By: Tom Maugeri
With the MLB season officially on the back half of its schedule, it’s time to take a look at which National League teams have a realistic opportunity of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy this year, and what they’ll have to overcome if they wish to be the 2019 World Series Champions.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Bullpen Struggles
Los Angeles fans: look away. It’s time to see why the title of “World Series Champion” will be dodging your club yet again.
This squad has been its usual dominant self this year, sitting comfortably atop the NL West at 77-40. They have perhaps the MVP of the league in Cody Bellinger, who has been terrific with a .322 batting average, a .422 OBP and 37 home runs. He’s been a nightmare for opposing pitchers and will be an offensive weapon come playoff time.
Their starting pitching has also been lights out, as they post baseball’s best ERA for a starting rotation at an astonishing 3.00. It just so happens that this team’s biggest weakness may also be their only weakness. Their bullpen needed help at the trade deadline, yet nothing was done to address it, showing that upper management has complete faith in this team as it is. But is that faith misplaced?
Closer Kenley Jansen boasts a 3.54 ERA, off-season signing Joe Kelly has a 4.85, Yimi Garcia has a 3.78, and believe it or not, human rain delay Pedro Baez holds the best ERA of the bunch at a 3.17. Overall, their bullpen sits at a combined 3.98 ERA. It’s well documented how important pitching is during the postseason, and it’s still unclear if the Dodgers have enough of it in the bullpen to get the job done. The starting pitching is going to have to go deep in games during the playoffs, otherwise this team might be on it’s way to yet another year of coming up short.
Atlanta Braves: The Dodgers
The Atlanta Braves seem to have it all together. They have made it clear that last year was no fluke and that they are here to stay. Before the trade deadline, one of their weaknesses was their bullpen, but the acquisitions of Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, and ex-Tigers closer Shane Greene bolstered the relief pitching. All three have proved that they can be successful out of the pen, and the Braves are hopeful that they can help fill a void that has been apparent in late innings.
With the bullpen needs shored up, there’s only one thing left in this team’s way: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Going into last year’s playoff match-up, many wondered if the inexperience of the Braves would play a factor in the series, and it seems as though it did. Los Angeles took the series in four games, ending Atlanta’s 2018 campaign. Getting past the Dodgers is something that this Braves team is going to have to learn to do, and that became even more evident after the Dodgers swept them back in early May. The Dodgers have had their number, and another series loss to them could be devastating to the psyche of this Atlanta squad. The path to the World Series is going to run through Los Angeles, and it’s arguably the only thing stopping Atlanta from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1999.
Chicago Cubs: Road Woes
The Chicago Cubs have been no stranger to struggling on the road. Not winning a road series in nearly three months is usually enough to knock a team completely out of a playoff race, yet their unbelievable success at home (41-19) has them right in the thick of things in the NL Central. The offensive firepower has been able to come through when it matters most. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez are all tremendous bats in the heart of the lineup that are all capable of instilling fear into opposing pitchers. However, if this team wants to have any hope of finding success in the playoffs, they need to find ways to steal a game or two on the road.
Milwaukee Brewers: Lineup Depth
How the mighty have fallen.
After an incredible season last year, the Brewers have seemed to fall back down to earth. At 60-56, it’s a miracle that they are still on this list, but with the NL Central still wide open, it’s only right that they get their due. The Brew Crew had a plethora of guys that had career years in 2018, but only Christian Yelich was able to sustain that success.
Looking at the team this year, it’s clear to see why the drop-off has been so dramatic. Lorenzo Cain is is batting a crisp .251, Travis Shaw hasn’t gotten off the interstate, sitting at a nice .162, and Jesus Aguilar plays for an entirely different team. This simply isn’t the team that it was a year ago, and unless there’s a dramatic change, their year will end without much to celebrate.
St. Louis Cardinals: Leadoff Hitter
After missing the playoffs completely for the last three years, the Cardinals are right in the middle of the playoff hunt and sit just 3.5 games out of first in the NL central. The off-season acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt has helped the team tremendously, and their stingy defense, which has the fewest errors in the MLB (47), keeps them in ballgames.
However, there is a glaring issue that may keep this team from postseason success, and that glaring issue’s name is Matt Carpenter. The normally reliable infielder has had a tough time this year, batting only .213 with an OBP of just .317. Numbers like that from the leadoff spot aren’t going to get it done, and unless the nine-year veteran can turn it around, the Cardinals season may come to an abrupt end.
New York Mets: Early Season Struggles
I know what you’re thinking. Why and how did the Mets end up on this list? Who knows. Maybe they shouldn’t be labeled a contender and maybe they shouldn’t be here, but at least look at their resume for why they belong.
The Mets sit just one game out of the second wild card spot and are currently winners of 9 out of their last 10. New York knows that they may not out-hit everybody, so they went out and added ex-Blue Jay Marcus Stroman to beef up their already impressive rotation. Their trade deadline move turned some heads. This Mets team intends to go for it, and why not?
Their starting rotation now consists of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz. That could very well be the best rotation in baseball, and it’s a group of five arms that could pitch their team into the postseason. Had the Mets not struggled so much early in the season, then we could be talking about this team as a division contender. If this team can find a way to sneak into the Wild Card Game, who knows how far they can go. Everyone knows how dangerous a hot team is (see the 2018 Brewers), and the fact that this squad has five legitimate starters is downright terrifying. Consider the Mets an official dark horse to make the playoffs and do some damage.
Cover photo via: The Canadian Press
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