Rounding the Bases: National League playoff analysis

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Nick Telesmanic
BU News Service

Less than a week remains until the 162-game baseball season is over. Hopefully, it will actually start feeling like autumn soon so baseball fans can get the genuine October baseball experience. 

In the National League, many teams were still in the race for the Wild Card at the beginning of September: the Brewers, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Mets, Nationals and Phillies were all vying for a spot. However, only two of those teams were able to occupy a spot. The rest have already been eliminated from the playoffs.

Division Winners

Los Angeles Dodgers (102-56) – NL West Champions

It’s been becoming an inevitability this decade: the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to make another October appearance. It’s no surprise that the reigning National League champions for two years in a row are going to be back again for a third shot at the World Series title. Not only will they be back, but they will be the winners of the National League West for the seventh straight year.

The Dodgers will be receiving the number-one seed this year, surpassing 100 wins in the season. Whether or not they will be taking the National League pennant for the third straight year could possibly be dependent on another league juggernaut from Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves (97-62) – NL East Champions

The Braves are bringing their hot-hitting lineup into October.

With MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. and 2015 Atlantic League MVP Josh Donaldson both hitting over 35 home runs on the season, the lineup has had consistent success. In addition, Atlanta has been regularly gotten runners on base to score, coming in second place in the National League in RBIs.

Out of the four teams in the NL East that have records over .500, the Atlanta Braves have not only shined the brightest but have completely dominated the division. Versus the wild-card-contending Nationals, Phillies and Mets, the Braves have stood their ground with a 31-23 overall record. The Braves have overtaken the Miami Marlins, sweeping three series and holding a 15-4 overall record against them. No other current first-place teams in Major League Baseball have had three teams in their division over .500 and scratching for a wild card spot. Yet, it is still possible for the Braves to lock up the one-seed in the National League.

Teams that have clinched the postseason

The following teams have all clinched the postseason in the National League. Some of them are looking to clinch their division or get first place and win the division, while others have no chance of winning their division and are settling for a wild card spot.

St. Louis Cardinals (90-69), First NL Central, Magic Number: Three

Although the Cardinals are currently sitting in first place, this division is far from over. All season long there has never been one team that has begun to run away with this division, and both the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers have been in the running to take the crown. As of Sept. 25, however, the Cubs have been eliminated from playoff contention, so only the Brewers can threaten the Cardinals position in first place. They are currently a game back from St. Louis.

That doesn’t mean that the Redbirds aren’t capable of holding onto this division. Despite not acquiring any new players at the trade deadline, St. Louis got hot in August and put themselves back into division contention after seeming like they were going to be a fringe wild card team near the middle of July. Young starters Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson have been carrying the starting pitching freight. Longtime Cardinal Kolten Wong is starting to hit again after struggling with injuries for the past two years, and veteran first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has been a power-bat in the lineup with 33 home runs on the season.

St. Louis isn’t playing any more games against the Brewers this year, so to win the division they need to keep winning their games and cheer for whoever plays Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers (89-70), 1.0 GB NL Central, Second NL Wild Card, 0.5 GB First WC

The Brewers are hungry for October baseball. Just like last year, they’re getting hot in the month of September. On Sept. 5, Milwaukee was five games back from the Wild Card. Since then, they have gone 17-2 and clinched their spot in the playoffs. They sit in the second wild-card spot, 0.5 games back of the Nationals for the first spot. They aren’t satisfied yet, for they are also very close to winning their division.

Despite losing reigning NL MVP outfielder Christian Yelich (.329/44/97) for the season to a knee injury on Sept. 10, the Brewers have shaken it off and begun to make an impressive run. Since the day of that injury, the Brew Crew has been 13-2 and has also had one of the easiest remaining schedules in the National League to end their season; they play series with the Pirates, Reds and Rockies, who have an average win percentage of .437 as of Sept. 26. No other potential playoff-contending team has had a schedule that easy, so it was no surprise that the Brewers were able to take advantage of those teams. 

Washington Nationals (89-69) First NL Wild Card +0.5, clinched playoffs

On May 24, it seemed like the Nationals were dead in the water with their playoff hopes crushed. They just got swept in four games by the New York Mets, and had an overall record of 19-31.  

However, they managed to make Wild Card contention with a 47-42 record, which at the time was good enough for the first Wild Card spot. They have maintained that first Wild Card spot through most of September, although it may be in jeopardy due to the Brewers’ hot streak. Regardless, the Nationals have clinched the playoffs, so they will still play in the Wild Card game even if it’s not on their home field.

Throughout the season, the Nationals have always had a solid big-three pitching core in their starting rotation with three-time Cy Young award-winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. What really pulled the Nationals out of their 19-31 hole was having three players have some of the best seasons of their career at the same time – Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Trea Turner. 

Rendon is slashing .322, 34 HRs. and 124 RBIs and is in third place for the National League batting title. Soto, the 20-year-old superstar, had been adding pop to the lineup, with a .283/34/109 line. Turner has been a base-stealing threat and a speed demon in the lineup, with an OBP of .356 and 34 stolen bases.

This could be the year the Nationals can put it together if they can get to the League Division Series. Winning that series has been a struggle for this team historically – they’ve been in it four times since 2012 and have lost it every time – with three of those series going to a Game 5.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.