The National League
The roller-coaster ride that is the National League in Major League Baseball is far more compelling than the AL as we enter the last 10 games or so as 6 teams are legitimately fighting for 4 playoff spots (and I'm excluding the Cardinals who are on life support). The NL West keys that finish with three teams, the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, and San Francisco Giants fighting for the division. The Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies appear to be the only teams that can comfortably expect a playoff spot at season's end. As the Phillies are 4 up in the division and 6 up if you consider the Wild Card. 6 wins in the last 11 games all but clinches a playoff spot for Philly who has been on a tear lately. The Atlanta Braves, the 6th team currently possess the NL Wild Card league. There's no guarantee who will be the two playoff teams to join the Phillies and Reds, but one things for sure, your guess is as good as mine.
Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - You know the Halloween movies by John Carpenter where Michael Myers seems to die in every imaginable way, yet come October 31st he's back to cause havoc in Illinois? Well thats the Rockies in the last two months of the baseball season these past few years. The Rockies are sprear-headed offensively by two of the hottest bats in baseball, the man known as CarGo, Carlos Gonzalez, and young SS phenom Troy Tulowitzki. 2nd in the NL in batting average, the Rockies possess one of the strongest lineups in the National League, though the confines of Coors Field can certainly be attributed to some of their success. Up top they have one of the most dominant number 1 starters in all of baseball in Ubaldo Jimenez. They also possess a winning record against 4 of the other 5 potential playoff teams in the NL so matchups seem to favor them in many cases. They are an exceptional team at home with a 51-24 record. Winning in Coors Field will be no easy task for playoff opponents if Colorado gets in. Add in their scortching hot run per usual in the past few weeks to get back into contention and there's not many teams that would be comfortable playing them in Rocktober.
Why They Ultimately Wont Win the NL Pennant - The Rockies have a number of flaws that have to make you question their ability to win the NL pennant. To start, after Jimenez, their rotation is far from reliable. Jason Hammel is 2nd on the team with 10 wins, he also has 8 losses. Against a pitching staff like San Fran, Philly, or even lesser ones like SD or ATL, will they get enough out of their 2-4 starters? Houston Street at the back end of games is shaky at best. The Rockies rank 19th in the majors in saves. They are a HORRID road team. 31-43 on the season and given they will likely finish with a worse record than Philly and possibly Cincy, its unlikely they have home field in any playoff series during the NL playoffs. Like the Yankees in the AL, they are very mediocre in one-run games, 27-26 overall. Add in the fact that the one NL team they don't have a winning record against: the Phillies (1-6 this year) are the two-time defending NL champs, including a quick exit vs. the Phils last year and its hard to pick a team who doesn't match up well against the league's best. Add in they strike out more than every playoff team except TB and 4 of the other 5 potential NL playoff teams rank in the Top 10 in the league in strikeouts and the Rockies may find themselves praying Tulo and Cargo can hold a lot of weight on their backs.
Chances to Make NL Playoffs (on a scale on 1-10) - 5
Chances to Win World Series (scale 1-10) - 2
San Diego Padres
Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - The San Diego Padres are probably the sentimental favorites of many fans around the country who no longer have a horse in a race. A small budget team with few big name stars, most probably can't explain how they are still here in the race come the last week and a half of the season. The Padres chances to win the Pennant rest squarely on the shoulders of their pitching staff. 2nd in the NL in ERA. 2nd in the NL is SO. One of the top closers in the league in Heath Bell. A ballpark not friendly to hitting which could help them against lineups like the Reds, Rockies, and Phils. An underrated factor in their favor is they will essentially have no pressure to win. Philly is expected to win. Atlanta is desperate for Bobby Cox. The Giants hear 1954 constantly. Cincy is viewed as a now or never. San Diego will likely be the underdog in any series they play which can only light a fire under guys. The acquisition of Miguel Tejada to compliment Adrian Gonzalez has been a small spark for the Pads. They are the most lethal base stealing team in the NL with only the Phillies being another potential playoff team in the Top 10. With 4 pitchers with double digit wins, and 3 with 12+ wins (all with 3.70 or lower ERA's), the Pads have the pitching that is essential for October success. They also rank tied for 1st with the Yankees as the best fielding team in baseball. They have been pretty consistent at home or on the road so unlike other teams, they dont seem to base a ton of their success on home field. The Question is....
Why They Ultimately Won't Win the NL Pennant - Do they have the offense? And its hard to not say "No they do not." They rank in the bottom 10th of the league in Average, Home Runs (which their park does hurt), hits, XBH. To be frank, their offense is pretty anemic. If teams merely pitch around Gonzalez (who in his own right has just broken out of a HR slump), can anyone else pick up the slack to get runs across for the Pads? Adrian Gonzalez is the only player on the roster with more than 12 home runs. They simply can't expect to win many games where they don't get great pitching. They have a losing record against 3 of the other 5 potential playoff teams (Phi, Atl, Col) and even against Cincy are only 2-1. They also have been limping to the finish line. Since July 1st they are only 3 games over .500%. Not exactly hitting their stride entering and they've blown a big division lead to the point where now two teams are with them. Also going down to the end of the season, they may have to play to the last day of the season to get a spot, finishing the year with a 3 game series @San Fran, so unlike other teams, they may not even be able to set up their rotation.
Chances of Making NL Playoffs (scale 1-10)- 5
Chances of Winning World Series (scale 1-10)- 1
San Francisco Giants
Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - The San Francisco Giants are an even more extreme version of the Padres. Their pitching is best in the majors in both ERA and SO's. They have one of the deepest rotations of any team in baseball led by the dynamic duo of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. However, they have a veteran in Barry Zito with playoff experience under his belt as well as the young Jonathan Sanchez. Brian Wilson has been great all year for one of the best bullpens in baseball featuring 3 consistent relievers with ERA's under 2.35. Defensively they are very strong, ranking tied for 2nd in Fielding %. They are on of the few teams who can feel confident going into any series that they can match up start for start with any team. At 15 games over .500% at home, they also have a strong home-field advantage. They have heated up in the 2nd half of the year ala Colorado with a 44-29 mark since July. A respectable record in one-run games at 26-23. With a fanbase starving for a World Series, they should be able to get a rowdy towel waving crowd in the seats for their home games. They give up very few HR's which would make sense when you consider their ERA and staff, as well as a favorable home pitching ballpark, but against teams like Philly, Colorado, or Cincy, that could be big. But like San Diego it all leads back to....
Why They Ultimately Won't Win the NL Pennant - The Giants are DREADFUL in the SB department which becomes even more important in the NL where its less about power and more about manufacturing runs. The Giants rank last in all of baseball in SB's, yet they've given up more than any team in the NL. Against lineups like Philadelphia, Colorado, or Cincy, the task is tall enough for the pitchers to be asked to keep the Giants in the game with limited run support, but add in the fact that they simply can't throw runners out and its bordering on unrealistic. Barry Zito in his last 9 starts has something along the lines of an 0-7 record, two of those being 1-0 losses. The Giants can't score runs. Only SD is worse of the potential NL playoff teams. SF comes in at 18th while the 4 teams ahead of them from the playoff contenders are in the Top 9. Bruce Bochy as a manager has only been to the NLCS or further once in his 15 years on the bench and only 4 playoff appearences total, while guys like Cox and Manuel have been to multiple WS and each has a ring to their credit. Managerially, they are one of the least experienced clubs. Their two aces have yet to pitch in a playoff game. 54 of their 84 wins this year have come against NL teams that won't be in the playoffs. Add in their AL schedule and 61 of their wins have come against non-playoff teams from the two leagues. They dominate weak teams and have struggled with good teams, with losing records against ATL, SD, COL, and are only .500% against PHI. Only CIN do they have a winning record against. With two of their final 4 series to end the year against COL and SD, they don't have an easy schedule going forward.
Chances to make NL Playoffs (scale 1-10) - 6
Chances to win World Series- 4
Why They Could Win the NL Pennant - First off the easiest argument is the Bobby Cox factor. On record as saying this will be his last year on the Braves bench, if there's a team who has more motivation to win than the Atlanta Braves I'd love to see it. Bobby Cox IS Atlanta Braves baseball. Chipper Jones, though done likely rides off into the sunset if they win it this year. Now to the on-the-field reasons Atlanta has a shot. As is the common theme with many NL teams, Atlanta is armed with a strong rotation. From Tim Hudson to Derek Lowe to Jair Jurrjens to Tommy Hanson they have a solid 1-4. Billy Wagner at the back end of the bullpen is one of the greatest closers ever. They gave up the 2nd fewest HR's all year in a ballpark that unlike SD or SF isn't overly generous to pitchers. Their bullpen as a whole has been great this year with all 5 of their key relievers possessing ERA's of 3.05 or lower. They possess a winning record of everyone potential NL playoff opponent except Colorado. Offensively they aren't SD or SF-like in that they do have some pop in their lineup. 6 players have double digit HR's and 5 with 15 or more. The acquisition of Derek Lee bolstered the lineup slightly more. They don't hit a ton of Home Runs but they lead the NL in walks so they are one of the best teams in the NL in manufacturing runs, in the top 5 in the majors in sacrifices. If they steal a game on the road, they have the best home record in all of baseball, so they have the ability to end series quick if they can grab a road win.
Why They Ultimately Wont Win the NL Pennant - Despite this team's very good rotation, they don't have a single dominant #1 on their roster. No pitcher they can look to against a Lincecum, Halladay, Jimenez, Latos, etc. In fact its anyone's guess who will start the playoffs for them. Secondly, they are likely going to be the WC if they do get in seeing as they are fading behind Philly. Atlanta has one of the worst road records of any team competing for a playoff spot. They can't afford to drop a home game at all because the likelihood of them winning two road games in a 5 or 7 game series is slim. They are an under .500% team in one-run games and 10 games over .500% in blowout games (5+ runs) so when they win its preferably by a wide margin. When the games are close, they've struggled and that's alarming in playoff baseball where its rare you see a ton of lopsided games. Atlanta IMO is one of the biggest threats to Philadelphia repeating as NL champs, but they will need a few breaks to go their way in order to derail the two-time NL champs.
Chances of Making NL Playoffs (scale 1-10) - 7
Chances of Winning World Series- 6
Why They Could Win The NL Pennant - Contrary to the majority of NL teams, the Reds are built with their electric offense and a pitching staff that tries to hold up. The Reds lead the NL in Average, Home Runs, RBI, tied for most XBH, and despite their potent offense have grounded into fewer double plays than all but 3 playoff teams. 4 guys in their lineup with over 20 HR's and 6 with 16 or more, they have AL power in the National League. Another team who has been almost equally good at home or on the road, their offense negates some of the power advantage teams like Philly or Colorado enjoy at their home fields. If it seems like its all about the Reds offense well....it is. They are incapable of winning the NL pennant without a strong performance from their offense. They do have some veterans who have playoff success including Rolen, Arroyo (at least out of the pen), Orlando Cabrera. The X factor for Cincy going forward could be recent callup Aroldis Chapman. There's no book on the guy yet and with stuff as electric as his, it could have a K-Rod like effect from 2002 on the Reds playoff chances.
Why They Ultimately Won't Win the NL Pennant - The Reds possess the worst pitching staff of probably all the playoff teams. Its that simple. Their #1 starter going into the playoffs will likely be Bronson Arroyo, an MLB journeyman. Johnny Cueto, Aaron Harang, and Mike Leake have been their other main starters this year. Only Cueto has double digit wins after Arroyo, on a team that has 85 win. Their staff is medicore by committee. Colorado is the only team in the NL playoff chase with a higher ERA. Part of that is their stadium though. Their bullpen has one core reliever with an ERA under 3.40 with their closer having an ERA over 4. They can't count on their bullpen to close tight games. They're an even more extreme version of San Francisco in regards to their wins. 10-19 against the other 5 potential playoff teams and a losing record against all. 67 of their 85 wins coming against NL teams who wont be in the playoffs, add the AL teams in and 75 of their 85 wins have come against teams who won't be in the playoffs. Only a .500% team in one-run games. They haven't proven they can beat quality teams all year. I can't see a reason to think they'd start now.
Chances of Winning World Series (scale 1-10) - 2
Philadelphia Phillies -
Why They Will Win the NL Pennant - The most complete team in the NL by far. They have probably the best pitching staff in all of baseball with maybe only TB and SF in the argument. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels anchor a rotation that can match up in any format, best of 5, best of 7, start on short rest, start on regular rest. Add in an explosive offense and they are easily the favorites to win the NL for a 3rd straight year. Their offense isn't as strong as Colorado's or Cincy's this year, but they still have 5 players with 15 or more HR's. They are the best base stealing team in the league at an 83% success rate though SD has stole more total. Only the Rockies draw more walks of NL playoff teams. Add in a pitching rotation that is 7th in the majors in ERA, with the 3 NL playoff teams above them (SD,SF,ATL) not combining the hitting with the pitching that Philly does. They will likely have homefield throughout the entire playoffs with the NL's All-Star game win this year and with a 51-28 home record, that is a tall task for any team to overcome. 12 games over .500% in one-run games, 49-26 since July, they are hitting their stride. Jimmy Rollins is back and healthy after missing time giving them their complete lineup. They have won the past two pennants and one WS so no stage will be too tall for them and they added arguably the best pitcher in baseball though it was at the expense of Cliff Lee. They are 25-15 against the other 5 playoff contending teams. There's so much going in their favor to pick them out of the NL, its hard to see them getting beat.
What Could Stop Them - There's very little to point to in Philly's case against them. Brad Lidge hasn't been dominant since they won their last World Series in 08'. Thats one area where they are vulnerable. Their home field could play just as favorably to some other power teams though it didn't bother them vs. Colorado last year. They have a winning record on the road, but only 6 games over .500%. As you can tell Im reaching here to come up with reasons. How about a little history. The last team to win 3 straight NL pennants was the St. Louis Cardinals between 1942-1944. Maybe history will be on the other teams side to derail Philly this year......not much else is.
Chances to Win World Series (scale 1-10) - 9
* As my scale shows, I anticiapate a Philly, Atlanta, Cincy, and SF playoffs in the NL this year.