Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Home Stretch 2013: National League

With just under two months left in the season we can clearly separate teams that are legitimate contenders from the teams that are playing out the string.  We can also start to see that some players we expected to be difference makers are having an average, below average or just horrible season.  Here is a review of where we stand so far this year in the National  League as well as a mid season report card on how my original predictions have helped prepare you for the season and how I have led you astray:

This division is the most disappointing division in the NL.  Heading into the season it looked like the Nationals and Braves would have a tight race to the finish with a slight chance that the Phillies would make a run.  It hasn't turned out that way at all.

Few teams have been more disappointing to this point in the season.  With Dan Haren, Wilson Ramos, Ross Detwiler, Strasburg and Harper all dealing with health issues and Jayson Werth struggling, the Nationals had to fight to reach .500 at the end of June.  Although they got off to a slow start and the Braves took off to a big lead out of the gate, the Nationals started to look better immediately before the All Star Break.  With Harper back for the start of July it appeared they may be poised to make a run.  It didn't happen.  They entered play on 8/10 15.5 behind the Braves and 9 out of the Wild Card.  A week ago I would have said it is not impossible for them to make a run but with the strength of the Reds and Pirates ahead of them and the continued poor play, it will be difficult.  At 9 games out their only hope is to get hot and for the Cardinals, who are starting to show signs of pitching problems, to collapse.
First Half Grade: D- (the injuries have hurt but below expectation performances have hurt worse)

The Braves started off 15-5 in their first 20 games and Justin Upton looked like he was on pace to have the greatest offensive season in history.  After their hot start the Braves cooled off quite a bit and allowed the Phillies and Nats to hang around.  A 14 game winning streak has allowed them to open a 15.5 game lead in the division and essentially wrap things up.  The big names (Justin and B.J. Upton and Jayson Heyward) have cooled off but the team is being led by Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis.  I questioned the pitching at the start of the season but I was definitely wrong in that interpretation.  Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen have not had the spectacular season you would expect but Mike Minor has been a big surprise.  Tim Hudson will be out for the rest of the season so they will need to find a replacement.  The Braves are clearly a post season team but how their pitching staff will perform against other playoff teams will be the question.
First Half Grade:  A+ (The Braves have exceeded all expectation to this point and are starting to show signs of clicking on all cylinders.  Watch out for their starting pitching, especially now that Hudson is out).

In the preseason preview I told you that the Phillies were one of those teams that may get dismantled if they were not in the playoff race by July.  For whatever reason, although they are not in the playoff race and not playing well, the Phillies made no moves at the trade deadline, despite significant interest in Michael Young.  The Phillies have turned old before our eyes and the young players did not fit in the way they had hoped, although Dominic Brown is finally having the season the Phillies wanted from him for the last three years.  Couple that with the struggles of Cole Hamels and the injury to Halladay and this is not what we have come to expect from the Phillies over the last decade.  With the talent on this team they could probably have gotten plenty of prospects for a quick rebuilding process if they made some smart trades.  Apparently they decided to keep their core together for one more run next year, though the way they have played since the trade deadline must have them questioning their judgement.  The Phillies have fallen even farther out of the race since the trade deadline and have even fallen behind the Mets.
First Half Grade:  D (With Dominic Brown performing as they had hoped he would over the last few years, it is disappointing that the rest of the team is not matching his performance)

The Mets had one bright spot coming into the season: David Wright.  After the World Baseball Classic he was being called Captain America.  Then he got hurt before the season even started.  Then Johan Santana got hurt and it is questionable whether or not he will ever pitch again.  Then, late in June, Lucas Duda was placed on the DL.  Fortunately Wright has come back healthy and was one of the representatives at the All Star Game in New York.  The other representative, and starting pitcher, was Matt Harvey who became the best pitcher in the National League over the first half of the season.  Dylan Gee has been a big surprise in the starting rotation as well.  They are showing signs of improvement and are currently in third place in the disappointing division.  They are not a playoff team but with Harvey and Gee they may be moving in the right direction.
First Half Grade: D (they are threatening to actually improve themselves over the next few years)

The season started with the assumption that Giancarlo Stanton was auditioning for the trade deadline.  Instead he got hurt early and the expected big draw for Miami was out.  Since his return Stanton is hitting below .250 and his power numbers are well below expectations.  If the Marlins expected to use Stanton as bait to gain a ton of prospects they  must be disappointed.  Their pitching is horrible with no starting pitcher holding a winning record as of the end of June.  There is little to look forward to in the second half for Miami fans, except the start of the Dolphins training camp.
First Half Grade: F (this is a wasted year in Miami)

The thing you can never predict when making preseason predictions is injuries.  My preseason pick for the World Series champions have been destroyed by them.  This division is nothing like what I expected in March and April but the final month and a half looks like it will be a great race.

I picked Cincinnati to win everything this year.  Within the first week Johnny Cueto, Ryan Ludwick and Nick Masset all suffered injuries that was followed with missed time by Ryan Hannigan.  Since then Cueto has been on and off the DL and Jonathan Broxton has developed arm issues.  Even with their ace on the shelf the Reds are still holding one of the Wild Card spots, although the certainty of them making the postseason is slowly eroding.  The second half of the season last year was where the Reds got red hot and stormed to the best NL record.  This season does not look like it will end up the same way.  They are very pleasantly surprised with the pitching of Mike Leake and Homer Bailey but losing Cueto has been devastating.
First Half Grade: B- (Dealing with the number of injuries they have had, it is amazing they are still in a playoff spot).

I told you in the preseason predictions that the Pirates would make the postseason for the first time since 1992.  I thought they would be a good team but I had no idea that they would be this good.  At the end of July the Pirates held the best record in baseball and first place in the very close NL Central.  Even with A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez on the DL for most of June the Pirates are still clicking on all cylinders.  The Pirates have to be careful. The last two seasons the Pirates have entered the All Star Break in playoff contention and collapsed very quickly afterwards.  They will need to stay focused to avoid a third straight year, although they seem to be improving as the second half goes on so the collapse at this point would be shocking.  So far, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutcheon have been the leaders while Russell Martin has been a great addition.  Jason Grilli was quietly having a great season as their closer but is out for an unknown period.  Taking four out of five against the Cardinals to end July was a great step towards making sure they play in October but the Cardinals and Reds are not out of this yet.
First Half Grade: A+ (they are even better than anticipated)

Without Rafael Furcal at the top of the lineup and without Cris Carpenter in the rotation or Jason Motte in the bullpen I told you that the Cardinals would be an average team.  I was completely wrong.  The entire lineup is hitting led by Yadier Molina, who was having the best year of his great career until landing on the DL at the end of July  The rotation is being led by Wainwright along with Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller.  Meanwhile, Edward Mujica is having a great season as closer.  The Cardinals have needed a late season run the last two years to make the playoffs.  This season they are setting themselves up to make the playoffs early.  They are not set yet.  They lost four out of five to the Pirates at the end of July and Miller and Lynn have started to fall off a bit. (Miller left his last start after being hit on the elbow by a line drive so we will have to wait and see what happens there).  They will likely be a Wild Card but if their pitching continues to struggle they may need to fight off Arizona to make it.
First Half Grade:  A+  (even with major injuries the Cardinals are ahead of the strong Reds and hanging with the Pirates)

The Cubs are moving in the right direction for the future, although the first half numbers may not show it.  They definitely have a lot of young talent but some of them are struggling and trying to find their way.  Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have potential to be stars in the league but will need to start making adjustments.  The Cubs are clearly not competing for a playoff spot this year but they are definitely looking forward to good things in the near future.  They made a strong statement by keeping their young players at the trade deadline instead of listening to offers for players like Samardzija.
First Half Grade:  C (They aren't great but they aren't terrible.  The second half will be where they take stock of what they have and start to look to improve for next year)

The big highlight for the Brewers in the first half of the season was Shortstop Jean Segura.  He has led the league or been near the top of the league in hitting since day 1.  Unfortunately, he has little support in the lineup.  The pitching has been a sore spot as well with Marco Estrada leading the team at 4-4 (although an ERA just under 5.00) and Kyle Lohse (7-7) equaling Estrada's winning percentage.  The Brewers are likely heading into a rebuilding mode.  The season took a bad turn for the Brewers when Ryan Braun was suspended.  Milwaukee will need to try to redefine itself without their franchise player.
First Half Grade:  F (The Brewers are only six games ahead of the Marlins for the worst record in the NL).

Suddenly this is one of the most interesting divisions in baseball (second only to the AL East).  The division was so tight heading into the All Star Break that anyone had a chance to win.  Since then the Dodgers and Diamondbacks have pulled away and Los Angeles is threatening to run away with the title.  Before the season I thought the standings would look like this: Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies.  Here's how I was right and even more how I led you astray:

The Giants team has been built around clutch hitting and strong pitching.  So far this season the Giants' pitching has struggled.  Because of the poor performances of Zito and Lincecum (though to be fair Lincecum has occasional flashes of his old form) and the average start of Cain, the Giants are looking up from the basement.  Losing six in a row at the end of June, including a three game sweep by the Dodgers, didn't help.  To this point only Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Marco Scutaro are performing up to expectations.  Sergio Romo has been good but has not been the sensation he was last year (he hasn't had the opportunities to shine that he had last year).  Overall, the team has not seemed to click the way they did last year and are just sort of coasting through the season.
First Half Grade:  F (few players have performed to expectations so far)

The team has had injuries to Kemp, Crawford, Kershaw, Billingsley, Greinke, Beckett, Capuano, Puig and Ramirez.  They have had disappointing results out of League and Jansen in the bullpen.  They have had a rotating lineup and despite the theory that they had 9 legitimate starting pitchers entering the season they somehow were short on pitching for most of the first half.  They have also had two bench clearing brawls against two separate division rivals and they've had to constantly defend Don Mattingly as their manager. Still, they are getting healthier and with Hanley Ramirez, Puig and Ryu leading the way the Dodgers have completely rebounded.  They cut Arizona's lead to five games at the end of June and were 4.5 games ahead at the start of August.  As bad as the first half was for the Dodgers they are still a legitimate contender and are looking to be improving as the season goes on.
First Half Grade: B- (They have struggled but are getting healthy.  The NL needs to look out for them in the last two months.  This group has a lot of fight in them and they aren't afraid to get dirty.)

The Padres were one of my picks for a potential surprise team before the season started but then Chase Headley got hurt, Carlos Quentin started World War III with the Dodgers and the pitching staff was shaky. Despite all that, the Padres were even at .500 at the end of June and had a chance to challenge for the division.  Since then they have fallen off at the same time the Dodgers caught fire and have fallen completely out of the race.
First Half Grade:  C- (They have fallen out of the race and have to decide how close they really are to being a contender in the near future)

In the season preview I told you that Paul Goldschmidt would need to step up to fill Upton's shoes if Arizona was going to compete.  Fortunately for them Goldschmidt has done just that with 27 Home Runs, including a walk off game winner on 8/9.  In addition to Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin has been spectacular at 12-3.  The D-Backs got out to a fast start but have slowed lately allowing the red hot Dodgers to pass them. Despite a slow second half the team is still only 4.5 out of the Wild Card and 5.5 behind the Dodgers.  With the Cardinals experiencing pitching issues and the Dodgers winning at a pace that is unlikely to continue through the end of the season, Arizona could very easily become a playoff team.
First Half Grade:  B- (They are better than I anticipated but are a long way from a lock for the playoffs).

Of all the predictions I made preseason this is the one that was farthest off.  I predicted that the Rockies would be one of the worst teams in the league, out of contention by May and sending pieces of the team in all directions come July.  Instead, they got off to a fast start and were 2 games behind Arizona and 5 1/2 out of the Wild Card spot at the end of June.  Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer are carrying the team's offense.  Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are having strong seasons on the mound.  Losing 9 out of 10 to start the month has dropped them 12 games out of the Wild Card and 13 out of the division so it would take a miracle to climb back in the race but they definitely had a terrific season to this point.
First Half Grade: A (They are certainly way better than I would have anticipated.  The second half is looking much less successful).

Post Season Predictions updated for Second Half:
NL East: Braves
NL Central: Pirates
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards:  Reds, Diamondbacks

Updated Playoff Predictions:
Wild Card: Reds over Diamondbacks
NLDS: Dodgers over Braves
NLDS: Pirates over Reds
NLCS: Dodgers over Pirates

Updated Awards Pick:
MVP: Andrew McCutcheon, Pirates
Cy Young: Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks

 Last year Mike Trout of the Angels won the Rookie of the Year and came very close to winning the MVP award.  This season Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers is probably the favorite for Rookie of the Year and should get quite a few votes for MVP as well.  The first Rookie of the Year Award winner was Jackie Robinson in 1947.  Since the introduction of the Rookie of the Year Award only two players have won the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season.  Who are they?
First, an apology.  I failed to congratulate TJD and Hope for their correct answers on the Hall of Fame article's trivia question. 
Last week's question was: How many combined MVP's did Carl Hubbell strike out in his 1934 All Star Game performance?  The answer was 6.  Ruth won the MVP in 1923.  Gehrig won the MVP in 1927 and 1936.  Jimmie Foxx won the award in 1932, 1933 and 1938.  Although there were only six awards there were chances for each of the five to win more.  For most of Ruth's career there was a rule in place that players could not win more than one MVP and the award was not given routinely until 1930.  Because of this rule Ruth only won one MVP (meaning the year he hit 60 Home Runs he received 0 votes for the award).  In addition, when Foxx won the MVP in 1933, the award very easily could have gone to Joe Cronin for his performance leading the Senators to the World Series as player/manager.  Simmons also could have won in 1929, 1930 or 1931 as the A's dominated the AL.  


  1. Good analysis. It's a shame that it's early August and only 6 teams have a shot to make the 5 playoff spots. Get rid of the extra wild card. But that is a discussion for another day. Atlanta and Pittsburgh are in. That leaves the Cards, Reds, Dodgers and Arizona to get the final 3 playoffs. I think Arizona is out, although I am rooting for them to make it because of Kirk Gibson. Some how the Cardinals always make the playoffs or even win the world series even though they have less talent. I give them the edge because of intangibles.
    My predictions look terrible. I think I had the Phils and Giants winning their division with the Giants losing in the WS. I had a good call on Washington and a bad call on the Pirates.
    I think i might know the trivia answer. I am going with Frank Robinson with Cincinnati in either 1956 or 1957 and Fred Lynn with Boston in 1975.


  2. Sorry to hear your picks are so far off but as you can see I did not do too well myself. Your trivia guess is partly correct. I'm also glad you guessed Frank Robinson because I will take any chance to talk about Frank Robinson (almost as much as Hank Greenberg).

    Robinson won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1956. Hitting .290 with 38 Home Runs, scored 122 Runs and drove in 83. He was the unanimous ROY receiving all 24 first place votes cast. He came in 7th in the MVP voting that year receiving 79 overall votes but 0 first place votes. The MVP that year was Don Newcombe of the Dodgers. Frank won the MVP in 1961 for the NL Champion Reds. He won a second MVP in 1966 when he won a triple crown and helped lead the Orioles to their first World Series title. Robby was the first player to ever win the MVP in both the AL and NL.

    You were half right. Fred Lynn won the MVP for the Red Sox in 1975. Lynn received all 22 first place votes cast for MVP. He also receive 23.5 of the 24 Rookie of the Year Votes cast. The only other person receiving a vote was Jim Rice, Lynn's teammate, who received 0.5 votes. Amazingly Rice and Lynn's numbers were nearly identical. Lynn had 175 hits, Rice had 174. Rice had 22 HR, Lynn 21. Lynn had 105 RBI, Rice 102. Both had 10 SB. The difference was in the runs scored (Lynn 103, Rice 92) and Average (Lynn .331, Rice .309). More specifically Lynn's defense and the perceived ability to always hit when needed made the difference in the voting. Rice would break his wrist during the late part of the season and miss the post season. Imagine how different the 1975 World Series might have been if the Sox had Rice in the middle of the line up.

  3. Thanks for the mid-season wrap-up and for the shout-out. :) I'm eager to see if the final standings are closer to what you just wrote about in this article or if another curveball of injuries will be tossed making everything you just said wrong. :P


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