The National League is glad not to have anything to do with the American League until October, when the stakes will be higher.
The National League is glad not to have anything to do with the American League until October, when the stakes will be higher. As second half of the year starts today, we’ll examine key stats, scheduling situations of all the teams in contention in the National League. With most teams having about 68 games to play, give or take a few, we’ll see how oddsmakers feel about these teams chances to win division titles and head to World Series.
These are heady times in Chicago this summer, for the first time in 31 years, both major league baseball teams are in first place as the last part of the schedule starts after the break. The Chicago Cubs have been the best team in the senior circuit for the vast majority of the season. They have been consistently one of the best bets in baseball at +12.2 units, and an incredible +19 at Wrigley Field with 37-12 mark. Chicago lead the NL in runs scored, on-base percentage and walks and are 3rd in runs allowed, accounting for largest run differential in the sport at +106. With Alfonso Soriano coming back and Rich Harden solidify starters; the only real pieces left are the return to form of Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood being a touch more consistent out of the back end of pen. The Cubs will attempt to open a gap between them and Brewers and Cardinals in August, with 21 home games. If this fails, could be dicey September with only nine contests at Friendly Confines. Cubs are 1-3 to win division and odds on choice at 3-2 to make World Series at Sportsbook.com. (Cubs fans and backers, drink lots of fluids)
Milwaukee will give it go, being able to have three excellent and two pretty serviceable starting pitchers over every five-game period. In order to catch the Cubs or be the wide card team, the 7th ranked scoring offense has to climb into the top five, as 11th ranked bullpen does not figure to get much better unless starters can regularly go 7+ innings. Brewers are 5-2 to comeback and win NL Central and 5-1 to return to Series for the first time since Hall-of-Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were patrolling old County Stadium. Milwaukee’s schedule is balanced and includes 10 games with division leading Chicago. The only downside of remaining games is only a dozen versus the NL West.
One of the great mysteries of the first half of the season is how the St. Louis Cardinals have 53-43 record. Based on talent and ability, more than half the teams in the NL have better one-two starting pitcher combo than Kyle Lohse and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals. The bullpen has 13-20 record and has blown 20 saves; along with 4.29 ERA, which is 13th in the National League. The staff strikes out the fewest batters in the league, just on this information alone, it’s impossible to believe St. Louis would have the best road record in the NL at 27-22, +10.5 units. Yet the offense is second to Cubs in OBP, draws the 2nd most walks and is steady as it goes. The Cards are 5-1 to snag division crown and open with eight home games, including four with the Brew Crew. By August 14, everyone will have a good indication about the Tony LaRussa’s club, playing mostly contenders until that time.
Philadelphia is 2nd in runs scored, has the best bullpen in baseball, and yet can’t create any separation in NL East due to unstable starting pitching. It would seem the Phillies will try to add a starter by July 31 trade deadline, using Brett Myers as the bait for a team needing bullpen help. The offense has been more dissonant than expected and will face immediate test, at Florida and at New York, to start 12 of 15 road contests. Starting August 5, the Phillies play 15 of 22 at home. Philadelphia is just a shade behind Mets to win division crown at 11-10 and 9-2 to earn right to play in Fall Classic.
The Mets are a challenge to figure. After not being to get out of their own shadow, they close 9-0 to have the same number of losses as front-running Philly. Skeptics claim beating San Francisco and Colorado at home is not overly impressive; nevertheless, shutting them out four times in six encounters is an attention grabber. The offense has been tastier than a Nathan’s all-beef, scoring 6.2 runs per game in July. The schedule does not feature any long or short home or road trips and the furthest destination will be one time zone away at Houston. If the starting pitchers can deliver 6+ innings regularly, the warts the bullpen has can be masked pretty well. If the bats continue to grind, the Mets should win the East and 7-2 wager to return to Series is possible.
Just when it looks like it is time to right off Florida, they have resurgence. At 50-45, nobody takes them serious as real contenders (5-1 to win NL East), especially being -28 run differential. The Marlins give up too many runs (14th), allow too many free passes (14th), leaving the offense to pick up the slack. Somehow, someway, Florida scores in bunches and is 3rd in runs scored. Though they create natural wind flow leading the league in K’s, the Marlins find ways to manufacture wins. For exactly one month, Florida plays NL contenders, with possible exception of Colorado. Remember August 18 standings for Florida, it will tell the tale.
Arizona is a squad in real need of veteran leadership. This division is pathetic and they have found a way to bring others back into contention. Bullpen leaks oil, mostly on the road, the starting pitching could be great if Micah Owings and Randy Johnson find a groove. The hitters are too stubborn for their own good, whiffing 3rd most in the league. The D-Backs are 27-19 in downtown Phoenix and could use fast start, facing the Dodgers and Cubs at home. If successful, this creates immediate space in the standings. Build a small lead, hang on and wait until August 19, when the only trip is to sordid San Diego over next 15 ball games.
Like Arizona, the Los Angeles Dodgers are 1-1 odds to win NL West. Playing in Dodger Stadium helps L.A. surrender the fewest runs among the sixteen teams and strongly contributes to them being 13th in runs scored. The bullpen is second in the league in ERA, which means if this team is going to win division; the bats will have to come alive. With virtually no power (15th in home runs), how the Dodgers start magically scoring more runs is food for thought. A 3-3 road trip to commence second half is good beginning, with 20 of next 26 at home. If possible, Joe Torre’s club will want to have a lead in the division by September 8, when only six games will remain to be played at Dodger Stadium.
Because the NL West is so sad, San Francisco and Colorado have to be mentioned and now they have been.
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