The Pirates, Reds, Brewers, and Astros really have no shot at winning the Central this year. The Astros and Brewers are within reaching distance, but trends say they are out of it.
In the East, the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves are both inside seven games of the Philadelphia Phillies, but with the acquisition of Cliff Lee to the pitching staff, I will go ahead and say the Phillies will roll into the playoffs.
In the West, the Diamondbacks are too far out of it, and the Padres have officially begun to rebuild and stand no chance in what is easily the toughest division in the National League.
With those 10 teams all but out of any race heading into the stretch run of the season, six teams remain: The Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, the San Francisco Giants, and the Colorado Rockies.
To get the easy stuff out of the way that really does not even need to be broken down, the Dodgers will win their division because they are the deepest team in the league and have one of the best managers in the game.
Joe Torre has his team absolutely clicking on all cylinders, and the team is taking care of both the weak competition and the tough. What’s amazing about the Dodgers' best record in baseball is that they also have had the toughest schedule to date in the National League, with an opponent’s win percentage of .510.
Against teams with a winning record, the Dodgers are are an NL-leading 34-26. They have scored the second-most runs in the NL, just behind the Phillies, and they have the second-best team ERA in all of baseball.
Their bullpen has been shaky and is the one question mark that the team has, but the trade deadline acquisition of George Sherill looks to be huge for them.
They showed no signs of slowing down, even when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games, and his presence back on the team has brought them together even more. He has struggled as of late, but the young stars in James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier have picked up the slack.
The other ballclub that has won their division by default (at least in this article) is the Philadelphia Phillies. They have won 20 of their last 28 games and have opened up a safe cushion on both the Braves and Marlins.
Even more importantly, Philadelphia made the trade of the year in acquiring starting pitcher and reigning AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from the Indians.
They gave up a decent amount of minor league prospects to get Lee, but this year’s team was left completely alone. He joins what now looks to be the best starting rotation in all of baseball that is poised for another run deep into the playoffs.
The Phillies have a pretty average looking schedule the rest of the way compared to the other contenders, with 25 games left against teams with winning records and 32 left against losing records.
The Phillies rank fifth in runs and sixth in slugging percentage this year, which is always a good thing when playing in the ballpark they play in. Combine that with a now excellent pitching staff and the potential of Pedro Martinez, and the Phillies have great pitching that will get plenty of run support every time one of them takes the mound.
The one division that has not been decided, and likely will not be decided until the last week of the year, is the National League Central. Going into tonight’s play, the Cardinals and Cubs were tied for the best record in the division. Based on percentage points, the Cubs held a slight advantage over St. Louis.
Looking at the stretch run for both teams, the schedule seems to favor the Cardinals more than the Cubbies. Both teams will play 38 games against teams with losing records, but the Cubs will play four more games—19 compared to 15 for the Cards—against teams with a winning record.
Making it even more difficult for the Cubs is that 15 of those games against teams with winning records will come away from Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are 24-29. The Cardinals will play nine games at home against teams .500 or better, and just six on the road.
My money is on the Cards taking the division, and no it has nothing to do with my staunch Brewers homerism. The Cardinals have added their pieces in Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday, and Albert Pujols is more than capable of taking them to the top. They have an easier stretch than the Cubs and overall play better ball.
The Cubs will have a tough time competing, just because of their struggles on the road. The stat of having 15 of 19 road games against winning-record teams is a huge disadvantage, but what’s worse is that they play almost half of their remaining games on the road (28 of 57).
As of right now, the National League Wild Card seems as if it will be a three-team race, with the San Francisco Giants leading the way, followed by the Colorado Rockies and the loser of the National League Central.
Numbers point to the Giants being the frontrunners for a few reasons, with the main one being their unbelievable pitching. They have the best team ERA in the majors and have two bona fide aces in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, which means they are pretty much guaranteed two quality starts every five days.
The Giants finish their season with 28 games against teams with winning records and 26 games against teams with losing records. The majority (16) of their winning-record opponents will have to come to San Francisco to play them.
With the addition of Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko to what was a less-than-stellar lineup, the Giants look to be in good position to take home the Wild Card.
What will be important is not getting into a slugfest with the Colorado Rockies, so that the Cubs or Cardinals sneak right in and both are left out. The Rockies and Giants will meet 10 more times before the year is over, and the odds are that whoever comes out on top in that span of games will also meet up with the Phillies in the first round.