At Year’s End Giants Will Be In; Rocks, Cubs Will Be Out
Heading into tonight’s action in the National Leauge, it has become apparent that just six teams are left in the league that have a shot at competing for the playoffs, and ultimately the NL pennant.
The Pirates, Reds, Brewers, and Astros really have no shot at winning the Central this year. The Astros and Brewers are within reaching distance but trends say they are out of it.
In the East, the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves are both inside seven games of the Philadelphia Phillies, but with the acquisition of Cliff Lee to the pitching staff, I will go ahead and say the Phillies are rolling to the playoffs.
In the West, the Diamondbacks are too far out of it and the Padres have officially begun to rebuild and stand no chance in what is easily the toughest division in the National League.
With those ten teams all but out of any race heading into the stretch run of the season, six teams remain that include the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, the San Francisco Giants, and the Colorado Rockies.
To get the easy stuff out of the way that really does not even need to be broken down, the Dodgers will win the division because they are the deepest team in the league and have one of the best managers in the game.
Joe Torre has his team absolutely rolling on all cylinders and the team is taking care of both the weak competition and the tough. What’s amazing about the Dodgers best record in baseball is that they also have had the toughest schedule to date in the National League, with an opponent’s win percentage of .510.
Against teams with a winning record, the Dodgers are are an NL-leading 34-26 in those games. They have scored the second most runs in the NL, behind just the Phillies, and have the second best team ERA in all of baseball. The bullpen has been shaky and is the one question mark that the team has, but the trade deadline acquisition of George Sherill looks to be huge for them.
They showed no signs of slowing down even when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games and his presence back on the team has brought them together even more. He has struggled as of late but the young stars in James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier have picked up the slack.
The other ballclub that has won their division by default (at least in this article) is the Philadelphia Phillies. They have won 20 of their last 28 games and have opened up a safe cushion on both the Braves and Marlins. Even more importantly, they made the trade of the year in acquiring starting pitcher and reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from the Indians.
They gave up a decent amount of minor league prospects but this year’s team was left completley alone. He joins what now looks to be the best starting rotation in all of baseball that is poised for another run deep into the playoffs.
The Phillies have a pretty average looking schedule the rest of the way compared to the other contenders, with 25 games left against teams with winning records and 32 left against losing records.
The Phillies rank fifth in runs and sixth in slugging percentage this year, which is always a good thing when playing in the ballpark they play in. Combined with a now excellent pitching staff and the potential of Pedro Martinez, and the Phillies have great pitching that will get plenty of run support every time one of them takes the mound.
The one division that has not been decided and likely will not be decided until the last week of the year is the National League Central. Going into tonight’s play, the Cardinals and Cubs were tied for the best record in the division. Based on percentage points, the Cubs held a slight advantage over St. Louis.
Looking at the stretch run for both teams, the schedule seems to favor the Cardinals moreso than the Cubbies. Both teams will play 38 games against teams with losing records, but the Cubs will play four more games (19 compared to 15 for the Cards) against teams with a winning record.
Making it even more difficult for the Cubs, 15 of those games against teams with winning records will come away from Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are 24-29. The Cardinals will play nine games at home against +.500 teams and just six on the road.
My money is on the Cards taking the division, and no it has nothing to do with my staunch Brewers homerism. The Cardinals have added their pieces in Mark Derosa and Matt Holliday, and Albert Pujols is more than capable of taking them to the top. They have an easier stretch than the Cubs and overall play better ball.
The Cubs will have a tough time competing just because of their struggles on the road. The stat of having 15 of 19 road games against winning-record teams is a huge disadvantage, but what’s worse is that they play almost half of their remaining games on the road (28 of 57).
As of right now, the National League Wildcard seems as if it will be a three team race, with the San Francisco Giants leading the way, followed by the Colorado Rockies and the loser of the National League Central.
Numbers point to the Giants being the front-runners for a few reasons, with the main one being their unbelievable pitching. They have the best team ERA in the Majors and have two bonafide aces in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They are pretty much guarenteed two quality starts every five days.
The Giants finish their season with 28 games against teams with winning records and 26 games against teams with losing records. The majority (16) of their winning-record opponents will have to come to San Francisco to play them.
With the addition of Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko to a less than stellar lineup, the Giants look to be in good position to take home the Wildcard.
What will be important is not getting into a slugfest with the Colorado Rockies so that the Cubs or Cardinals sneak right in and both are left out. The Rockies and Giants will meet ten more times before the year is over, and the odds are that whoever comes out on top in that span of games will also meet up with the Phillies in the first round.
The races in the National League, while not featuring the best teams in the world, will be exciting and should come down to the final games of the year.
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