NL Wild Card Race Predictions
If there is one thing we have learned throughout the first half of this 2018 MLB season, it is that the American League is much more powerful than its National League rival with the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Red Sox holding some of the league's best records and New York having the best record at 52-25. But as we move into the season's halfway point and the All-Star Break in Washington, the National League, despite none of the division leaders reaching the 50 win mark yet have some unnoticed company as there are six teams in the NL who are two games behind or less for the top two Wild Card spots.
This race alone will make it much harder for teams to get into October, which gives us fans an exciting three months of baseball to see how the Postseason will unfold in the NL. And so, this gives me the opportunity to make my predictions on how this NL Wild Card race will affect the rest of the National League. And as a bonus, I will even predict early Postseason matchups in the National League.
NL East: Land of the East, and the home of the Braves:
The NL East this year has been wild with more division lead changes than the total months in the entire season of baseball. For the majority of March and April, it was the Mets who seemed to be a legitimate contender for their second pennant in four years. But all that changed in May and June as the Braves and Phillies were in a showdown to see who really was top dog of the East, (Spoiler alert, Atlanta murdered Philadelphia).
As of now, if the season ended today, Atlanta would win the division by 3.5 games and would face the Diamondbacks in the NLDS at home. This season, the Braves have a 27-14 record in divisional play thanks to an All-Star caliber squad in former Hillsboro Hop Dansby Swanson, and an elite outfield in Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, and Danny Santana. And with the way the Braves are playing right now, I don't see them slowing down any time soon after the break, nor do I see Washington or Philadelphia keep pace in this Wild Card Race given the sudden resurgence of the Los Angeles Dodgers with the return of Clayton Kershaw. More on that later.
NL Central: Welcome back Milwaukee and Chicago!:
As mentioned in my last blog I talked about how over this last season, the Milwaukee Brewers couldn't get over the hump known as their division rival Chicago Cubs. At the time, Milwaukee was a half game ahead of Chicago in the NL Central and that they were hanging by a fingernail. Since then however, both teams overcame slumps as Chicago was swept by the Reds in Cincinatti on a four game road series, but earned redemption after winning the second game of a four game series against the Dodgers. The good news for Milwaukee was that gave them a cushion on their division lead which is currently at 2.5 games.
With the halfway point on the rise ad the Brew Crew on the verge of capturing their 50th win before the All-Star Break, this division race between the Cubs and Brewers is far from over with two more series to go for the season. I'm going to go ahead and give the division to Milwaukee only because of their new depth thanks to additions of Lorenzo Cain and Johulys Chacin to upgrade their already potent bullpen which is on of the best in baseball.
I will however give the home Wild Card spot to the Cubs as this would be an extra step and a tough one at that for the Cubs as they would likely have to face Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Winner of that game goes to Milwaukee for the NLDS if their NL best record of 46-32 and counting holds up at the end of the season as they would have a possibility of locking up the #1 seed. And just for the hell of it, I'll take Chicago in the one game playoff at Wrigley field for them to face the Brewers in Milwaukee for the right to play for the pennant. St Louis does look like a frontrunner for the Wild Card with Matt Carpenter and Gyorko at the helm, but as long as the Dodgers keep pace in divisional play and the Wild Card race, it'll be too much for the Cardinals to handle as they could slip late in the season. Speaking of the Dodgers.
NL West: Adversity pulls the Dodgers through:
My God dos this team have adversity written all over its face! One minute you're the NL Champions, next minute you lose Corey Seager to Tommy John surgery and your ace in Clayton Kershaw to multiple injuries and the last thing you want is to be last place in the NL West as all hell is about to break loose! This describes the Los Angeles Dodgers' season so far in a nutshell. Through all of the obstacles however, they have been able to overcome this tremendous amount of adversity and it has shown late in the first half of this season as the Dodgers are 2.5 games behind the Diamondbacks for the NL West crown and tied for the second spot for the NL Wild Card. If Dave Roberts and Co. puts their mindset right, I would not be surprised if the Dodgers end up NL West champions, especially given the fact that they have done so well as of late and have had the best record in baseball in May and June combined with 30-20.
If the season were to end today, it would be the Cubs and Cardinals fighting for a spot in the NLDS against Milwaukee in the Wild Card Game, but I can totally see the dodgers sneaking in to the second Wild Card spot. Unfortunately though, as I've said despite the tremendous triumph through adversity and injuries, I see it not being enough for the Dodgers beating the Cubs in Wrigley Field, meaning that it would be an NL Central battle between the Cubs and Brewers in the division series to find out who moves on for a chance to play for the pennant. And besides, the Diamondbacks have a winning record against L.A. which might weaken the Dodgers' confidence if they find to be in the Postseason if division play continues on a downslide.
Of course in the American League we're bound to see the Astros or Yankees (or Red Sox) win the AL pennant come October. This in turn gives the National League some motivation to keep pace with the American League in terms of the number of teams fighting for a Postseason spot. This is another reason why so many different teams in the Postseason come out of the NL every year despite the fact that the AL is very cookie cutter on how their teams perform because of weak divisions not named the AL East that always have an outright winner who is bound to win 95+ games over the course of the season.
This is also why the National League Wild Card race will rev up fans for the Postseason even more because of new division leaders (Atlanta, Milwaukee, Arizona) and some old favorites who despite their lack of consistency in terms of pennants, are still fun to watch because of the many key matchups like Anthony Rizzo and Clayton Kershaw. This NL Wild Card race will be the key event of the season that could change everything for teams who have overcome so many difficulties to get to where they are and for teams who have sat pretty for most of the season only to come up short.
Not only will the NL Wild Card race determine who deserves a spot in the Postseason, but it may also determine who comes up short in heartbreaking defeat and who does whatever it takes to not only come out on top in the National League but also the baseball world. For those NL teams sitting pretty in their divisions and hitting their stride going into the All-Star Break, it should be a comfortable road to the Postseason.
For those in the Wild Card race fighting for a spot in October, hang on to your hats. Because after Washington, no one is safe.