Monday, September 9, 2013

MLB Playoff Push: National League

Andrew McCutchen is hoping to lead Pittsburgh into the postseason for the first time in 21 years.
By Bennett Corcoran

It’s September already, and that means we’re just one month away from playoff baseball. While the NL playoff picture seems more secure at this point than the AL, there are still plenty of seeds to be determined, featuring arguably the best race in baseball in the NL Central. Let’s take a look to see who might come out on top and how teams will finish the rest of the way.

Atlanta Braves (85-57)
The NL East is all but locked up, as the Braves have dominated the division since the beginning of the season. With the underwhelming Nationals and aging Phillies struggling to produce, Atlanta’s division title looks secure as they are now focused solely on home field advantage. Anchored by a strong pitching staff featuring the best ERA in baseball, the Braves have been able to string wins together with ease. To make things even easier, they don’t play a team with a winning record the rest of the way except a three game series in Washington (and they’re only three games above .500). With games against teams like the Phillies, Brewers, Cubs, Padres, and Marlins padding their schedule the rest of the way, they should be able to hold off the surging Dodgers for the top spot in the National League.
Prediction: (102-60)
Result: NL East Champions, first overall seed in NL

Los Angeles Dodgers (83-59)
The star-studded Dodgers have been cruising as of late behind ace Clayton Kershaw and pitchers Zach Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. With so many big names like Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier powering their offense, they will certainly be a dangerous team to face in the postseason, especially with the new acquisition of Michael Young. If Matt Kemp ever gets healthy, watch out. Their schedule the rest of the way is light, as they finish with middle of the pack teams like the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants, and Padres. Expect L.A. to give Atlanta a serious run for their money in an effort to secure the NL’s top seed.
Prediction: (100-62)
Result: NL West Champions, second overall seed in NL

St. Louis Cardinals (83-60)
The high-powered offense and rotation depth of St. Louis makes them a very real threat to snag the division crown. They are certainly a more experienced bunch than Pittsburgh, having appeared in the postseason regularly and consistently finding a way to go deep in the playoffs. Their schedule is also helping their cause, as it is noticeably weaker than that of the Pirates. After sweeping Pittsburgh, the only remaining games against teams with winning records on their schedule is a three game series against Washington. An experienced team like the Cards should be able to make quick work of the Cubs, Brewers, Mariners, and Rockies en route to yet another playoff appearance. But if for some reason they fall short of the division title, expect them to win the wild card game and make some October noise anyway, because that’s just what the Cardinals do.
Prediction: (96-66)
Result: NL Central Champions, third overall seed in NL

Pittsburgh Pirates (81-61)
This is where things really get interesting in the NL. The Pirates have finally clinched a winning season for the first time in twenty years and seem poised for a playoff appearance. But in a division race where three teams are less than two games apart, anything can happen between now and the end of the month. All three central teams in the mix are attempting to fend off their competition to avoid the dreaded Wild Card showdown, and this race will likely come down to the last few games of the season. Behind their strong bullpen and the offensive presence of Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates are tied with Cincinnati for the Wild Card spot. The Pirates have some decisive games left, including six more games against the Reds. Factor in a three game series in Texas, and it is clear Pittsburgh has their work cut out for them. However, if they can take care of business against division rivals and finish off mediocre teams like the Cubs and Padres, they could be in good shape.
Prediction: (94-68)
Result: Wild Card #1

Cincinnati Reds (82-62)
Strong pitching has really kept the Reds within striking distance of their division rivals. While they certainly miss Johnny Cueto, others like Matt Latos and Homer Bailey have filled in admirably. Cueto’s progress is coming along, and if he returns before the end of the season that could seriously put Cincinnati over the top. If not, they still have a solid chance to grab the division lead in the coming weeks. Their performance in their six games against the Pirates will likely make or break their chances at winning the division. They’ll surely dominate teams like the Cubs, Astros, Brewers, and Mets, but it might not be enough in such a competitive race for the division.
Prediction: (91-71)
Result: Wild Card #2

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