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Early predictions for the NL Pennant race

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It’s insane to think about, but the baseball season is already more than a third of the way through. And pretty soon, baseball will be the only one of the four major North American sports still playing their season. We’ve all reveled in Stephen Curry’s uncountable amount of three’s and LeBron’s gallant fight to bring salvation to Cleveland, as well as Sidney Crosby’s return to the summit of hockey, but nothing screams summer like baseball. So while the sport is enjoying the limelight of ESPN’s cameras and midsummer sun, we’ll predict the division winners and wild card teams based on the season thus far. First up is the National League.

NL East Winner: Washington Nationals

Wild Card Teams: New York Mets

All of the pundits were saying this division was the most top-heavy in the game. And while the Phillies and Marlins have tried their darndest to change that fact, there is no denying that the two teams at the top are the class of the division. Daniel Murphy is probably the current favorite for the NL MVP and Steven Strasburg is rewarding the teams’s show of faith in him (he recently signed a 7-year contract extension) by going 10-0. They have the second-best record in the League and they probably have the second-best roster on paper. When, not if, Bryce Harper heats up, this team will run away with the division.

That’s not to say that the Mets are pushovers. Their rotation is still the best in the league (sorry Cubs) even sans Matt Harvey, who’s picked it up in his last few starts. They are a little reliant on La Potencia himself Yoenis Cespedes, although Neil Walker has been a better offseason pickup than expected. They’ll most likely get to the Wild Card Game and most likely win that, because who wants to face Noah Syndergaard in a win or go home scenario? The Phillies were competitive for a bit but overachieved massively, so the only threat to the two top dogs is the Marlins. If Giancarlo Stanton ever picks it up, they might have the best outfield in baseball. Christian Yelich will be the next Marlin superstar that will most likely leave the team, and Jose Fernandez is back among the elite pitchers. The team has no depth though, so my plaudits go out to the Nationals and Mets.

NL Central Winner: Chicago Cubs

Wild Card Team: Pittsburgh Pirates

No team in recent memory has looked as good as the Chicago Cubs have this season. They were on a historic pace that had the same vibe as the 2001 Seattle Mariners, and while they probably won’t make it to win number 116, I think they have a better shot than the M’s to make some noise in the playoffs. Their depth is astounding and word is they might be in for a Yankee reliever, either Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller. Both will cost them, Miller more so, but if they pull the trigger on a frontline relief pitcher, no team will be close to touching them. They have the best manager, one of the best rotations, the most well-rounded lineup, the best stadium and the hungriest fan base. The rest of the season will essentially be exhibition games until the playoffs for them. So, onto the rest of the division, and probably the most controversial prediction in this article.

Why would I go against the hottest team in the league, one who’s been the most successful team in the NL the past decade, for one who didn’t even make the playoffs for more than two decades and one who’s bowed out of the playoffs after one game for the past three years? There are a few reasons. For one, I’d take Gerrit Cole over any of the Cardinals starters and Mark Melancon over any of the Cardinal relievers. I trust Gregory Polanco and Starlin Marte’s hot starts over the starts of Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz. Andrew McCutchen always starts off slow and will eventually get himself back to elite-level production. And I feel like the Cardinals’ hot streak is just the crest on the wave of a season full of cycles, and the Pirate’s miserable weekend was just a trough. I could be miserably wrong and the more reliable Red Birds could run away with the wild card, but it seems like a baseball tradition for the past few years to watch the Pirates carry a city’s worth of hopes into the playoffs only to run into the buzz saw of an opposing team’s ace in the wild card game. Plus, I had to put my neck on the line in at least one of these predictions.

NL West Winner: San Francisco Giants

 

There’s no doubt about it, the Giants are by far the best team in the division. It’s pretty close on paper between them and the Dodgers, but Los Gigantes have more spirit, bite, passion and experience than any of the boys in blue. They always turn up in even years, they have mounds of playoff nous gathered from the past few years and they have a frontline starter in Madison Bumgarner that can rival anyone. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a payroll as large as the GDP of a small European country and still can’t find a way to make it to the World Series. On top of that, they have the best pitcher on a planet. Clayton Kershaw’s WHIP is 0.65. (The next closest is John Lackey’s at 0.93) and the team still can’t manage to make it out of the NLCS. Their inability to retain Zack Greinke was the first harbinger signaling that their window to win a championship is closing soon. And while they’ll probably avoid a fate like the mire that was the late-Frank McCourt era, they’ll soon have to cash in on aging stars like Adrian Gonzalez and wait for the maturation of prospects and youngsters like Julio Urias, Joc Pederson and Corey Seaeger. They still stand the best chance of taking over the Giants, however. The Rockies are hitting like they usually to, which is to say producing a lot of long balls, and pitching like they usually do, which is to say giving up a lot of runs. The Padres are a dumpster fire. Paul Goldschmidt is heating up and Jake Lamb is appearing to be a viable replacement for A.J. Pollock, but even one of the crowned “winners of the offseason” Arizona Diamondbacks look lost. Zack Greinke as pitched a lot better recently, but is he worth the money they’re paying him? And the Shelby Miller trade looks like an unmitigated disaster. All of this considered, they’re a 99 percent chance the Giants run away with the NL West.

It’s not even the Mid-Summer Classic yet, so all of these predictions could easily be foiled come playoff time. But, if we had to go based off of what we’re seeing in the NL today, one of these teams will easily be representing the NL in this year’s World Series.  Let me know your opinions!

Dan Leopold @Leopold_Dan
Dan Leopold
@Leopold_Dan

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