Saturday, August 8, 2015

National League Home Stretch 2015

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 has a bit of everything.  There is one team that has done about what we expected.  One team that has surprised us with their improvement.  One team lurking in the middle.  One team disappointing everyone and a final team hitting depths well beyond the worst fears of fans.

Max Scherzer has been all that was advertised.  At 9-7 his record is deceptive because he has had almost no-hit stuff several times.  Bryce Harper is the front runner for MVP and he is getting help from Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond.  The fear is the injury bug.  Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Craig Stammen and even Bryce Harper have suffered through injuries.  If this team gets healthy for the stretch run expect them to pull away.
First Half Grade: B

The Marlins came into the season believing they had made enough improvements to stay in this race. At the beginning of August they appear to have miscalculated.  Jose Fernandez has returned to the team and is showing signs of life but the rest of the staff, especially Mat Latos, had been disappointing before being dealt to the Dodgers. Stanton is again spectacular but injuries have been keeping him out of the lineup.  Dee Gordon is doing a great job of following up last year's break out season but there is little help for him.
First Half Grade: F

The Mets have been a very pleasant surprise.  The offense has very few break out stars.  Curtis Granderson was leading the team in Home Runs for a good part of the year (Lucas Duda has passed him) but his strikeouts are high and the average is low.  Lucas Duda is the same story.  David Wright is on the DL and so was Travis D'Arnaud who has been limited to just 24 games.  Still, the young pitching is showing signs of greatness.  Adding Cespedes to the lineup could be a big help. If they can get some power from Cespedes this team could make some noise in the post season.
First Half Grade: A

Coming into this year I had serious concerns about the Braves roster and when they further dumped players just before Opening Day I had more concerns.  Yet just like last year the Braves have found a way to hang around. The lineup is fairly balanced and they are getting great contributions from A.J. Pierszynski, Juan Uribe, Nick Markakis and especially Cameron Maybin.  Their pitching is not spectacular but it is consistent and winning.  The Braves entered the All Star Break just 5 games out of first but a slide out of the break has dropped them to 9 and a half out (11 out of the Wild Card).  The first half was a pleasant surprise.  The second half has started much less so.
First Half Grade:  C

The Phillies are terrible.  It pains me to say that.  Ben Revere was the only player with any offensive output but unfortunately he was having a quietly good season on a loudly terrible team and was dealt at the trade deadline.  The pitching is terrible.  The hitting is terrible.  The record is terrible.  The organization is still looking three years down the road and the trade deadline is designed to stay on that pace.  One of the few bright spots have been Maikel Franco, although some mental lapses have left him in the dog house with the fans.  Also giving hope for the future is Aaron Nola, the hope for the future ace.
First Half Grade:  F

National League Central
Amazingly, this division actually looks about like we predicted back in February.  Although realistically the Cardinals are much better than anyone expected and the Brewers are significantly worse than expected.  If the Cubs can get some help this division could potentially send three teams to the post season.
The Cardinals always seem to surprise me.  I did pick St. Louis to win this division but the way this team started the season is nothing short of spectacular.  Matt Holliday has been reborn, although his injury could cause some problems.  Jason Heyward is quietly having a great season, although his power numbers are not what they were in Atlanta.  The pitching of Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha has amazed.  The lurking, sneaking fear is the injury bug.  Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Matt Adams, Jordan Walden and Matt Holliday have been bitten already.  Little help was added at the be at the trade deadline to sure up the holes but this team is on course to be the stuff of legends if they keep their first half pace.
First Half Grade:  A+

Andrew McCutcheon got off to a slow start but has since come on strong like he was expected to do the entire year.  Starling Marte, Neil Walker and Francisco Cervelli are contributing.  If they can get Josh Harrison back healthy and Gregory Polanco can get his hitting straightened out, this everyday lineup can be scary.  The addition of a veteran presence in Aramis Ramirez could be a big boost as well.  Gerrit Cole is having a spectacular season and should get some attention for the Cy Young (although Zack Grienke and Max Scherzer seem to be running away with that category).  Some small help at the trade deadline could put this team in a position to charge.  If the Cardinals weren't so damn good this team would be the top contender.
First Half Grade: A

There is a lot of excitement over this team and with good reason.  There is a lot of young talent here and it is starting to show that they are ready to compete.  There was fear last season, when Samardzjia was shipped off,  that the team had given up, but Jake Arrietta has shown that he is the ace of the staff.  If John Lester and Jason Hammell can get some more wins (Hammell has pitched strong but his record does not reflect that) this team could impact October.  A World Series this year is not likely but a wild card birth is and the next few years look bright.
First Half Grade: B+

This is not a bad team.  Todd Frazier is having a spectacular season.  Joey Votto is showing signs of his old self.  Marlon Byrd is contributing.  Billy Hamilton is running wild (although his average is too low and his strikeouts too high for a lead off hitter).  Johnny Cueto pitched better than his record but not like his Cy Young contender form of last year.  Losing Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani to injuries has not helped at all.  This team is suffering from being in the same division with the Cards, Bucs and Cubs.  They are not a playoff team but they certainly have nothing to be ashamed of this season.
First Half Grade: B-

A year ago we were talking about the Brewers as a surprise contender and wondering how far into October they might go.  This year we are looking at a team in disarray.  Jonathan Lucroy had a break out season last year.  This year is average.  The offense is disappointing, the pitching is terrible (it doesn't help to have Garza and Peralta on the DL) and the management fired Ron Roeneckie.  This team is lucky the Phillies and Marlins are as bad as they are.
First Half Grade:  F

National League West
This is a tough division to figure and looks little like I expected.  The Dodgers are honestly better than expected, as were the Diamondbacks for most of the season.  The Padres and Giants are worse than expected.  But just how good are the Dodgers really?:

If we pay attention to patterns we probably should have seen this coming but no one really did.  The real problem is injury.  Pence, Aoki, Cain, Lincecum, Affeldt and Tim Hudson have all been injured.  Losing the bat of Pablo Sandoval didn't help either.  Buster Posey is having another MVP type season and is getting a lot of help from Joe Panik and Brandon Belt.  The health of the pitching staff as the final months unfold will tell how this team finishes.
First Half Grade:  B-

I texted a good friend back in April, just around Opening Day and told him I had a wierd feeling about the Dodgers.  Like there was something just not right, something missing with the roster.  My friend is a very positive person and was surprisingly on the same page.  But the Dodgers kicked off the season in style with a Jimmy Rollins dramatic Home Run on opening day.  They are not running away with the division.  They are not a potentially great team like the Cardinals.  Although they are playing ahead of their immediate competition.  Joc Pederson is making it easier to accept the loss of Matt Kemp and Zack Grienke is having a Sandy Koufax like season.  Now they need Clayton Kershaw to start having a Kershaw like season (a post All Star scoreless inning streak was a great step in the right direction but last year he was dominant).  Brett Anderson is quietly having a strong year and if they can get Hyung Jin Riyu back this team can do some damage in the post season.  Mat Latos is a nice addition to the staff but Cole Hamels certainly would have been more intimidating after Kershaw and Greinke.
First Half Grade: B

People were excited for the Padres this year.  They made big big changes in the offseason adding both Uptons, Matt Kemp, Derrick Norris, Wil Middlebrooks, Wil Myers, Craig Kimbrel and James Shields.  But realistically the team already had a talented and crowded outfield with Max Venable, Seth Smith, Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin.  Add four more outfielders to a competition for three spots and you get the 2015 San Diego Padres.  Making things worse is a very poor season for Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy and an extended disabled list stay for Brandon Morrow.  This team is a huge disappointment.
First Half Grade:  F

Last year the Diamondbacks were the popular pick to surprise.  Two years ago they were predicted to flop but contended to the end.  This year they were expected to fall farther away.  For the third straight year this team is confusing everyone.  Paul Goldschmidt is proving that he is one of the best First Basemen and one of the best young hitters in the game.  The team is still  looking for a true ace and they may not have one on this roster but they are found ways to stay in the race into the second half despite low expectations.  Could this be one of those years that tricks a team into thinking they are closer than they are?  Apparently not.  Just hours before the publication of this article the D'Backs dealt Chad Pennington and Oliver Perez in separate waiver wire trades.
First Half Grade:  B

This team started the year with some great bats in their lineup.  Unfortunately some of them now look great in different uniforms after the trade deadline.  It seems that every year we expect Colorado to break the team up and every year they keep their players.  Tulowitzski is great but his injuries may have driven down the price the team could demand for a fair trade.  The pitching staff is flat out awful.  It is likely only Jorge De La Rosa would be kept on another team.
First Half Grade: F

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

Updated Playoff Predictions:
Wild Card: Pirates over Mets
NLDS: Pirates over Nationals
NLDS: Cardinals over Dodgers
NLCS: Cardinals over Pirates
(This could be a great NLCS.  As of this posting the teams have split their head to head meetings at 5 each.  The Pirates' loss of A.J. Burnett could be the difference maker as the Pirates have a definite lack of pitching depth).

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
NL Rookie of the Year: Joc Pederson, Dodgers
NL Cy Young: Zack Grienke, Dodgers

Going back to 2002 the Giants and Cardinals have represented the National League 8 times in the World Series (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014).  During that time period four other National League teams have reached the World Series.  Who are they?

Between 1915 and 2015 the Yankees won 27 World Series titles (1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2009)

Second on that list is the St, Louis Cardinals with 11 (1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006, 2011)

Following the Cardinals is the New York/San Francisco Giants with 7 despite a gap of over 50 years
 (1921,1922, 1933, 1954, 2010, 2012 and 2014)

Coming in 4th on the list is a three way tie between:
 Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics (1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1989),
Boston Red Sox despite a gap of 80 years (1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007 and 2013) and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1955, 1959, 1963, 1965, 1981 and 1988)

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