The NL East is a two team race. The Braves currently hold a two game lead over the Phillies, but I don’t expect that to last for long. I thought the underachieving Phillies would catch the Braves before Chipper Jones got hurt. Now the Braves are in big trouble.
The Braves have survived on good pitching. Only the Padres have given up fewer runs in the NL. Tim Hudson has returned to his pre-Tommy John days, Tommy Hanson has been solid, Jurrjens is healthy again, and Lowe has been steady. The bullpen has been lights out, led by Billy Wagner. On the offensive side, Martin Prado should be back soon, but it will probably be too little, too late.
The Phillies are just too strong. The Phillies have a better lineup even with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the DL right now. Victorino and Rollins are healthy again, and once the lineup includes Howard, Utley, Victorino, Rollins, Werth, and Ibanez again- there will be no stopping them from returning to the top of the NL East. Oh, and they picked up some guy named Roy Oswalt to add to their rotation that already features Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. The bullpen can be shaky at times, but Brad Lidge has looked good his last few appearances and Ryan Madsen is healthy again if needed.
Prediction: Phillies win the East by 4 games.
The Reds currently lead the Cardinals by one game in the Central. It’s been a great season for the Reds so far. I just don’t see them being there at the end of the season. The Reds lead the NL in runs scored, and yet they are just one game ahead of the Cardinals. The rotation of Arroyo, Cueto, Leake (who is running out of steam fast), and Volquez (who just returned from his Tommy John surgery) isn’t too impressive. Aaron Harang may be back soon if his 5.02 ERA excites you. The Reds do have the easiest schedule in the league ahead of them, so they do have that going for them.
Unfortunately for the Reds, the Cardinals starting rotation will probably prove to be just too good. If the Cardinals can just get some average production from Pujols and Holliday, the Cardinals should be the division winners when the dust settles. The Cardinals can start Wainwright and Carpenter 2 out of every 5 games over the next month and a half and expect not just to compete, but to win. Follow that up with Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia (who has an ERA under 3), and you have a real solid rotation. The Cardinals still need to find a fifth starter (Penny is on the DL and may not return this year and Kyle Lohse hasn’t looked good in his minor league rehab and in his first appearance against the Cubs), but they’re no worse off than the Reds in that department.
I still have my doubts that Ryan Franklin is good enough to close out tough competition in the playoffs, but he’ll have to do for now. I look for the Cardinals to pull away.
Prediction: Cardinals win the Central by 3 games.
The Padres have the biggest lead in any division at 3 ½ games over the Giants. They will probably need it. Pitching has carried the Padres all year as they have given up the fewest runs in the NL.
Only four teams have scored less runs however, and the addition of Miguel Tejada at the trade deadline doesn’t exactly bolster their lineup. Atlanta has given up the second fewest runs in the league, and that is 40 runs more that the Padres. To put it in perspective, the Diamondbacks have given up 253 more runs than the Padres. That’s more than 2 runs a game. Yikes.
The Giants pitching is pretty dang good too, even with a struggling Lincecum. The Giants also haven’t had the most impressive lineup to throw out, but have recently acquired Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen. The lineup looks a lot better with those guys surrounding Posey, Huff, and Sandoval. The Giants offense still isn’t much, but it’s better than the Padres lineup.
Both teams have great closers, but the edge has to go to the Padres with their steady stream of great relievers. The Gregerson/Adams/Bell combination reminds me of the Lidge/Dotel/Wagner days in Houston. When the Padres get a lead, they are tough to beat.
I think the Padres will hold off the Giants for the division title.
Prediction: Padres win the West by 2 games. Giants win the Wild Card by 2 games over the Braves/Reds.
Padres (Best Record) vs. Cardinals
This is an unfortunate draw for the Padres as they finish with the best record but have to play the Cardinals because the Giants win the Wild Card.
The 1-2 punch of Latos/Garland or Latos/LeBlanc will be no match for the Wainwright/Carpenter tandem. San Diego may win one by gaining a lead early and holding on with their bullpen, but it will be a disappointing finish for the team with the best record in the NL.
Cardinals win the series in 4
Phillies vs. Giants (Wild Card)
This could be a great matchup. Halladay vs. Lincecum. Oswalt vs. Cain. Hamels vs. Zito.
With the pitching matchups being pretty equal, the Phillies get the edge with a substantially better offense.
Phillies win the series in 4
League Championship Series:
Cardinal vs. Phillies
Another great series, but in the end the Phillies are just too strong. The inconsistent Cardinal offense will have all they can handle against Halladay and Oswalt- and will most likely have to face Halladay twice.
Phillies win the series in 5
NL CHAMPIONS: PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
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