen back.
The Brewers are loaded right now, though that’s something nobody knew before the season. Corey Hart is letting people down after an amazing 6 week stretch, but he can still steal bases and score plenty of runs. Ryan Braun has been a 5-category producer, and he may be in for a run that’ll put him to the top. Oh yeah, and Prince Fielder’s been freakin’ amazing thus far. While Claudio Vargas hasn’t been too great lately, prompting speculation that rookie sensatoin Yovanni Gallardo might be in for another shot in the rotation, Ben Sheets anchors a staff that is good if not great. Just you wait and see. Having Francisco Cordero to back you up doesn’t hurt, either.
Prediction: The Cardinals fade after a month or so, and the Brewers’ lack of experience causes a slump not unlike what the Mets hit in June. Which leaves the Cubs, who haven’t been stopped by anyone after the All-Star break and look to be one of the hottest teams in baseball at this point.
Talk about a tough one to call: The Rockies, Diamondbacks, Padres and Dodgers are all fighting each other. So which wins, youth and energy, old school pitching, or a combination?
This is one place I will agree with the experts- Arizona’s youth will hurt them eventually. They’re 22-24 on the road, so on ensuing long road trips they’ll lose too much ground to stay in the race very long. Count them out for good after Randy Johnson becomes re-injured.
Colorado is worse on the road: 18-25. But if Milwaukee can have one of the best records in the NL with a 19-26 road record, then the Rockies can still compete. Jeff Francis has emerged as a “where did THAT come from?” performance award (Yes, I made that up), but the offense is still a rough question mark. And the closer situation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, right now. Matt Holliday is having a tremedous year…and that’s about it. Though Troy Tulowitzki, Kazuo Matsui, and Willy Taveras have all produced numbers in some category or another, this team is not built for power, and they’re not getting on base enough to put up enough offense to support a merely OK pitching staff.
The Padres and Dodgers are two very similar teams, who have nearly identical records in every category (look if you don’t believe, it’s creepy). That being said, who can maintain their “pitching first, offense second” mindset better? The pick is more obvious than it may seem. Four words are the difference: Jake Peavy, Chris Young. Both have been consensus top-5 pitchers in the NL, and though Peavy figures to slow down sometime, Young was lights out until he hit the DL. Add to the fact that San Diego increased their bench depth with 3 late trade deadline acquisitions, and the fact Brad Penny’s 2nd half demons have yet to emerge, and the Dodgers are looking at an uphill battle. Jeff Kent cannot carry to struggling Dodger offense alone.
Prediction: Colorado hangs around until September, as does Arizona. The Padres, behind a bolstered offense, watch as Brad Penny fails to sustain his current pace yet again, and smile as the Young/Peavy tandem combine for over 20 wins in the 2nd half, leading them to the NL West crown.
NL Wild Card
The contenders? After my previous predictions, it’s the LA Dodgers, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Milwaukee Brewers.
The best pitching staff on that short list is the Dodgers, followed by the Brewers. Hitting, though, goes to the Mets and then Brewers, until Philadelphia gets their offensive stars back.
Prediction:Pencil in the Mets for the wild card, as Pedro provides enough lift to the pitching to propel them to the playoffs.