1. Cubs (92-51, previously #1)
Chicago has all but secured the top spot heading into postseason play and will be the favorites to reach the World Series. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have formed the perfect 1-2 punch that the lineup needs and will rely on in the playoffs. The Cubs have suffered through postseason run-scoring droughts in the past, but this lineup seems poised to continue producing. Bryant leads the NL with 37 home runs, and Rizzo is top 10 with 29 bombs. Both sluggers are, also, in the top-5 in RBI and OPS.
But the emergence of shortstop Addison Russell, as an offensive threat, might be the X-factor that Cubs fans need heading into October. Russell’s power numbers put him in the top-3 of all shortstops in the NL.
Of course, pitching wins titles, and no team boasts the depth of starting pitching that Chicago does. The Cubs lead the National League in ERA, BAA, and WHIP. The biggest problem manager Joe Maddon faces, as the postseason approaches, might be setting his starting rotation. Nice problem to have.
2. Nationals (86-58, previously #2)
Despite what seemed to be a debilitating injury to Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals have reeled off four straight wins and are playing some great baseball as they try to nail down the number 2 seed in the National League, which in all likelihood would have them hosting the Dodgers (or the Giants) in the NLDS. Led by Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer, who’s 0.92 WHIP is the best in all of baseball, the Nationals should have the pitching they need — even minus Strasburg — to make a deep run in the postseason.
Offensively, Daniel Murphy is having an MVP-caliber season — first in batting, slugging, OPS, and doubles; second in RBI. If it weren’t for the dominance of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Murphy would be the leading candidate for the award.
An NLDS matchup against the offensively anemic Dodgers might be just what this franchise needs, as they try and erase past playoff disappointment.
3. Dodgers (81-62, previously #3)
Los Angeles has put four games between themselves and San Francisco in the NL West with an 8-3 record over their last 11 games. Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Dodgers will head to D.C when the playoffs start next month. L.A. is hopeful that lefty ace Clayton Kershaw returns to top form for the postseason, after a 3 inning start last Friday against the Marlins that saw the former MVP and 3-time Cy Young Award winner throw 66 pitches and give up 2 runs in the loss.
The Dodgers are relying heavily on shortstop Corey Seager and third baseman Justin Turner to carry their offense. As a team, Los Angeles ranks outside the top-5 in all the major offensive statistical categories — behind all the other NL playoff contenders. But Seager is one of the best hitting shortstops in the league with 25 home runs and a WAR of 5.9, which is good enough for second in the National League. Turner provides the only other real threat in the Dodgers lineup. The third baseman ranks in the top-15 in HRs and top-20 in RBI.
Big questions surround this team as far as how they will score runs in the postseason when runs are at a premium?
4. Giants (77-66, previously #5)
The Giants have won 3 of their last 4 games and are doing a nice job of staying within shouting distance of the first-place Dodgers. The two rivals meet six times in the final 2 weeks of the season so it is of great importance to San Francisco that they not fall too far back.
With a very favorable schedule from here on out, the Giants look to gain ground on L.A., but also create space between themselves and the Cardinals and Mets for the top Wild Card spot. San Francisco is one of those teams that is scary to opposing teams (and fans) if they get in. And by the looks of things, they should be in.
5. Mets (76-68, previously #4)
No one has stepped up more for the Mets this year than starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. With injuries taking down more than half of New York’s starting rotation, Syndergaard has weathered the storm and has been a shining star for the Metropolitans. A month ago — two weeks ago in fact — the Mets weren’t playing very good baseball, injuries looked like they would be too much to overcome, and the postseason seemed like a long shot at best. Now, New York is playing some of its best ball of the year, led by Syndergaard and his 2.48 ERA, which ranks second in the NL only behind Kyle Hendricks. The ageless Bartolo Colon has also contributed to keeping the ship straight in New York with 6 wins since the All Star Break.
The success of the Mets lineup rests considerably on the bat of Yoenis Cespedes. If he is indeed fully healthy for the playoffs, he will provide some much needed pop in the middle of that order. If not, the Mets will struggle to remain offensively relevant.
Down the stretch, fewer teams get the luxury of having an easier schedule than the Mets: 13 of their last 16 are against the Twins, Braves, and Phillies.
6. Cardinals (75-68, previously #6)
Despite their inconsistencies and injuries, the Cardinals are right in the middle of the playoff race. But their inability to put a lights-out ace on the mound every fifth day may be what does this team in. Hitting for power and scoring runs have not been problems for the Cardinals this year. The team leads the National League with 205 home runs, is second in slugging, and third in both runs and RBI.
St. Louis is currently on the outside looking in, and teams they’re battling with all seem to be playing better baseball right now. If the Cardinals are to climb back into one of the two Wild Card spots, they will need to prove they can win at home. With a 32-40 record in front of the home fans, Busch Stadium has not been very friendly to the Red Birds. St. Louis will have the chance to improve upon that, as they finish their regular with seven straight at home against the Reds and Pirates.
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