Monday, September 15, 2014

The Emerging 2014 National League Playoff Picture

Finally, the Nationals are sitting where everyone thought they would be over the past few seasons--in first place with a large lead over the Braves. As usual, they are doing it without major contributions from former Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper, who (largely due to injuries) has not blossomed into the natural hitter he was said to be. Instead, the Nats are relying on first baseman Adam LaRoche and third baseman Anthony Rendon to supply most of the offensive punch. The pitching has been dependable as well with Tanner Roark, Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister all sporting ERAs below the 3.00 mark. The Braves have gotten a lot of mileage out of first baseman Freddie Freeman and left fielder Justin Upton. The two had combined for 45 homers and 169 RBIs through Sept. 13. Craig Kimbrel is a reliable closer and Julio Tehran, a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2013, is having a wonderful follow-up season. The Nationals will take the division anyway unless something disastrous takes place in Washington.

The Cardinals are shooting for their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and owe most of their success to pitching. Adam Wainwright is on target to win 20 games for the first time since 2010 and right-hander Lance Lynn has held opponents to a .238 batting average so far this year. The NL Central is still up for grabs with the Pirates running a close second. Andrew McCutchen is having another stellar season and catcher Russell Martin has finally found his swing after three straight mediocre years at the plate. He's hitting in the .290s with an OBP above the .400 mark. The big question in the Central is What Happened to the Brewers? After a 20-7 start, they have played below .500. Center fielder Carlos Gomez and right fielder Ryan Braun are dealing with injuries and the pitching staff is a mess. They'll be lucky if they escape with a wild card berth.

The NL West has become a two-team shootout between the Dodgers and Giants (a familiar historical scenario). It may be a matter of who gets hot at the right time. Through September 13, the Dodgers had won 7 of their last 10. Clayton Kershaw is having another Cy Young season (18-3/ 1.67 ERA) and the rest of the staff has stepped up as well. Zack Grienke, Dan Haren and Hyn-jin Ryu have added more than 40 wins between them so far. Jake Peavy has been hot for the Giants, sporting a 5-1 record and 1.12 ERA in his last six starts. The two teams just finished up a three-game set. After losing the opener 9-0, the Dodgers returned the favor with a 17-0 thrashing in the second meeting. Last night, LA took a three-game lead in the West with a 4-2 win. Three games remain between the two clubs.

Wild Card
The East appears to be wrapped up, but the other two divisions are decidedly unsettled. The Cardinals could certainly claim a wild card spot if they falter down the stretch. Same goes for the Dodgers. I hate to write them off so early, but the Brewers are sputtering. Only two other NL clubs have a lower walk ratio. The Giants and Pirates are top contenders right now. Atlanta is a longshot.  

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