Sunday, June 30, 2013

Midseason Report: The National League

     This year has made for some intriguing baseball. There have been plenty of fun storylines to go around in baseball and this year plans on being one of the best seasons in history. We've already reached the midway point of the 2013 season, so it's time to take a look at how each team has done so far and what's to come. Let's start off with the National League.

NL East: Dubbed as being one of the weakest divisions in baseball during the season, the NL East has been a one-team show consisting of just the Atlanta Braves. Pitching is also the name of the game in this division. At the current rate, it seems to likely stay that way even if Bryce Harper returns for the Nationals.
  1. Atlanta Braves: The Braves started off the season 12-1 thanks to Justin Upton. They've maintained their stranglehold on the NL East thanks to their bullpen, which has the best ERA in the MLB at 2.70, and their rotation, which has the 4th-best ERA in baseball at 3.42. Fun fact for you: no Braves pitcher has thrown a complete game this year. Anyways, this division is Atlanta's to lose if their pitching holds up. Also, good news for Braves fans: "El Oso Blanco" Evan Gattis is eligible to return to the lineup on July 3rd. Must Fix: The Bravos' lineup must cut back on the strikeouts. Only Houston (749 SO to Atlanta's 716) has whiffed more at the plate than the Braves. The Upton brothers have combined for a whopping 177 SO this season.
  2. Washington Nationals: The Nats mainly have Jordan Zimmermann (11-3, 2.28 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) to thank for keeping them above .500 at this point and their playoff hopes aren't looking all that bright. The club is 29th in runs scored with 282 runs this year. Even when Bryce Harper returns, he can't be the only bat carrying the lineup. Must Fix: The Nats have Jayson Werth back and are getting Harper back very soon, so their lineup needs to start producing. Otherwise, Washington's playoff hopes will hit a wall.
  3. Philadelphia Phillies: Left fielder Domonic Brown (.866 OPS, 21 HR, 57 RBI) has been a pleasant surprise for the Phils this year and second baseman Chase Utley (.284, 11 HR, 30 RBI) has bounced back. In the rotation, ace Cliff Lee (9-2, 2.59 ERA, 115 SO, 0.97 WHIP) has been solid along with Kyle Kendrick (7-4, 3.46 ERA). If Cole Hamels (2-11, 4.58 ERA) can turn it around, then this club could make some noise. Must Fix: Philly's bullpen ranks 29th in ERA at 4.56 and is 28th in opponent's BA at .268. Jonathan Papelbon (15 saves, 2.05 ERA, 27 SO in 30.2 IP, 0.88 WHIP) has been as good as advertised, but the set-up men have been lackluster. If the Phillies are in contention by late July, they should look into trading for some arms in the bullpen, namely White Sox RP Jesse Crain (0.74 ERA, 19 holds, 46 SO in 36.2 IP).
  4. New York Mets: Behind the stellar young arm of Matt Harvey (7-1, 2.00 ERA, 132 SO, 0.85 WHIP), the Mets have become very optimistic about their future. On the hitting side, Third baseman David Wright (.304, 12 HR, 41 RBI, 14 SB) has been stellar. Must Fix: New York needs to not only build a rotation around Harvey, but build a lineup around Wright. The Mets are dead last in team BA at .230 and 28th in OBP at .296. The Mets also need to get their bullpen fixed.
  5. Miami Marlins: One positive note for the Fins is that they're 7-3 in their last ten games. Jose Fernandez (4-4, 2.98 ERA, 84 SO) has been a nice surprise for Miami with his slider and Jacob Turner (1.76 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 27 SO) has looked solid in his six starts this season. But knowing how this franchise is run, these players will be on the trading block in the future. Must Fix: Everything else. Oh, and Giancarlo Stanton turning it around helps as well.
NL Central: What appeared to be a two-team race between St. Louis and Cincinnati before the season began has turned out to be one of the toughest divisions in baseball. The best record in baseball at 50-34 belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates (!!!!), while the Reds and Cardinals have not disappointed. With the way that the other two divisions in the NL are playing right now, the NL Central could very well take both wild card spots in the National League.
  1. Pittsburgh Pirates: Ladies and gentlemen, the team with the best record in baseball right now. No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. The Pittsburgh Pirates are number one in the MLB right now. Their rotation has thrown twelve shutouts this year while holding opponents to a .232 BA, tops in baseball. They also currently have one of the better closers in the game in Jason Grilli (27 saves, 1.72 ERA, 59 SO in 36.2 IP, 0.85 WHIP) right now. They also have base-stealing threats in Andrew McCutchen (16 SB) and Starling Marte (22 SB). Must Fix: While the Pirates do have a couple of bag swipers, their offensive production is their weak spot. The Bucs are 5th in the MLB in strikeouts at 674 and McCutchen (.293, 9 HR, 41 RBI) and Marte (.287, 26 RBI) are the only bats in the lineup that are batting above .280. This could be a problem for Pittsburgh if their pitching collapses in the second half.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cards boast the best rotation in the majors with the likes of Adam Wainwright (11-5, 2.22 ERA, 114 SO, 0.99 WHIP), Shelby Miller (8-6, 2.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 101 SO), and Lance Lynn (10-2, 3.52 ERA, 98 SO, 1.16 WHIP). The St. Louis lineup has been just as impressive; the Cardinals have four players (Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, and Matt Carpenter) hitting above .300 right now. They're even outstanding fielders, committing only 31 errors this season. Must Fix: There really isn't much to fix for St. Louis aside from some bullpen help.
  3. Cincinnati Reds: Hitting for a good average doesn't really matter to a good majority of this lineup. First baseman Joey Votto (.326, 14 HR, 38 RBI) is the only Red hitting above .300, yet second baseman Brandon Phillips (.268, 11 HR, 61 RBI), right fielder Jay Bruce (.278, 18 HR, 56 RBI), and center fielder Shin-Soo Choo (.268, 12 HR, 28 RBI, .418 OBP) have all been productive for the Reds' lineup. Keep in mind that the Reds are tied for 3rd in the majors in BB with 291 walks. Cincinnati also has the 3rd-best ERA for starting pitching in the majors at 3.34 while having 506 IP. That's all thanks to the one-two punch of Mat Latos (7-2, 3.03 ERA, 103 SO) and Mike Leake (7-3, 2.52 ERA). Must Fix: The Reds are batting .199 from the catcher position this year with only 5 HR and 29 RBI. There aren't many catchers on the trade market, but the best fit would have to be Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy (.268, 8 HR, 42 RBI). 
  4. Milwaukee Brewers: Losing Ryan Braun to a thumb injury hurts and it's shown in the last four to five games for the Brew Crew. They're 8th in baseball in batting average at .260, yet they're 21st in runs scored with 316 runs. Braun's presence in the lineup is greatly missed. Must Fix: Again, this lineup isn't the same without Braun in it, especially with runners in scoring position and two outs. The Brewers have only scored 76 runs in this situation, ahead of just Seattle (66 runs).
  5. Chicago Cubs: Things are looking up for Cubs fans as their pitching not only has the eighth-best WHIP in baseball (1.24), but also the fifth-best opponent's BA (.243). Travis Wood (2.85 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), Jeff Samardzija (3.34 ERA, 123 SO), and Scott Feldman (7-6, 3.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) have all made Theo Epstein look like the genius that he is. Must Fix: They've already fixed their Carlos Marmol problem, who has accounted for three of the Cubs' 16 blown saves this season. Just save the lead when it matters the most.
NL West: This division has been the most topsy-turvy division in baseball this season. San Francisco and Los Angeles have fallen to the bottom of the division while Colorado and San Diego are in 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Somebody's going to win this division, but it looks like a down year for the NL West.
  1. Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-Backs are in first place thanks to the likes of Paul Goldschmidt. The first baseman is having an MVP-caliber season batting .306 while hitting 19 home runs and 67 RBIs. What's more impressive is that the team has gone 85 games without being shutout. Arizona's also a great fielding team, having only committed 36 errors on the season with a .988 fielding percentage. Must Fix: Arizona's 4.17 starter ERA is actually very deceiving. Patrick Corbin (9-0, 2.22 ERA, 85 SO, 1.00 WHIP) has been the Diamondbacks' best starter hands down. Philadelphia's Cliff Lee might be a bit of a reach, but Houston's Bud Norris (3.35 ERA, 71 SO) is a good option as is Milwaukee's Kyle Lohse.
  2. San Diego Padres: Shortstop Everth Cabrera (.305, 31 SB, .382 OBP) has been a great catalyst for this surprising ballclub. He has a good chance of making it to Citi Field for the All-Star Game in a few weeks. The Padres (69 SB) have the most stolen bases in baseball as a result of Cabrera. Their bullpen also has some great arms with the likes of Luke Gregorson (2.60 ERA, 12 holds, 1.01 WHIP) and Dale Thayer (3.44 ERA, 14 holds, 0.98 WHIP). Must Fix: This is a young ballclub that just needs time to develop. They won't make the postseason this year, but they'll be a contender in a few years. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball right now, so they have a bright future ahead of them.
  3. Colorado Rockies: Colorado has also been a pleasant surprise thanks to the likes of left fielder Carlos Gonzalez (.296, 22 HR, 60 RBI, 15 SB) and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.347, 16 HR, 51 RBI, .413 OBP). Right fielder Michael Cuddyer also has a 27-game hitting streak for the 6th-best offense in baseball. As a matter of fact, this team's fifth in the majors in stolen bases with 62. Must Fix: They need Tulowitzki to come back from his rib injury and return to the same form that he's had for much of the season. They could sneak into the playoffs as long as Tulowitzki continues to produce for the Rockies.
  4. San Francisco Giants: The defending champs have underwhelmed this season, sitting three games under .500 and going 2-8 in their last ten games. Catcher and reigning MVP Buster Posey (.322, 12 HR, 48 RBI) has been good as advertised, but the rotation hasn't. Madison Bumgarner (8-5, 3.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 107 SO) has been the best pitcher on this staff this year, but Matt Cain (5-4, 4.29 ERA, 101 SO, 1.07 WHIP) is starting to come around. Must Fix: This team won the 2012 World Series on the backs of Cain, Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 7.19 ERA, 40 SO in 2013), and Barry Zito (4-6, 4.53 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 59 SO this year). What's more is that former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.18 ERA, -2.0 WAR last year) had a terrible season in 2012 and this year is no different. Lincecum's 4-8 with a 4.64 ERA and a WAR of -1.0. Vogelsong's been out with an injured pinky and Zito and Cain have underperformed. In short, the staff must find their groove.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig (.436, 7 HR, 16 RBI, .467 OBP in 101 AB) is this year's Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw (2.08 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 118 SO) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (6-3, 2.83 ERA, 87 SO) have been one of the best one-two combos in baseball. So why are the Dodgers in last place? They've been hampered by injuries to the likes of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Ted Lilly. They've also been unable to score runs, for they're 28th in the MLB in runs scored with 288. Must Fix: Los Angeles needs to avoid any more injuries and they need to get healthy as soon as possible. Considering that the rest of the NL West is down, the Dodgers just might be within shouting distance of 1st place by the All-Star Break..
Revised Predictions

  • NL East Champ: Atlanta Braves. Unless Washington (Or Philly) finds some offense and catch fire or the Braves collapse, then this division is Atlanta's to lose.
  • NL Central Champ: St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps the most complete team in the National League.
  • NL West Champ: Los Angeles Dodgers. Many ifs, however. If Puig keeps tearing up the league, if Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier return to his All-Star forms, and if Hanley Ramirez continues his offensive production (to name a few), then the Dodgers will make a run. This division is currently up for grabs, so it could also be Arizona, San Francisco, or even Colorado.
  • NL Wild Cards: Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds are balanced and the Pirates are here to stay thanks to their pitching.

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