With just a few days left before teams head into the All-Star break, the action in the National League has heated up. In particular, the NL Central in engaged in a contest of dueling banjoes, while in the NL East, a struggling team has started to make their move.
We’ll start with the NL East. After floundering through the first 2 and a half months, the New York Mets have started to come around, responding to new manager Jerry Manuel. Manuel is 13-10 since taking over, and the Mets are currently 1.5 games out of first, behind the Philadelphia Phillies, whom they recently took 3 of 4 from.
Is it a sign of things to come with the Mets? It’s hard to say. There are many question marks surrounding them. Can Pedro give the Mets 6 solid innings? Will the Mets get Church and Alou back in time to help? The current corner outfielders are Tatis/Anderson and Chavez. That simply will not cut it. Right now, the Mets are getting hot hitting from Tatis, Chavez, and Damion Easley, filling in at 2B for the injured Luis Castillo. But in order for the Mets to think about playoffs, they need to improve the corner outfield spot.
As for the Phillies, the rotation is a concern. Beyond Cole Hamels, it lacks consistency. Offensively, the team can mash, but seems prone to slumps. With the trade market for pitchers all but empty, will a rotation of Hamels/Moyer/Eaton/Kendrick, plus a big question mark for the #5 spot be enough to keep them in the hunt?
The Marlins have managed to hang around, and like the Mets, are 1.5 games out of first palce. Out of all the teams in contention, the Marlins look like the biggest overachievers, having allowed more runs than they have scored. Since June, they have played sub .500 ball(15-21), and could be on their way out. Given their struggles to score runs, and their lack of a true centerfielder, one has to wonder how long before top prospect Cameron Maybin is called up from AA.
The Braves might be the biggest underachiever in the division. According to the Pythagorean Win Theorem, the Braves should be 49-42, which would put them in first place. Instead, they are in 4th, with a 43-48 record. While injuries have played a role(they’ve lost John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Rafael Soriano, and Mark Kotsay for varying lengths), their inconsistent offense has hurt them more than anything. The Braves have been shut out 8 times already this season, and are 6th in the majors in double plays hit into. They are right on the cusp of being buyers at the deadline, and sellers at the deadline.
On Sunday, the Brewers threw the gauntlet down at the Cubs, acquiring 2007 AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia in exchange for 4 minor leaguers, including top prospect Matt LaPorta. This gives the Brewers a 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Ben Sheets. That combo compares favorably with other NL contenders, and combined with the offense could help the Brewers close the 4 game gap on the Cubs. However, the Brewers bullpen has to be a concern, with only Salmon Torres and Brian Shouse performing well. A trade seems likely, and they have the farm system to do it.
On Tuesday, the first place Cubs responded by acquiring oft-injured Rich Harden in exchange for Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher, and Josh Donaldson. It’s an interesting move for the Cubs, who also got pitcher Chad Gaudin in the deal. Harden, when healthy is a top of the rotation guy. But when healthy isn’t very often, and you have to figure there is a 50/50 shot that Harden breaks down by August. Gaudin is insurance for just such an event.
Over in the NL West, it’s a race that no one seemingly wants to win. The Diamondbacks are in first with a .500 record. The Dodgers are a game back, and blew a chance to move into first place by struggling in June, posting an identical record to the Diamonbacks at 11-16.
The Dodgers look to be in better shape, given their farm system. If a Mark Teixiera becomes available, they have a better chance at getting him. As of right now, the teams are pretty even on the field. The Diamondbacks superior 1-2 punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren would give them a slight edge down the stretch.
The wild card is also a tight race, with the Brewers holding a .5 game edge over the Cardinals, and the Mets and Marlins are both 4.5 back. Down the stretch, its going to be an interesting summer. The Mets and Phillies have 9 games remaining between each other, which could settle the division. The Brewers and Cubs have a big 4 game series at the end of July, along with 6 games in September (including the last weekend of the season). That series will be the one to watch, though the NL will have no shortage of interesting games.
Posted originally: 2008-07-10 19:25:56