Thursday, July 17, 2008

National League 2nd Half Outlook

Predictions for Post-Season Play EAST: This division is probably the most contentious of the three NL races. At the break, the Phillies hold a slim, 1/2-game lead over the Mets, with Florida just 1 1/2 back. If the Mets (winners of 9 straight) continue playing well, they could easily take this division by storm, though memories of last year's late season meltdown are still rather fresh. Meanwhile, the Braves, who used to dominate this division, are in 4th place, 6 1/2 out, and will most likely end up being on the outside, looking in. The Marlins have youth, but little depth and not much in the pitching department past Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olson. Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Mike Jacobs will have to extend their solid first halves through September if the Marlins expect to stay in the race. This is a hungry bunch, but the lack of experience is likely to lead to a run at the wild card instead of the division title. The race should boil down to whether the Mets pitching proves superior to that of Philadelphia, and it should. While the Phillies have arguably the most potent lineup in the majors with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard providing a lethal dose of speed and power, the Mets are right up there with them. Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado can do damage to any pitching staff. But when it comes to pitching, the Mets have a solid rotation. Johan Santana is a proven big-game hurler, and the emergence of Jon Maine, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey has solidified the staff. If Pedro Martinez can provide any of the old fire, the Mets have a huge edge, because in Philly, after Cole Hamels and aging Jamie Moyer, there isn't much there. The Mets made the right move when they fired manager Willie Randolph. For whatever reason, he was simply not the right fit for this squad. New York should capture the crown while the Marlins and Phillies battle for the wild card. The Mets end their season at home with four against the Cubs and three vs. the Marlins. The Phillies close out at home with 3 vs. Atlanta and 3 against the Nationals, an easier task. The two play each other on three times in September, on the 5th, 6th and 7th, at New York. CENTRAL: While the Cardinals (my sentimental boyhood team) have hung in well, this race should come down to the Brewers and the Cubs, both of which have acquired additional starting pitching within the past two weeks. The Brewers picked up stud starter C. C. Sabathia (also a threat at the plate) from the Indians, while the Cubs got Rich Harden from Oakland. Those two will complement Ben Sheets (Milwaukee) and Carlos Zambrano (Chicago) at the top of solid rotations. The return of Alfonso Soriano will be a huge benefit to the Cubs. Having their leadoff man back in action will be a real boost to the rest of the lineup, which is genuine, with plenty of excellent contact hitters. The Brewers also have a superior batting order with a little more power than that of the Cubs, especially in the personae of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. It may come down to middle relief and closers, and, if that's the case, the Cubs have an edge. Kerry Wood has developed into one of the NL's best finishers. As for the Cardinals, their contention is a testament to the ability of manager Tony Larussa. The Cards have a patchwork lineup and pitching staff, but Tony has gotten the best out of them. Troy Glaus has been a pleasant surprise, along with Ryan Ludwick and sensational Albert Pujols. If the Cards stay in this, they could be the surprise team of the season, but even a wild card seems to be out of their reach. The Cubs and Brewers should battle to the bitter end, the loser possibly getting the wild card. The schedule has two late-September matchups of these two teams and the division could come down to the final three-game series of the season, with the Cubs at Milwaukee. WEST: The Arizona Diamondbacks and LA Dodgers are the best of this sad bunch. Currently, no team in the division is even .500, and the D-Backs hold a 1-game edge over the Dodgers. Both teams get the most from their pitching staffs, and the battle may really heat up in the second half. LA has an edge in the hitting department with Matt Kemp, James Loney and Russell Martin leading the charge. Arizona's starting pitching is superior, with Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Doug Davis the 1-2-3 punch. Randy Johnson needs 10 more wins to reach 300. He probably won't get there, but he'll be trying hard. Both teams have pretty soft schedules in September, and play each other only three times, early in the month. The Dodgers have 9 games against the Padres, 6 against the Giants, 3 vs. Colorado and 4 at Pittsburgh. It doesn't get any softer than that, and the light workload should lead LA to the division crown. Arizona will be close, but not even mentioned in the wild card race.

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