NL Playoffs already determined? Other possible NL storylines

Posted: 08/01/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

I’m not happy to say it, but the NL playoff field looks pretty decided already, and today is August 1st. Right now, only six of the 15 NL teams are over .500, and four of them are at least 11 games over. That’s not to say that any race (outside of the NL East) is decided, but in all likelihood, there are at most six teams fighting for five spots, which makes for a very boring last few months.  According to coolstandings.com, three NL teams have at least a 97% chance of making the playoffs (Braves at 99.4%, Pirates at 98.7%, Cardinals at 97.1%). By comparison, the highest AL % is the Red Sox, at 92.4. Outside of the “Big 6” in the NL (the three mentioned above to go along with the Reds, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks), the team with the best chance of making the playoffs is the 52-56 Washington Nationals, at 4.2%. Yeah, it’s that bad. So I’m here to give you some other storylines in the NL that don’t necessarily have to do with who the playoff teams will be.

Atlanta Braves Rotation:
With Tim Hudson out for the season and Paul Maholm injured, the Braves were expected to make a deadline deal for a starting pitcher. But they didn’t, and now it will be interesting to see who pitches well, and who eventually makes the playoff rotation. Right now, the five man rotation is: Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen, Alex Wood, and Brandon Beachy. When Maholm gets back, the Braves will probably be able to audition those six pitchers for a four man playoff rotation, as they are in first by double digit games. Minor has been the ace of the staff, with 11 wins and a 2.75 ERA. Teheran didn’t start off very well, but his ERA is all the way down to 3.07, and he should be in as well. That leaves two spots for the remaining four pitchers. Medlen was incredible as a starter last season, but he has taken a big step back, as his 3.74 ERA is nothing special. He could be moved to the bullpen. Maholm is a solid but unspectacular starter who is still on the DL and probably doesn’t have the stuff to be a late inning reliever. Wood and Beachy are the wild cards. Wood, a 22 year old rookie, has started only three games. Beachy was the ace last season before he had Tommy John surgery, but he has started just one game this year, and got lit up.
My prediction is that the playoff rotation will consist of Minor, Teheran, Beachy, and Maholm, with Medlen and Wood in the bullpen.

Clayton Kershaw ERA:
Right now, he has a 1.87 ERA. If he finishes with that, it will be the second best since 1985. His remaining schedule looks something like this: @Cardinals, vRays, @Phillies, @Marlins, vCubs, vPadres, @Reds, vGiants, @Diamondbacks, @Padres, vRockies. That is a very enticing schedule, as the Phillies, Marlins, Cubs, Padres (x2), Giants, and Rockies are all relatively easy matchups. Kershaw also has the fact that he had his best month of the season in July going for him. His 1.34 ERA in July is his best of any month, and I think that it might be sustainable.

Can the Cardinals bounce back?
For most of this season, the Cardinals have been terrific, and perhaps the best in baseball. But now they have lost seven straight and are two and a half games behind the Pirates in the NL Central. Plus, their best player, Yadier Molina, is on the DL, and Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig have really struggled as well. They still have talent, but can they turn it around and win the division to avoid playing a one game playoff, likely with their division rivals, the Reds?

 

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