2019 NL Playoff Picture

2019 NL Playoff Picture

As the 2019 regular season winds down the NL playoff race has been nothing short of a cluster. With only two teams being “locks” for October, the last week and a half is going to be crucial. The Cardinals are looking to lock up the NL Central, while the Cubs and Brewers who are only 3 GB in the Central race, are attempting to pass the Nationals in the Wild Card. Here is a look at the field…

The Locks:

2019 NL Playoff Picture
(Mike Zarrilli/Getty)

Atlanta Braves (93-60) – The Atlanta Braves entered the 2019 season with very little odds to win the NL East. In the offseason, the Phillies added the likes of Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson. The Nationals added Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki, Brian Dozier, and more. Neither could compete with the Braves. Atlanta would make a risky splash with their signing of 3B Josh Donaldson to a 1-year deal worth $23 million. 

When it came to their season schedule the Braves handled business at home and on the road. Entering today’s game with the Phillies they have a home record of 47-30 and a road record of 46-30. Brian Snitker’s ball club will host the NLDS against the winner of the NL Central. 

Backed by one of the most exciting cores in baseball, the Braves are going to do damage from the leadoff down to the five spot. After that, teams will have a chance. The duo of Ronald Acuna Jr (on pace for the MLB’s 5th 40/40 season ever) and Ozzie Albies, both not even 23, are the firepower that lights this offense. Followed by the big hitters, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson. Freeman is not only one of the baseball’s best spot hitters, but in his 10th season, his 38 home runs to this date is a career-high for him in a single season. For what seemed like a solid month there, Josh Donaldson was hitting a home run every other at-bat. Look for these four to get the Braves to their first NLCS since 2001.

The Braves made headlines on June 7th when they signed Dallas Keuchel to a one year deal worth $13 million. With hopes he could show signs of his best days with the Houston Astros, it has been an up and down ride. Currently sitting at 8-6 on the season with an ERA of 3.63 (lowest since 2017), he is still trying to find the groove. He is spending more time on the mound per inning and giving up more base runners than he ever has, but backed by this offense, they always have a chance. Max Fried leads this pitching staff in wins with 16 and can hit double-digit strikeouts on any given night, just expect him to give up 3-5 runs in the process. The real hope for this Braves pitching staff lies in the hands of Mike Soroka. At the young age of 22, Soroka is proving to be the Atlanta ace for years to come as he has a 12-4 record on the year with a 2.57 ERA. Add in their bullpen which holds a record of 36-18 with 43 saves on the year. Another reason this team won’t struggle to get out of the first round. 

The Braves close out their season with a roughly easy nine games. They look to avoid the sweep against the Phillies today. Host the Giants who are playing for fun at this point. Then finish up on the road with a two-game trip to Kansas City and three games with the Mets. A possibility they finish this trip around .500. Their main focus should be having Soroka and Keuchel ready for the NLDS.

2019 NL Playoff Picture
(Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports)

 Los Angeles Dodgers (98-55) – To find the last time the Dodgers did not win the NL West you have to go back to 2012. A year where they still finished 4 wins from a 90 win season. They currently hold a 5 game lead over the Braves for the #1 seed in the NL, and with a 57-20 record at home this year, you can lock them in for the Fall Classic. 

An offense that has accounted for 825 runs (1st in the NL), isn’t even their strongest aspect. But here they are. Cody Bellinger has a strong chance to be the NL MVP, hitting .305/.631/1.039 with 45 home runs and 110 RBI’s. The Arizona native has rightfully made himself the premier hitter for the Dodgers. That is not to take anything away from Justin Turner who is currently injured with a left ankle sprain. Turner can still hit with the best of them. Justin Turner flirted for a while with his third straight season of hitting .300 but fell short sitting at .291 currently with nine games to go. Along with the bats of Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Alex Verdugo, and Corey Seager. Despite a rough batting average as a team, they will be able to hold their own when it comes to producing runs.

The scariest part of this team comes on the mound. Whether they roll out Game 1 with Walker Buehler or Hyun-Jin Ryu, whoever they face will have a tough time. Say they go with the Vet Clayton Kershaw, he is still dealing this year. Despite the thought that he was losing what he once was, Kershaw sits right now with a 14-5 record and an ERA of 3.05. If you forget his past postseason struggles, these three alone will give anyone problems. Hyun-Jin Ryu, who started the 2019 MLB All-Star Game, has finally found it. In 2018 he proved that he had the stuff to be a true ace, but injuries riddled his season and he could not bounce in time to have a decent postseason. Ryu is seeing a career-low in pitches per inning and a career-high in his Strikeout to Walk ratio which shows he is wasting no time on the mound. Expect him to start 4-5 games this postseason and be the lead for this Dodgers pitching staff. After the starters come out of the game it can become a sticky situation. Kenley Jansen who was once argued as the top closer in baseball has been booed off the mound multiple times this year and as recent as last night. Look for Dave Roberts to not rely heavily on this bullpen if the game is close.

The Dodgers host the Rockies for their final three-game homestand of the regular season. Followed by a six-game road trip where they will play San Diego and San Francisco, three games apiece. Don’t expect the offense to struggle much over the next nine, the focus for them should be getting the bullpen intact.

2019 NL Playoff Picture
(L.G. Patterson / Associated Press)

NL Central Leader:

St. Louis Cardinals (85-67) – The St. Louis Cardinals currently hold a three-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. To put them as a lock with ten games to go would be jumping the gun. 

Outside of Paul Goldschmidt and Kolten Wong, nothing is flattering about this offense. Goldschmidt has provided the offense with 31 home runs and 89 RBI’s to this point while hitting a career-low (.258) at the plate. As for Wong, he bounced back at the plate this year hitting a team-high .284. After these two, the Cardinals best bet to produce is coming from Marcell Ozuna and 2018 break out star Matt Carpenter, who both are hitting career lows across the board. 

For the Cardinals to have any chance this postseason, it is going to rely on their pitching. The Cardinals have the 5th best team ERA. A stat that shows across the board with not only their starting pitching but their bullpen as well. They are led by ace Jack Flaherty who is 10-8 on the year with an ERA of 3.05. Flaherty is young (23) and has a chance to become the focal point of this rotation for years to come. Five years removed from the last season that Adam Wainwright was considered decent, he truly seems to be decent, again. In his 13th season, Wainwright has posted a 13-9 record with an ERA of 3.83. For someone that has been a solid postseason pitcher his whole career, look for St. Louis to give him a chance when it matters most. Dakota Hudson might be the best-kept secret in St. Louis because I promise he is not a household name to baseball fans. In his first year, Hudson has that 07 Wainwright vibe to him. Dakota Hudson posted Win/Loss record of 16-7 with an ERA of 3.35. It isn’t news to anyone that Michael Wacha has faded in the rotation, 2013 has come and gone. As for the bullpen, Giovanny Gallegos is the talk of the town. Just his second year in the league but Gallegos has posted a 2.10 ERA in 68.2 IP so far. Add in the big lefty, Andrew Miller and dominant closer Carlos Martinez. If they can keep teams from scoring a run or two, they have a chance to make an upset.

A pivotal part of the rest of their season lies in the seven games remaining against the Chicago Cubs, who are 3 GB behind them in the division race. The Cardinals, starting today, are in Chicago for four games before heading to Arizona to play three and finish up at home against the Cubs with three games. It would be a fun situation to see a one-game playoff that led to the Wild Card matchup, something that has happened a few times now.

Wild Card Hopefuls:

Washington Nationals (83-68) – 

Currently the leader for the top Wild Card spot in the NL. After losing Bryce Harper, the Nationals took the route of bolstering their pitching staff bringing in Patrick Corbin. 

Their offense has been one of the most inconsistent things this season. For a team that nightly gives up four or five runs a game, they spend to much time either scoring 10+ or managing to only get one on the board. Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto took on the spotlight that Bryce Harper left behind. Trea Turner and Adam Eaton have both been key for the Nationals bats with getting on base and giving the big bats opportunities to drive in runs. Pivotal to them having a decent October at the plate comes from the production they get with Brian Dozier and Matt Adams, two dudes who can just crush the ball but can’t get on base after that.

The best part of this team is the three aces they carry. Max Scherzer. Stephen Strasburg. Patrick Corbin. But that is it. Every two starts Anibal Sanchez gives up 5+ runs. If their bullpen comes into the game with the other team still getting a chance to bat, despite the score, they have a chance. The Nationals have been favorites to win the World Series in the past, have had some great teams over the last five-year span, but they have never had an average bullpen. A team that has shelled up tons of money to bolster this bullpen still can’t get anything good. They could try the nontraditional route with pitching but even then it will be rough. If the Nationals host the Wild Card game, expect Scherzer to win that game. Don’t expect much when/if they take a trip out to LA.

Three games down in Miami with the Marlins, host the Phillies for five games and then close the season with the Indians in Cleveland. If the Nationals can get some decent pitching, they should be able to close out nicely. Their best hope is for the St. Louis Cardinals to sweep the Chicago Cubs over their last seven games, leaving them and the Brewers for the two wildcard spots.

Milwaukee Brewers (82-70) – tied for 2nd in Wild Card, 3 GB Cardinals in NL Central

It felt for a while that the Brewers were going to be the team to beat from the Central. Christian Yelich was on pace to win another NL MVP award. He was going to lead the league in home runs. Then his season came to an abrupt stop when he fractured his kneecap. Yelich leads the team in every offensive stat category that people consider “valuable.” Unless this team finds a way to win the NL Central, it is going to be rough for them to win the Wild Card game and then go to LA and upset the Dodgers.

The team’s best starting pitcher statistically is Brandon Woodruff who is currently 11-3 on the season with a 3.69 ERA. Following Woodruff is Zach Davies and Chase Anderson. Chase Anderson has never pitched in the postseason and Zach Davies has one inning to his name. The only scare with this teams pitching is the not so loved outside of Milwaukee, Josh Hader.

The Brewers will finish up a series today with the San Diego Padres. Host the Pittsburgh Pirates three games and close out the season on the road for six games, three in Cincinnati and three in Colorado. 8-2 over their last ten and a chance to carry that streak here over the last ten. 

Chicago Cubs (82-70) – tied for 2nd in Wild Card, 3 GB Cardinals in NL Central

When it comes to household names, the Cubs are as deep as they come. Kris Bryant. Anthony Rizzo. Javier Baez. Kyle Schwarber. Jon Lester. Yu Darvish. Jose Quintana. Cole Hamels. Craig Kimbrel. The downside to this is that baseball isn’t household names anymore.

Javier Baez has proven to be one of the leagues best at shortstop. Kris Bryant has been playing consistently compared to his career numbers. Kyle Schwarber has a chance to hit 40+ home runs. One through seven, this offense is phenomenal on paper and typically at the plate. A team that has no problem swinging the bat, could very well strikeout too much at the plate for that to matter.

Their pitching is going to have to carry them to do anything come October. Jon Lester is aging. Yu Darvish shows signs of looking good, then gives up seven earned in a start to reassure everyone he can be touched. Jose Quintana, like Darvish, shows signs of being good and blows it. Cole Hamels struggles to even produce a quality start at this point. Father time is catching up to this Chicago rotation and it is showing by putting their playoff hopes in jeopardy. There is no need to dive into the dumpster fire that Craig Kimbrel has proven to be since joining the club. Every fan that wanted their favorite team to sign him is now realizing why he never got the big offers, he is an afterthought in Chicago.

There is upside here though. Chicago gets seven games against the Cardinals, who they are currently chasing. In those seven games, they should get two starts from both Kyle Hendricks and Cole Hamels. This year both have had an easy time with the Cardinals. The other three games on their schedule are in Pittsburgh to close out the season. The Cubs have the best-looking chance to take a trip to Washington for the one-game playoff.