Thursday, September 06, 2007

MLB Hot Stove: Catch NL Playoff FEVER!

…as of Wednesday night’s action…

We’re back and we’re still talking about those eighteen teams still lingering within divisional and wild-card races. While the AL got its due first, there’s much more drama to be found within the three divisional and wild-card races in the National League.

Let’s not waste another second and dive head-first into the ruckus that is the Senior Circuit.

NL East


Division Leader – (78-61) New York Mets [5 game lead]
2nd Place – (73-66) Philadelphia Eagles [trail by 5 games]
3rd Place – (71-69) Atlanta Braves [trail by 7.5 games]

No other viable division contenders.

Comments: It seemed like the Mets would maintain a five to six game lead throughout the season. Note: the key word in that last sentence is seemed. Despite some major deadline deals from Atlanta (Texiera/Dotel), the Braves-bullpen has become engulfed in turmoil and their bats have become far too inconsistent against NL East pitching [Tim Hudson has also fallen fast out of the AL Cy Young race subsequently]. Despite losing 4 straight in Philly, in as bad a fashion as one could imagine each night, the Mets rebounded as best they could with a three-game sweep against the Braves. The Phillies, who got as close as two games to the division leaders, struggled this weekend by dropping 2 of 3 to the lowly Marlins. A disastrous defeat, via an improbably late-inning Atlanta comeback this past Wednesday, may have sucked the morale out of the Phils. The Mets maintain a 1-game lead currently for best-record in the NL East and continue in Cincy for 3 relatively easy games (or so you might think). As for the second and third place teams, they meet at Turner Field in what may become the last stand for Bobby Cox’s crew this season. With Cole Hamels rehabing still, the Phillies will have to rely on their big MVP-caliber hitters (Utley, Rollins, and Howard) and whatever stability they can find from their rotation/bullpen as they hope to continue on their divisional and wild-card run late into September. While the Braves seem a lost cause, they could actually help the Shea-faithful by snatching a series victory this upcoming week against Philly. Each team sees each other again, but after this week, too much damage may already have been inflicted.

NL Central

Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Division Leader – (70-67) Chicago Cubs [.5 game lead]
2nd Place – (70-68) Milwaukee Brewers [trail by .5 games]
3rd Place – (68-67) St. Louis Cardinals [trail by 1 game]

No other viable division contenders.

Comments: Wow, talk about a logjam. In a division that nobody seems to want to claim, each team is going through more than a few issues. Whether it’s pitching, hitting, or attitude, each team is struggling mightily down the stretch. Even St. Louis, who has rebounded quite nicely during the second half of the season, realizes that it should’ve been able to surge past the Brew Crew and their arch-nemesis Cubbies. With Chris Carpenter out, who will be the stable back end of the Cardinal rotation down the stretch? The Cubs may be asking similar questions of their ace, a healthy Carlos Zambrano, who dashed any realistic Cy Young hopes with an 0-5 August campaign. As for the Brewers, Prince Fielder hitting home runs can’t win this division outright for them. Ben Sheets, and a starter to be named later, will be heavily relied upon as the inexperienced Brewers continue their surprising late season postseason push. As ESPN’s Woody Paige might say, it’s time to “Look at the Schedule!” Without getting in too deep, the Cubs (4 more w/ St. Louis, 0 w/ Milwaukee, and a friendly 15 w/ Fla, Pit, and Cincy combined). Meanwhile, the Lou has tough matchups with the Mets as well as a 3-game series out west in Arizona. A key series will go down Sept. 24-26 in Milwaukee when they visit the Brewers with both teams potentially staring up at the Cubbies. Closing out with a crucial four hosting San Diego, Milwaukee will have to dodge bullets from spoilers (Houston) and pretend contenders (Atlanta) along the way. Point is: this divisional race is the most likely to go down to the final out on the final day. That is unless you consider the…

NL West

Credit: Raisport

Division Leader – (76-62) San Diego Padres [tied, percentage point leader]
Division Leader – (77-63) Arizona Diamondbacks [tied]
3rd Place – (73-65) Los Angeles Dodgers [trail by 3 games]
4th Place – (72-66) Colorado Rockies [trail by 4 games]

No other viable division contenders.

Comments: Wow. A lot can be said, but I don’t want to drive myself – via countless scenarios – too crazy. So instead, I’ll take the easy way out and LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE! San Diego, with Jake Peavy anchoring a Cy Young run, has 10 easier games between San Fran & Pittsburgh. However, they fall into potential landmines with 6 against Colorado and that aforementioned closing series in Milwaukee. Oh yeah, they travel to play those Dodgers for 3 games as well in the middle of the month. As for Arizona, don’t sleep on them. They get 9 against the San Fran/Pitt combo. Add six more against the Dodgers and two crucial series (at home vs. St. Louis and closing the season out on the road in Colorado). They control their own destiny, but it won’t be easy. Speaking of such, the Dodgers and Rockies can’t be forgotten. Each see the teams ahead of them more than enough. Memo to Matt Holliday: get Colorado into the post-season, and you’ll be rewarded with an MVP award.

Predictions and Prognostications
1) The Mets, despite a disastrous four game sweep from the Phils, will right the ship and claim a second straight NL East crown.
2) Here we go again. I’m taking the Cubbies. I did it before the season and I’m doing it again. Sue me!
3) While I hate on them far too much, the Diamondbacks may be the team to beat. Except,I’m still taking the Padres.

NL Wild Card


Current Leader – (77-63) Arizona Diamondbacks [3 game lead]
2nd Place – (73-65) Los Angeles Dodgers [trail by 3 games]
3rd Place – (73-66) Philadelphia Phillies [trail by 3.5 games]
4th Place – (72-66) Colorado Rockies [trail by 4 games]
5th Place – (71-69) Atlanta Braves [trail by 6 games]
6th Place – (70-68) Milwaukee Brewers [trail by 6 games]
7th Place – (68-67) St. Louis Cardinals [trail by 6.5 games]

No other viable wild-card contenders.

Comments: It’s impossible to detect. Except that the Diamondbacks, technically, control their own destiny. However, while teams in the West seem to have an advantage, they play each other so much that they could easily each drop a few games in the standings. Watching the standings each and every day is a must. Don’t count out a veteran ball club like St. Louis. Don’t sleep on the overachieving Rockies. And don’t underestimate the talent of the Phillies. We’ll check back soon, but for now…it’s impossible.

Then again, just remember how awfully mediocre last year’s World Series champion Cardinals appeared at this time. In fact, they seemed that way just about until the opening pitch of the playoffs.

Until next time…


Brad Slepetz said...

Senior Circuit should be capitalized.

Paymon said...

It will be capitalized when the NL wins a non-fluke World Series.

Brad Slepetz said...

While winning just 40 of 102 Series constitutes a minority, it is a bit more than a statistical fluke. Unless, of course, you are talking about the Cubs' two titles, which were obviously flukes.

"BYOB, Bring Your Own BOOYEAH"
-- Tim Meadows as Stu Scott