We are now almost two months into the major league baseball season and a playoff picture is starting to form. This week I will take a look at the National League playoff picture and the American League next week. At the start of the season the only thing up for debate for many people were the Wildcard spots. However, at this point all three divisions are up in the air and the Wildcard spots are anyone’s call.
At the start of the year I was convinced this was the Washington Nationals’ division to lose. However, now they are in the middle of a four-way dog fight after a tough start. The Nationals dug themselves a huge hole in the opening couple of week and so to only be three games back is somewhat of a success.
The Atlanta Braves have been the fun team of 2018. They have scored an NL leading 243 runs and have had some really fun comebacks already. I am uncertain whether they can sustain this all season with a relatively young team but they will be there or there about come September.
The Philadelphia Phillies are another good young team who have been a lot of fun. They have got some great results from their young pitchers and Jake Arrieta is still yet to really fire. Again I question whether they can sustain this start. Nick Pivetta and Zack Eflin could be the key to what they can achieve in 2018. If those two continue their good starts then the Phillies have every chance at making the playoffs.
The New York Mets started hot and have cooled off massively. The biggest concern for them is their lack of offense, having scored just 180 runs. Right now they would be the team I predict to finish fourth in this division.
The bottom dwellers
The Miami Marlins have predictably been cut adrift at the bottom of the division. The Marlins were never expected to challenge in 2018 and that has been the case. There have been some good signs for them such as the emergence of Caleb Smith but improvements from young players will be the extent of what they are hoping for from this season.
This division was mostly predicted to be at least a two-horse race and some had three teams in the mix. Currently one of the preseason favorites, the Milwaukee Brewers, lead the way. So far the Brewers have got surprisingly good returns from their pitchers and it is their hitters who have struggled. The Brewers currently rank fourth in the division in runs scored and run differential. If those numbers continue I expect them to struggle to win this division.
The St Louis Cardinals have done what they always do and are just doing enough to stay in the fight. Their pitching has been amongst the best in the NL and they have had a rocky start. Adam Wainwright and Carlos Martinez have both been on the disabled list. Jack Flaherty has made just four starts and Alex Reyes has yet to officially return. The feel good story has been Miles Mikolas who has gone from being awful in spring to really good in the season. The Cardinals pitching will keep them in the running for the playoffs right up until the end of September and you would be a fool to bet against them.
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The Chicago Cubs have the best run differential in the majors and are wildly underperforming. They have had mixed results from their pitching staff, who I expect to improve as the season continues. If you made me bet today then I would pick the Cubs for this division.
The Surprise Package
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been the NL’s surprise team. At the start of the yea,r everyone gave them next-to-no chance. Their offense has been really good with 225 runs scored but their pitching ha surrendered 201 runs. Unless they get better results from their pitchers in the rest of the season they will struggle to sustain a playoff push.
The Bottom Dwellers
The Cincinnati Reds are last as expected. They rank last in the division in runs scored and runs against which is never a formula for success. It is going to be another miserable year for the Reds.
Again, this division looked fairly open and shut at the start of the season. Nearly everyone was predicting the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the NL West. However, the Dodgers have been terrible to start the season. The positive is that despite their struggles they are still only 5.5 games out of first place. Also despite a ton of pitching issues, they have given up the second least amount of runs. Additionally, they lead the division in runs scored so all signs point to them being able to turn this around. With their pitching issues continuing to get worse I think it will be hard for the Dodgers to really take a firm hold of this division.
The Colorado Rockies currently lead the division despite a 7-11 home record and -23 run differential. The Rockies have a bad pitching staff and their hitting is not currently blowing teams away. All signs are pointing towards the Rockies being unable to sustain their current position.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been exactly what I expected from them. Their pitching staff has been really good and they rank second in the NL in runs conceded. However, their offense has been terrible and they rank 14th in runs scored. I am not sure their pitching staff can be much better and that presents an issue. Without a serious improvement from their hitters, the Diamondbacks are going to be struggling to get the amount of wins they need to win the division.
The San Francisco Giants have managed to stay within two games of the top of the division without their best player. The Giants pitching staff has been among the worst in the majors. However, they are about to get Madison Bumgarner back and that should at least sure up one spot. The Giants will also need to get Johnny Cueto back sooner rather than later if they are to make a sustained push. However, the good news for them is no one seems to want to win this division and if they can make the playoffs their 1-2-3 of Bumgarner, Cueto and Jeff Samardzija might be one of the better trios in the league.
The Bottom Dwellers
The San Diego Padres will be unable to believe they are within 6.5 games of the division. The Padres have been awful with a -45 run differential and in another year would probably be 10 or more games off the lead. I just hope they not attempt to mortgage their future to make a push this year as they do not have enough to go the distance in the playoffs.
Wildcards and Final Word
Given that there are four teams in contention for all three division predicting wildcards would be next to impossible right now. My feelings are that both wildcards come from either the East or Central. However, all four of the contending teams in the West have the ability to catch fire. The National League really is wide open right now.
The sad thing is that with the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers starting slowly no one has stepped up. It is not inconceivable that all three of those teams could win their divisions. If that is the case then all of the other contenders in the National League will have missed a big chance. Whatever happens, the NL is set up to be a lot of fun in 2018.