A little over seven weeks remains in the 2012 MLB season and the playoff races are white-hot. Last week we took a look at the AL playoff races and made some predictions. This week we’ll take a look at the contenders in the NL playoff battle.
If The Playoffs Started Today
In the American League:
The Tampa Bay Rays would host a one game playoff with the Baltimore Orioles to determine who would advance to play the Texas Rangers in the next round.
The New York Yankees would have home field advantage against the Chicago White Sox in the other series.
In the National League:
The Atlanta Braves would host a one game playoff with the Pittsburgh Pirates to determine who would advance to play the Washington Nationals in the next round.
The Cincinnati Reds would have home field advantage against the San Francisco Giants in the other series.
The National League Playoff Battle
Of the sixteen teams who play in the National League, exactly half still possess realistic chances of making the postseason.
The Washington Nationals continue to hum along on the lead and look every bit the one seed that they would be now if the playoffs were to start. The Nats are in the midst of a highly successful road trip (5-1 at Houston and Arizona) that ends with a three game set that begins tonight in San Francisco. Upon returning home they will find themselves with an incredibly easy schedule with an equal number of home and road games remaining. If the Nationals look home free to gain a playoff slot and very strong to win the NL East.
The Atlanta Braves continue to play strongly, giving every indication that they will be a playoff team. While the Braves remaining schedule is similar to the Nationals, the Braves do have five more road games remaining than the Nationals do and only six heads up meetings with the Nationals left to attempt to bridge the 4 1/2 games that they currently trail the Nationals by in the standings.. The summer gutting of the Marlins and Phillies has left both the Braves and Nationals with easier schedules remaining than anyone could possibly have imagined at season’s beginning.
Prediction: The Nationals consistent play and easy remaining schedule land them the NL East title and the one seed in the playoffs. The Braves continue to do what they’ve done all season and fail to catch the Nationals but easily nail down the first wildcard slot in the playoffs.
The Reds have looked less than impressive August. Still without their star first baseman Joey Votto, the Reds lost five games in a row last week before taking the final three games in Chicago against the Cubs. While it is very likely that things will be stressful for the Reds in attempting to run out the clock on the regular season and hold on to their lead, the Reds have an easier schedule than their closest pursuer and a 4 1/2 game lead to play with.
The Pirates have stunned the baseball world this year with both their play and by reversing a seemingly never-ending trend of being trade deadline sellers by becoming deadline buyers. Now trailing the Reds by 4 1/2 games, the Pirates only have six remaining heads up games with the Reds in which to attempt to cut into the gap and a slightly harder remaining schedule than the Reds have. The good news is that the Pirates have a slightly easier schedule remaining than the Cardinals, the team which is pursuing them.
Last year’s champions, the Cardinals, were on a nice run before dropping four of their last six games to the Giants and Phillies. The Cardinals possess a slightly harder remaining schedule than both the Reds and Pirates and will be hard pressed to contend for the division.
Prediction: The Reds have an easy six game home stand starting tonight with the Mets and Cubs. While still feeling the impact of Votto’s absence, the slightly easier schedule than the two teams chasing them combined with their current 4 1/2 game lead should be enough to get them home in the Central and for the two seed in the playoffs, but not by much. The Pirates have given no reason to lead anyone to believe that they will play any differently in their last 48 games than they have in their first 114 games. The Pirates will fall short to the Reds in the Central, but land their first playoff appearance in twenty years. The Cardinals look to have too much to do to overhaul the Reds or Pirates and a slightly harder remaining schedule than those two rivals do. The Cards should be in contention to the very last week, but will fall short of making the playoffs.
The San Francisco Giants are currently clinging to a one game lead in the NL West. Losers of ten of their last eighteen games, the Giants have the feel of a team who isn’t going to play any better than they already have. While the return of Pablo Sandoval will help, the Giants have nine games apiece remaining with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks as well as three games with the Nationals starting tonight and four games with Atlanta.
The Dodgers begin a very tough stretch of schedule road tonight, a stretch that may make or break their season. Four games in Pittsburgh will be followed by three games in Atlanta before coming home to face the Giants in a three game series. The Dodgers have the roughest remaining schedule of the three contenders left in the NL West. The Dodgers’ additions of Randy Choate, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton have yet to pay dividends as the Dodgers are only 15-13 since the All-Star break and 6-4 in August.
The Diamondbacks have managed to turn the largest positive run differential of the season in the NL West(+40) into a record that is one game over .500 due to a league worst 8-17 record in one run games. The Diamondbacks have the easiest remaining schedule of the three contending teams in the NL West and plenty of time to make up the five games they trail the division leader by.
Prediction: The Diamondbacks have an easier schedule, a healthy team, and have outplayed their rivals by more runs than the Dodgers and Giants have. The Diamondbacks can and will rally to win this division. The Dodgers remaining schedule will narrowly cost them a division title, finishing second and missing the wildcard slots as well. The Giants have played their best baseball already, and are the least talented team of the three remaining contenders in the NL West. They finish third and miss the playoffs.