The final week of the regular season is finally here and, with it, only a handful more games to play as teams — those not from the Northside of Chicago — are still trying to position themselves for October baseball. So before the playoffs get underway, let’s look at how the major contenders stack up one last time.
1. Cubs (101-57, previously #1)
Division — check. Homefield in the playoffs — check. Best record in all of baseball — check. Historic run with 100-plus wins — check.
It’s hard to find weaknesses with a team so stacked with talent at so many key positions. The Cubs not only have the scariest and deepest starting rotation in MLB, they have two of the top NL MVP candidates in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. To add, they have a bullpen and closer that can shut lineups down with un-hittable velocity and a manager who seems to just know his team better than most other managers and coaches in the game know their’s.
Regular season success does not always translate to success in the postseason. But this Cubs team is without question the best in the bigs right now — and it’s hard to see that changing much over the next month.
2. Dodgers (90-68, previously #3)
The hottest streak the Dodgers have been on all year couldn’t come at a better time. They’re entrenched in a dogfight with the Nationals for the second seed in the NL — which in fact will determine home field in the NLDS between the two.
What L.A. may lack offensively — 11th, 7th, and 7th in batting average, OPS, and runs, respectively — they make up for with their pitching. While people are quick to point to the Cubs, Nationals, and, even the Giants starting rotations, the Dodgers have flown under the radar with their arsenal of arms. L.A. ranks second in the both WHIP and BAA, while sitting third in ERA.
3. Nationals (93-66, previously #2)
Maybe it’s the Strasburg injury, maybe it’s the lull the Nationals have gotten into due to not being tested for months within their own division. Don’t get me wrong, the Mets are and have been in contention for the Wild Card, but — make no mistake — the Nationals have had a stranglehold on the East since before the All Star Break. But they’ve only been slightly better than mediocre this month (14-10) and have dropped 2 of their last 3 series against teams out of the playoff hunt — the Braves and Marlins.
That said, when the playoffs start, things could pick up real quickly for Washington. They have one of the top candidates for NL MVP in Daniel Murphy; they have a top Cy Young candidate in ace righty Max Scherzer; they have an offense that ranks in the top 5 in most major hitting categories; and they have a pitching staff that ranks in the top 3 in the NL in ERA, BAA, and WHIP. In the postseason, it’s all about matchups — and the Nationals match up nicely with their potential NLDS opponent, the Dodgers.
4. Mets (85-74, previously #4)
One has to wonder, despite the Mets consistent play over the last month or so, how their pitching is holding up. Injuries to more than half of their original starting rotation has put the onus on New York’s offense. And as far as hitting home runs and scoring runs, the bats have answered the call. With three players topping the 30-homer plateau, the Mets lineup is not an easy one for opposing pitchers to navigate through.
But in October as the weather gets cold, there’s a tendency for bats to do the same. The Mets were expected to rely heavily on their pitching this season, if they were to make a return trip to the Fall Classic. The bats may get them in the dance, but the pitching will need to carry them to the final song.
5. Giants (83-75, previously #6)
It has been well-documented how the Giants have struggled since the All Star Break. But as true as it is and as awful as they have played the last two and a half months, here we are talking about Bruce Bochy’s guys still having a shot at making the postseason.
While the offense has been atrocious — not a single Giant cracks the top-40 in home runs and only Buster Posey is in the top-30 of batting average — if Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are healthy and pitching like we all know they can, the Giants will be a team no one wants to meet in October. One or both of the aces are in the top 5 in most of the pitching statistical categories. Cueto will return to the hill Thursday after missing one start due to a groin strain suffered last week.
6. St.Louis (82-76, previously #5)
Let’s not mince words: the Cardinals only path to the playoffs — and a run in the playoffs — is through their big bats, led by Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko. They will not out-duel anyone on the mound; they will not “base hit” anyone to death; and they will not make the game-changing plays in the field to win a game. If the Cards are to get through the mess that exists for the two Wild Card spots in the National League, they will have done it by hitting home runs (1st in the NL) and scoring lots of runs (3rd) — not by hitting for average — 10th in the NL in batting.
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