You can’t do postseason predictions for one league without the other. Time to go over my predictions for the National League and who/what I like and don’t like about each team.
NL West: San Francisco Giants (57-33)
Its an even year. And if baseball has any chance of repeating itself, as it has for the Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014, they can go ahead and pencil in another World Series championship for 2016.
Johnny Cueto has been the story of the Giants starting rotation. After signing a healthy offseason free agent deal with San Fran, Cueto has shown that he has been worth every penny invested in him and earned the start for NL in the All Star game. Cueto has been dominant and has led the NL in innings pitched the last 2 years (243 2/3 in 2014 and 237 in 2015) and is on pace to lead the league again. His ground ball rate is up, and he has an ERA of 2.47.
This team has been battling injuries all year long. Starting second baseman Joe Panik should be back shortly and third baseman Matt Duffy will be activated before the end of the month. Right fielder Hunter Pence will be making a return around the same time as Duffy. They’ve managed to post the best record in baseball without 3 key bats in the lineup.
I question the durability of the pitching. Will the starting pitchers hold up with such a heavy workload? Bumgarner and Cueto throw 200+ innings yearly. Samardzija is on pace for that feat as well. Jake Peavey has pitched well, but will it continue? Matt Cain will be coming off the DL as well. Will the bullpen be strong enough to make a deep postseason run? A healthy Sergio Romo certainly will help in the second half.
NL Central: Chicago Cubs (53-35)
If you don’t watch a lot of baseball, its easy to be a Cubs fan. They are baseball’s story of 2016. They’re young, hit lots of home runs, have reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, and as a die hard Pirates fan, it is painful to play them, because they are relentless.
Coming off 97 wins in 2015 and a trip to the NLCS, the Cubs are a lot of people’s favorites to win the World Series. They sent 7 players to the All Star Game (Addison Russell is very debatable…) and Joe Maddon has been great as manager. They started off 2016 27-8, but have cooled off over June and into July winning only 10 games from June 12th til the All Star break. The talent is there. No pennant since 1945 and no World Series win since 1908. Is this the year?
I dislike the bullpen. They haven’t been bad by any means, but I think there needs to be a key addition there at this years trade deadline. Aroldis Chapman or even Andrew Miller could be potential targets that I would (but really wouldn’t) like to see. Miller will cost more of the two since he is under contract through 2018. The Cubs have the young talent the Yankees want to get a deal done without damaging the current roster.
NL East: Washington Nationals (54-36)
There’s a lot to like about this team, and it’s easy to see why they have been a favorite among many over the few years. Reigning MVP Bryce Harper had a monster 2015. The 2016 Nats MVP thus far has been Daniel Murphy. He’s batting .348 and has hit 17 home runs. The Mets are missing him for sure, although Neil Walker has been a good replacement.
Stephen Strasburg has finally become the pitcher everyone has expected him to be and has become a great 1, 2 punch with Scherzer. He’s posted a 12-0 record with a 2.62 ERA thus far. He has battled an injury, but the Nats were cautious with how they handled him. Baseball’s #1 overall prospect for 2016 Lucas Giolitto has made his debut this year. He skipped over Triple-A and has made 2 major league starts. Trea Turner (another top 10 prospect in baseball) has made his debut and looks to help in the second half at shortstop.
I don’t like the starting outfield aside from Bryce Harper (and I don’t like Bryce Harper as a person at all), so I would like to see them make a move for one. Jay Bruce from Cincinnati will more than likely be on the move and would fit nicely. Harper can move to center to replace Ben Revere and Bruce can play right. Carlos Beltran would be another good option.
NL Wild Card Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
This year, both NL Wild Card teams will not come from the NL Central. The Dodgers are 6.5 back of the Giants and I don’t see them catching them. Corey Seager is well on pace to be the NL Rookie of the Year and has leads Dodgers hitters with a WAR at 3.9. Clayton Kershaw ended the first half on the DL, but will come back to pitch his way to another Cy Young Award and potentially his second MVP. Aside from Kershaw and newcomer from Japan Kenta Maeda, the rotation hasn’t been great and needs improvement.
The Pirates had a miserable month of June. They had a 6-20 record, injuries to Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli, but got hot going into the break. This team has too much talent to not contend. With Cole back this weekend and Cervelli beginning a rehab assignment in Triple-A, the Pirates head into a part of the season where almost half of their remaining games are against the Brewers, Reds, Phillies, Padres and Braves. Rotation help is needed. The Pirates probably won’t trade for an arm but could look to the farm system for help.
Honorable Mentions: New York Mets, Miami Marlins and St.Louis Cardinals
I love the Mets starting rotation but hate the way it has been handled. Harvey is out for the year while Syndergaard and Matz are both dealing with bone spurs in their elbows. Hopefully rest is all that is needed for those two to get back on track.
The Marlins have been one of the surprise teams for me this year. I love Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich. Marcell Ozuna was an All Star and they made a move for Fernando Rodney who is having a big year. Dee Gordon will be back at the end of the month from his PED suspension to help with their postseason push. The starting rotation is so-so, and the starting pitching trade market is thin.
It feels good not see the Cardinals on top of the NL Central for once. They’re a half game ahead of the Pirates for second in the central, but I don’t see them keeping that lead with the way Pittsburgh has played them all year.