The National League is not exactly loaded with powerhouse teams in 2012.
For the most part, the teams with the best pitching have the weakest offenses. Or, the teams with the best offenses have the worst pitching. Then there are teams like the Miami Marlins that just cannot fire on all cylinders.
This early in the season, it is easier to eliminate which teams will not make a late-season run than to predict which teams might pull off the St. Louis Cardinals type of September magic of last season.
That leaves nine teams fighting for two wild-card spots. Those nine teams are all within five-and-a-half games of each other, which is a very narrow margin at this point in the season.
Just for perspective, the Cardinals were 9.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants as late as August 29th of last season.
Now, more than ever, teams are likely to view themselves as "in the hunt" until the final month of the season.
In terms of the teams that are in that category, there are the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the makings of a solid core for the future—but everyone said that last season as well when they were within one game of the NL Central lead at the All-Star break.
They are still a year away from playoff contention, in my opinion.
The Philadelphia Phillies have clearly proven that they should never be counted out, but this appears to be the year that injuries and underachieving will end their five consecutive NL East titles and playoff appearances.
The Milwaukee Brewers are lingering—at 32-37—but have received very little outside of Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez in terms of production. It would take a huge second-half resurgence if they are to make any noise.
As we have seen in 2010, the San Francisco Giants have proven that they can win with a mediocre offense. They rank 23rd in the MLB in runs scored, but negate that with their pitching, which is fifth in ERA.
The remaining teams—Atlanta, Miami, St. Louis, Arizona and New York—all possess their own weaknesses and deficiencies, but have an equal chance to win one of the wild-card berths.
It appears to me that St. Louis is not the same team without Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols, but Mike Matheny has managed them to keep them at .500 to this point. They will struggle in the second half once Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse regress to their career norms, and they will find it difficult to replace the loss of Jaime Garcia.
If the current division leaders—Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers—win their respective divisions, that leaves the Giants, Mets, Braves and Miami Marlins as the most likely winners of the wild-card spots.
The Braves have long been a thorn in the side of the Mets. In recent years, the matchup has been much more balanced. This season, the Mets have the edge in the season series, four games to two.
Atlanta had a formidable pitching staff last season, as they basically were eight deep in quality arms and had three lights-out relievers.
This season, with the performances of Eric O' Flaherty and Johnny Venters not up to last year's standards, the bullpen is not as revered as it was.
The rotation just suffered a significant setback with Beachy—co-leader in ERA with R.A. Dickey—now undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Atlanta will be hard-pressed to fill in for that type of production. Jair Jurrjens did win his start after returning from the minors, but had struggled mightily to find any sort of command.
The duo of Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson remains solid, but the absence of Beachy will prove to be a difference down the stretch.
The Mets—aided by a significantly easier second-half schedule and the promotion of Jenrry Mejia in the bullpen—will benefit greatly from Atlanta's setback, and the Mets will control their own destiny entering September.
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