Friday, August 1, 2014

The Home Stretch 2014: National League

With just under two months left in the season we can start to 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:

National League East:
This division is a bit of an enigma.  The Braves and Nationals have struggled to separate themselves from the rest of the teams.  The bottom three have each been streaky and have each shown signs of threatening the leaders but falling the other way quickly..

The pitching has been average.  The hitting has been average.  We may be starting to see the end of the Ryan Zimmerman era.  Things sound like they are not going great for the Nats.  Instead they are right within striking distance.  The Nats are fighting for the top spot and are doing it with dramatic wins.  The team is being led offensively by Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth. Strasburg (7-9, 3.55) is having an average year, not a great year.  Doug Fister(10-2, 2.65)
 is leading the staff. Adding Asdrubal Cabrera at the trading deadline could be a big help heading through the final months. If the Nationals can get Bryce Harper and Steven Strasburg to perform at their expected levels the Nationals can be a dangerous team.
First Half Grade: C

Coming into this year I had serious concerns about the Braves starting rotation, and I still do.  Julio Teheran is having a good year, as are Santana and Harang.  The problem is the drop off after those three and the question of pitching depth is a serious concern.  Craig Kimbrel is having another great season.  The offense is being powered by Justin Upton, Evan Gaddis and Freddie Freeman.  The Braves need B.J. Upton to start hitting and will need to pick up another starter or two somewhere if they want to have a serious chance.  Their lack of aggressiveness at the active trade deadline was disappointing.
First Half Grade:  B-

The Phillies are in the same position they were in last year at this time.  They need to decide what their future will be.  The team has been the most streaky team in baseball but it is not in a positive way.  The team fell to the bottom of the National League then ran off a winning streak to cut the NL East lead to 5 games.  Since then they have slowly dropped back to the bottom of the league.  The positive thing of the year so far was Jimmy Rollins  passing Mike Schmidt on the Phillies' all time hit list.  The signs are all there that it is time for this team to rebuild and there was serious interest in Rollins, Hamels, Utley, Lee, Byrd and Papelbon at the trade deadline. So why was no one moved?  The rumor is that Ruben Amaro thinks the Phils are still in it and that he has over valued the pieces he has. The bottom line is this team needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up and the trade deadline was a good place to begin.  The minor league system is empty and the Phillies missed a golden opportunity to rebuild.  It could lead to a long term disaster.
First Half Grade:  F

The Mets have some good young talent. It is just a matter of keeping that talent healthy and waiting for it to develop.  In the meantime Curtis Granderson and David Wright are the team leaders. New York should have a very bright future and although they entered the All Star Break only 6.5 out of the Wild Card this year is not  a playoff year. The Mets are on the right track for the future.  They need to keep this course and look down the road a bit
First Half Grade: C

The Marlins came into the season as a joke but they have quietly started to rebuild their reputation.  Losing Jose Fernandez for an extended period is more than disappointing but there is bright hope for the future.  Nathon Eovaldi, acquired from the Dodgers for Hanley Ramirez, will be a nice compliment to Fernandez.  Giancarlo Stanton is the best  player they have but they need to start putting better pieces around them.  This is not a contending team but they are an improving team.
First Half Grade: C+

National League Central
This is going to be a great division to watch over the next two months.  Get out your popcorn because this will be a daily show of entertainment.  There are four teams in contention.  Each one is moving in different directions.

I picked Cincinnati to win everything last year.  Injuries made that pick look foolish.   This year Johnny Cueto has been nothing short of spectacular and even with the loss of Mat Latos the Reds starting rotation of Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon have kept the Reds in the race.
The team's two main relievers Broxton and Chapman have been strong but the rest of the bullpen is disappointing. This is a very exciting team offensively as well.  Billy Hamilton is an improvement over Shin Soo Choo and Hamilton should be in the talks for the Rookie of the Year.  The dark cloud on the horizon is injuries.  Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are both dealing with injuries and are missing time.  If they were healthy they would still be my pick but with the injuries that is becoming less likely.
First Half Grade: B-

I honestly expected a big drop off from Pittsburgh this season.  I was wrong.  McCutcheon has again been great.  Their pitching staff has been a bit of a hodge podge but it has worked.  Starling Marte has fallen off a bit but the Bucs are excited for what Gregory Polanco can bring to the team.  This team is right in the middle of the fight and seem to be getting hot at the right time.  In a four team race the team that is the healthiest will likely be the team that comes out on top.
First Half Grade: B

The Cardinals always seem to surprise me.  Every year I look at their lineup and think this is not a playoff lineup but every year I am wrong.  The offense has been disappointing.  The pitching has suffered injuries.  Yet somehow they are right in the middle of this division race.  What remains to be seen is how they react to losing their Catcher and team leader Yadier Molina for a few months.  In a crowded race for the division the loss of Molina could be the difference in a playoff year and an early winter.  They traded for Justin Masterson, although that seems to be looking forward to next year as he has some health issues this year.  They also added John Lackey at the trade deadline and signed A.J. Pierzynski.  In getting Lackey they gave up Allen Craig, one of the keys to their recent success.  Heading into the next two months I don't know if they have enough to make a run for the playoffs.
First Half Grade:  B

This time last year I felt the Cubs were moving in the right direction as far as building for the future.  Right now I am not sure what direction they are moving.  Anthony Rizzo is having a tremendous season and Starlin Castro has started to fulfill his potential but Darwin Barney appears to be struggling and was shipped off to the Dodgers.  The pitching is a mess and the team traded their ace, Jeff Samardzija to build for the future that he was supposed to be a part of.  Cubs fans can only hope that in a few years they will look back at this year's trade deadline as the year they built a winner.
First Half Grade: F

Where the hell did these guys come from?  Honestly I was tempted to pick this team as a playoff team in the preseason but the pitching staff scared me off a bit.  I know one regular reader who was smart enough to see this team coming.  The Brewers have been in first place for most of the season and have had the best record in baseball for a good part of the year as well.  Their offense is very nicely balanced and their defense up the middle is strong.  Jonathan Lucroy is having an amazing year and hopefully will get some votes for MVP.  The issue is the pitching.  Will it hold up?  If they could have gotten a starting pitcher at the trade deadline I would have felt more comfortable with their chances to win.
First Half Grade:  A

National League West
Is anyone else as excited as I am?  Does anyone else see what's on the horizon?  We are on the verge of a Giants-Dodgers show down.  This is the stuff of legends.  This is a century old  rivalry that has rocked two coasts.  This is an epic battle that is getting ready to explode in the second half:

The Giants got off to a fast start then collapsed faster than any team in history and have now started to come out of their funk.  Tim Lincecum has started to show signs of success (his no-hitter was one of the highlights of the first half) and the team added Jake Peavey for the stretch run.  Matt Cain will need to save his season if the Giants are going to make the playoffs.
First Half Grade:  B-

The Dodgers have a very weird dynamic.  Coming into the season Dee Gordon was the weak link and was not even going to start. It seemed like the Dodgers had given up on him.  Now he is an All Star and the spark plug of the team.  Entering the season Matt Kemp was "Mr. Dodger".  Now he is causing issues for the management by demanding that he play in center.  The resurgence of Josh Beckett was great to watch but he is now injured and his comeback might be slowed significantly.  This team is still the most talented team in the NL and I expect them to end up on top.
First Half Grade: B-

Last year I thought the Padres had an outside chance of surprising the competition and sneaking into the race.  That didn't happen.  One year later this team is a mess.  There are injuries all over the place.  There is great potential not being fulfilled and there is turmoil in the front office.  It is really unclear what direction they are moving.
First Half Grade:  F

For a team with such high expectations coming into this season the first half was a big punch in the gut. Paul Goldschmidt has followed up his near MVP season of 2013 with another spectacular year.  The rest of the team has not followed his lead.  The pitching has been bad.  The offense has been bad and the results have been bad.  The Diamondbacks thought they would be fighting for a playoff spot.  Instead they are fighting to avoid the basement.
First Half Grade:  F

You can come up with a million puns to explain Colorado's season.  Rock bottom.  Avalance. Rock Slide.  Add your own.  The bottom line is this team is bad.  The amazing part of this year is that there is a lot of talent here.  Charlie Blackmon is having an amazing year. Justin Morneau is healthy and hitting well.  Troy Tulowitzski is still the most popular player in Denver.  The level of badness as a group is stunning.  The leadership does not seem to know what direction they want to go and whether they are rebuilding or praying for a miracle.
First Half Grade: F

Post Season Predictions updated for Second Half:
NL East: Nationals
NL Central: Pirates
NL West: Dodgers
NL Wild Cards:  Brewers, Giants

Updated Playoff Predictions:
Wild Card: Giants over Brewers
NLDS: Dodgers over Pirates
NLDS: Giants over Nationals
NLCS: Dodgers over Giants

Over the last few years several teams have broken World Series droughts. In 2010 the Giants won their first World Series since 1954 in New York.  In 2008 the Phillies won their first World Series since 1980 and in 2006 the Cardinals ended a drought that had lasted since 1982.
What are the three longest current droughts in the National League.

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Who are the top 10 managers of all time?
1. Connie Mack (3731 wins,
2. John McGraw (2763)
3.Tony LaRussa (2728)
4.Bobby Cox (2504)
5.Joe Torre (2326)
6. Sparky Anderson (2194)
7. Bucky Harris (2158)
8.Joe McCarthy (2125)
9Walter Alston (2040)
10.Leo Durocher (2008)


  1. It is amazing how some sure predictions in March can look so bad in August. In March I was going to pick Atlanta to win the East but just couldn't because Washington's starting 5 look so good. Now Gonzalez and Strasburg look mediocre. Washington sends flowers to the Tigers everyday thanking them for Doug Fister. The Phils problem is the long term and/or high $ contracts. Amaro wants the other teams to pick up all or most the contract of the players. Amaro's fault was several years ago when he signed players to long term high priced contracts. Add in the fact that the Phils high draft picks have bombed, this organization is in bad shape. This team may be below .500 for many years to come. Reminds me of the late 1950's and 1960's.
    It's a-shame that the NL Central will be decided by injuries. I was wring on the Pirates. Thought they would fall back to their normal sub 500 level. They are playing great ball right now.
    The NL West is a great 2 team race. I was wrong on the Dodgers. They are better than I thought. I hope Gibson doesn't get fired at Arizona.Can't believe the Rockies are that bad with all the good hitters they have.

    My guess for the 3 teams are the Cubs, Cincinnati and Houston.


  2. I'm surprised to see so many F grades. Didn't realize so many teams were that far behind. A Nor Cal vs. So Cal (friendly) rivalry would be exciting!


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