Friday, August 31, 2007

And the Oft-Forgotten NL...

I know, we're cutting this close-- college football is beckoning. However! There is still work to be done, so here are the playoff predictions for the National League. One note, however: these races are unbelievably close, so I'm not pretending that ANY of these will necessarily come true.

NL East - Mets - Yes, they were just swept by the Phils. Yes, their middle relief is non-existent. However, with a favorable schedule down the stretch (six of their last nine opponents are out of playoff contention, likely going into the annual September-swoon for non-contenders) and arguably the finest lineup in the NL, the edge goes to the Metropolitans over the Braves and Phils. Add onto this the fact that they have a solid, albeit not spectacular, veteran rotation in which the fifth starter holds a 4.22 ERA (not counting a possible Pedro return), and Wagner holding down the ninth and the Mets should have just enough to take the division. As for the other contenders, the Phils just don't have the starting pitching to consistently take on the likes of Atlanta, Florida, New York, and Colorado down the stretch-- Howard, Utley, and Rollins are man-beasts, but they can only do so much. As for the Braves, they have a lineup rivaling the Mets and a couple ace veterans in Hudson and Smoltzy, but there's little to no quality pitching depth under them in the rotation and absolutely no back-end relief in the 'pen. So yeah, Mets win.

NL Central - Cubs - Yes, them loveable Cubbies with Sweet Lou, will finally find themselves back in the playoffs. The starting pitching has been inconsistent at times, but (sorry Brewers fans), there's probably more talent in Zambrano's right arm than the entire Milwaukee rotation outside of the brilliant yet injury-prone Ben Sheets. The Brew-Crew has been awfully spunky this year, mashing teams with one of the most intimidating 3-4 punches in all of baseball (Braun-Fielder... pitchers will be seeing them in their sleep), but in the end, pitching and depth wins out. The Brewers lack of deep talent will catch up with them, and the Cubs talent is finally catching up to them, as they're playing up to the form that they should have been for months now. Ramirez, Lee, Soriano, DeRosa, Zambrano, Lilly, Hill, Dempster-- these guys are playoff talents, and too much for the Brewers to overtake for the NL Central. And the Cards? Let me just save room and say that while they're not entirely out of it, there's little about them and their roster to inspire real confidence that they'll rally to October this year.

NL West - Padres - Pitching, pitching, pitching, pitching, and what else? Pitching. Despite Chris Young's recent struggles, the Pads still sport two top NL Cy-Young candidates-- and their third starter? Greg Maddux. Mix in arguably the best bullpen in baseball (and a manager who knows how to use them), and a resurgent Milton Bradley, and you have not only a playoff team but a dark-horse World Series Champ to boot. As for the currently-leading D-backs, I will say this much. Their youth might lead to a late season falter, but this will be a competitive team for years to come. The Pads have the edge to win this year's fight(with their - yes, you guessed it - pitching), but there is no way that the Diamondbacks stay down for long.

NL Wild Card - Diamondbacks(?) - Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Phillies, Braves, and Rockies are all within five games currently of this prize. This is almost too close to call, but because I have to say something intelligent, let me knock out the teams one-by-one. The Rockies certainly have a playoff-caliber lineup, but with so little consistent pitching it's hard to see them overcoming a five game deficit in this race. The Dodgers have a brutal schedule remaining, with seven of their last nine series coming against playoff-hopeful teams, including two series against the Pads and two against the D'Backs. They certainly have a shot, but not an awfully good one considering the lack of power in their lineup and lack of rotation depth (and no, David Wells is not the answer). The Phils are right out for reasons mentioned in my NL East section. So it comes down to the Braves and D'Backs, Veterans versus the Young Guns. Given the Diamondback's current edge over the Braves in record, I'll give them the nod here. But keep an eye on this race, it'll get wild.

There you have it, albeit in a very long-winded fashion. The moral of this story-- the NL is where it's at this year, and if you can spare time from football, do yourself a favor and tune into some of these races, and watch me be very very wrong!

6 comments:

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