In this week’s Playoff Watch: Will the Atlanta Braves make MLB history? Will the Philadelphia Phillies score and pitch consistently? Can the white-hot Los Angeles Dodgers claim the 1st seed? Who will rise victorious over the NL Central? Are the San Francisco Giants going to fall out of Wild Card contention?
NL East: Record Breakers & Consistent Inconsistency
The NL East has been the Atlanta Braves Show all season. After another stellar 5-1 week, the Braves are cruising at 12 1/2 games ahead of second place for the division. They are a juggernaut, ready to get back to the World Series. Now, entering a week against the suspect Giants and the disaster that is the New York Mets, Atlanta expects more than wins.
They expect to keep their chance to enter MLB history alive. They have already crushed 232 homers this season, and the single-season record is at 307. Many would call this a long shot, and perhaps it is, even if they are getting Ozzie Albies back from the IL soon. But this is a great additional goal to keep the players sharp and motivated.
In second place in the standings, the Phillies are between two worlds. One, the Mountain of Contenders, where the Dodgers and Braves lay. The other, the Valley of Pretenders, filled with the rest of the NL Playoff teams. Last year, the Phillies walked the mountain, but repeating the success will be hard, as the team has been marred by inconsistency, both in scoring and in pitching.
A week where Michael Lorenzen threw a no-hitter and Bryce Harper had a 2 HR game, only to have a 2-3 record, encapsulates that perfectly. Thus, they hope this next week’s series against the Giants and Washington Nationals will show one of two things. A team heating up just in time for another underdog World Series run, like all championships in Philadelphia history, or a squad that simply doesn’t have enough to compete with the best.
NL West: Dodger Domination & A Giant Question Mark
While the Braves are cruising in the East, there is a team waiting for them to hit a rough patch. Out West, the Dodger machine has won 11 games in a row, and all but locked up their division. While extending this streak for another week is hard, the Miami Marlins and the Cleveland Guardians shouldn’t pose any real threat to the Los Angeles behemoth. Their division title is secure, having an 11-game lead over 2nd place, and just like Atlanta, they need a target to keep themselves sharp. So, just like Freddie Freeman is waiting or Ronald Acuna Jr. to cool off to try to steal the NL MVP, the Dodgers are waiting for a sub-par week from the Braves to claim the top seed in the NL.
While the Dodgers can’t stop winning, in San Francisco, the Giants can’t stop regressing. The same team that looked like a contender for the division lead back in June is now risking missing the playoffs entirely. Another week with a 2-4 record. 3-7 in their last 10, and a brutal couple of series coming up against the Braves and Phillies. All year, San Francisco has defied expectations and had made the batting work, even with lesser talent than its competitors. But right now, with multiple teams fighting for their Wild Card position, it seems like the magic is running out.
NL Central: Neck and Neck
Welcome to the jungle known as the NL Central. Here, three flawed teams are fighting to gain an advantage over the rest. The Milwaukee Brewers are trying to hold on, with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs two games back.
Milwaukee had an average week of 3-3, and they have to face the red-hot Texas Rangers and another team with elite pitching in the Minnesota Twins. They struggled to hit the entire year, and even if the near .500 baseball they’ve been playing was enough for them up until this point, that may change sooner rather than later.
The Reds have recovered a bit after their losing streak with a 3-2 week, and have tough matchups with week with the Toronto Blue Jays and a Los Angeles Angels team waiting to get back three starters from the IL. The young talent they have on the roster is undeniable, with Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Matt McLain, Andrew Abbott, and Christian Encarnacion-Strand all being rookies with spectacular performances. However, with the youth, comes streakiness. This team, all year, has been really hot, or really cold. So after breaking its cold streak, Cincinnati hopes to start a new hot one.
Chicago’s rise after the All-Star game has been nothing short of spectacular. A 20-11 stretch for a team that was nothing except mediocre up until that point is mightily impressive. They have cooled off lately but still managed a 3-2 week, and the upcoming stretch will be a great opportunity to catch fire again with upcoming series against the Kansas Royals, Detroit Tigers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Losing Stroman for a couple of weeks isn’t ideal, but the excellent defense and clutch bats should be able to hold the line. At least, they hope so.
The Playoff Picture
There are two teams that are guaranteed for the Playoffs and the byes: the Braves and the Dodgers. The third division winner will be one of the Reds, Cubs, and Brewers.
For the Wild Card, Philadelphia has the best chance of getting in, as they have a decent 3 1/2 game cushion. The real questions are the 5th and 6th spots. Two of the teams from the Central, the Marlins, the Giants, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and, if they have a stellar week, the San Diego Padres will fight for those. Right now, the Giants are ahead, having a 1 1/2 game lead, but I doubt that will be for long. The Cubs, Reds, and Marlins are tied for last place, with Arizona one game back, and San Diego looking from afar at five games out.