Yesterday I broke down where the AL division races stacked up at the break, today we’re looking at the NL (especially the wild NL Central)
Pre-Season Favorite – Philadelphia Phillies
Current Leader – Atlanta Braves (54-37)
I’ll be upfront here and mention that I’d picked the Nats to win the division based on their stellar pitching staff & an offense led by Anthony Rendon & Juan Soto.
To my credit, the Nats are only 6 games back (as are the pre-season champ Phillies, albeit who seem to have many more second half question marks), but they’ll have a hell of a time trying to chase down the Braves.
Ronald Acuna is officially a superstar, Freddie Freeman is still a superstar, and Mike Soroka (when healthy) looks like a superstar. This team is loaded with young talent, as well as solid vets (solid bounceback so far for Josh Donaldson, and Keuchel has looked reliable early), and most importantly, has the trade chips to acquire anyone they want at the deadline.
In the NL East I’m not sure one of the teams tied for 2nd can simply outplay the Braves down the stretch; it’ll likely take stellar play combined with an Atlanta collapse, as this team seemingly has too much depth to be chased down.
Pre-Season Favorite – St. Louis Cardinals
Current Leader – Chicago Cubs (47-43)
From a division race perspective, the NL Central is baseball’s most exciting division by far. Only 4.5 games separates the first place Cubs with the last place Reds.
The Cubs have been buoyed by their young stars; even Atlanta can’t match the Cubs’ war chest of young talent. If one was to do a draft of MLB players you’d start a franchise with, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, and Wilson Contreras might all go in the top twenty picks (not to mention elder statesman Anthony Rizzo, age 29).
The only red flag really hurting Chicago (aside from the absolute disgrace that they continue to employ Addison Russell, who’s a Grade A scumbag) is an aging & nicked up pitching staff. Hamels, Lester, Quintana, and Darvish are all on the wrong side of 30, and Hendricks & Hamels have already spent time on the DL (plus Darvish has been plain bad). They’ll likely look to make a move at the deadline.
So who might chase them down? It’s gotta be Milwaukee& MVP candidate Christian Yelich. While the Brewers inexplicably kept Keston Huira down in AAA San Antonio for way too long, they’re now at full strength and ready to make a run, which could also be boosted by acquiring starting pitching at the deadline (potentially a Bumgarner deal that turns out like the light version of CC Sabathia’s Brewers tenure).
Pre-Season Favorite – Los Angeles Dodgers
Current Leader – Los Angeles Dodgers (60-32)
The biggest NL West storyline heading into the second half is if the Dodgers & Giants will pull off the trade we all need to happen; Will Smith for Will Smith.
But, in reality the Dodgers should hang onto catching prospect Will Smith, who should supplant Austin Barnes as starter before their October postseason run. They’re 13.5 games up on the second place D-Backs and should win the division by more than that.
The most interesting thing to watch when it comes to the Dodgers is the health of their arms (specifically Kershaw and Ryu) and to see if Bellinger/Ryu can pull off the MVP/Cy Young sweep. Is this the year that Los Angeles finally gets over the hump and wins the World Series? Only time will tell, but they have the NL West wrapped up.
By Kyle Bandujo