adidas gazelle black and white Cardinals are in a tight postseason race
Bud Selig’s fondest dream in his last year as commissioner, much as it has been every other year, is competitive balance. The National League surely is answering his every wish, then.
The top seven teams in the 15 team league are separated by only two games in won lost record as the post All Star break schedule begins tonight.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, Western Division leaders, are 54 43, with San Francisco at 52 43. Central leader Milwaukee is 53 43. East co leaders Washington and Atlanta are 51 42 and 52 43, respectively.
And the chasing Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds are 52 44 and 51 44, with Pittsburgh not far back at 49 46.
“There are a lot of great teams and a lot of teams that are surprisingly playing very well,” said Atlanta All Star first baseman Freddie Freeman. “You never thought the Brewers would come in and be in first place like they are.”
Even with the two wild cards in play, three of those aforementioned teams aren’t going to the postseason, no matter how close they are now.
Though the resumption of the schedule tonight suggests that the second half of the season is starting, that is far from the truth. Most teams, including the Cardinals, have played 95 or more games, leaving fewer than 70 games left for almost everybody. The stretch drive isn’t that far off.
A closer look at the divisional races:
The Cardinals have a schedule edge in that they are home for two of their three remaining series against Milwaukee and Cincinnati and they have Pittsburgh once at home and once on the road. The Cardinals also are through with West leaders Los Angeles and San Francisco on the road while Milwaukee has yet to play either team home or away, totaling 12 games. Of Milwaukee’s final 12 games in September, nine are against the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds on the same trip.
The Reds have second baseman Brandon Phillips and first baseman Joey Votto out with injuries but have the deepest starting pitching. The Brewers have the hardest schedule. The Pirates have the fastest outfield. The Cardinals have the most experience. They’ve been in the last three league championship series and two of the last three World Series. But they don’t have Yadier Molina.
Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said, “You’ve got arguably the best division in baseball. Four legitimate playoff teams. Four great teams.”
Pirates All Star reliever Tony Watson said, “These are four quality teams, and there’s a lot of familiarity because the rosters haven’t turned over too much in the last few years. The division knows itself real well.
“It’s a deep division. There’s no gimmes. We’re all beating up on each other.”
All Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, also of the Pirates, said, “All we can do is focus on our job and my job, personally. If we do that, the sky’s the limit and we should be playing playoff ball.”
The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds all played playoff ball last year, but the depth of the division and the many intra division games remaining among the four contenders mitigate against more than one team winning more than 90 games. From two wild cards last year, this division could go to none.
When both Washington and Atlanta are healthy, the Nationals have the better talent, if they can keep Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and Jordan Zimmermann on the field.
Washington has the deeper bullpen and a better rotation than Atlanta and was plus 61 in first half run differential compared to plus 12 for the Braves, who are near the bottom of the league in offense, groveling with the Cardinals and San Diego.
Atlanta won seven of its first eight games against Washington. But the Nationals won the last two and took some confidence away from that.
Against the three bottom feeders in the East Philadelphia, Miami and New York the Braves are only 18 14 with 25 games left and Washington is 16 7 with a whopping 34 games remaining.
The Dodgers and Giants both could come out of this division as playoff teams, especially with the amount of games the two have remaining with San Diego, Colorado and Arizona, who have three of the four worst records in the league. The Dodgers have feasted on that trio at 26 11 with 20 remaining. San Francisco is only 19 17 with 21 left.
Los Angeles’ second half fate might hinge on the health (shoulder) of shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who was their best player down the stretch last year. Manager Don Mattingly again will have four high priced regular outfielders to find playing time for in Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, now that Crawford is healthy, with phenom Joc Pederson, the best center fielder of the bunch, waiting in the minors.
The ‘X’ factor is that the Dodgers unquestionably have the best 1 2 starting punch in All Stars Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
The Giants should get a boost with second baseman Marco Scutaro coming off the disabled list, but they must also hope that injury prone center fielder and leadoff man Angel Pagan can stay healthy.
But is Tim Hudson losing his battle with Father Time? The 39 year old Giants righthander was 7 2 with a 1.97 earned run average at one point for the Giants. He finished the pre All Star break competition 0 4 with a 6.07 ERA.
No matter how the division leading Tigers slice it, this league probably has only two races and one of them is not in the Central. The Tigers, after taking three of four at Kansas City over the weekend, are 6 games ahead of Kansas City and seven ahead of Cleveland.