The National League is full of talented, young players. Even better than individualistic superstars, these difference makers are very team-oriented players, looking to lead their teams into October and to a World Series. This season, very few teams are chasing division leaders. Other than the NL West race, the St. Louis Cardinals are the closest team to a playoff spot and they are 10.5 games behind the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers.
Therefore, heed this note of warning for critical readers: This article is dominated by players from the NL Western Division. The reason behind this is because there is no race going on in either of the other two divisions. The race between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants is the only tight battle, as the Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves all look to be sure locks for the playoffs.
Justin Upton has been incredible this year, carrying a liable Diamondback offense. The D’Backs pitching staff, led by staff ace Ian Kennedy and impact closer J.J. Putz—who has converted all of his saves since the All-Star break—holds a slight lead on the Giants.
The defending champ Giants, with a strong pitching staff but an under-performing offense, need third baseman Pablo Sandoval to produce in a big way. Tim Lincecum will perform, as will the rest of the starting pitchers, but it will not be enough to take down the D’Backs if the offense fails to come around.
In St. Louis, Albert Pujols has the ability to push the mediocre Cardinals into a tighter race with the Brewers but it might be too little, too late. With Philadelphia wrapping up the NL East crown, the Atlanta Braves and smoking hot second baseman Dan Uggla are cruising into the NL Wild Card berth.
Let’s take a look at who will make the difference in the National League over the next five grueling weeks.