With the second half of the MLB season beginning yesterday, it’s full speed ahead for many teams toward the postseason. While in the American League there is a clear postseason picture at the moment, the National League is up in the air and could be for a while.
The NL East and West are only separated by 0.5 games between their first place and second place teams, the NL Central is separated by 2.5 games, and the NL Wild Card race has many teams creeping up for the two spots.
The trade deadline will, and has already begun to, provide certainty for some teams in the NL. Regardless of that, it’ll be an interesting push for all teams involved.
With that being said, here are my predictions for the second half of the season in the National League and what the playoff picture will look like.
2018 NL Wild Card Game: Arizona Diamondbacks (WC #2) @ Milwaukee Brewers (WC #1)
This race could be the toughest to decide in the entire league. The NL Wild Card race is currently being decided by seven teams that are only out of the first spot by five games or less.
In the end, it will be the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers that prevail and advance to the winner-take-all matchup at Miller Park on October 3.
Beginning with the D-Backs, they have been a story in themselves all year long. The D-Backs (along with the Colorado Rockies) took over the NL West early in the year when the Los Angeles Dodgers started off slow, and since then they have been in the mix for the division, despite struggling at the plate and dealing with injuries.
With the Dodgers now shaped up and considering their most recent trade, I think it’s too much for the Diamondbacks to win the NL West, but with some expected improvement, it should be enough for a playoff berth.
Now, the current product on the team has been able to keep the D-Backs in contention, which you should be happy with as a D-Backs fan. From David Peralta and Paul Goldschmidt leading the way on offense, to Zack Greinke pitching his way to 10 wins before the All-Star Break, the team has been able to stay afloat in the playoff hunt.
While the pitching has held the fort down, the offense still ranks as one of the worst in baseball, and that needs to be addressed come the deadline.
Whether you bring in a Brian Dozier and move Ketel Marte to shortstop, John Ryan Murphy, or an Eduardo Escobar, they need to make it a priority to get a bat in the lineup and help spark this offense.
We saw this type of season from the Milwaukee Brewers last year. They had the Chicago Cubs right where they wanted them, and come the second half the team couldn’t handle the pressure and gave the Cubs the division.
I expect more of the same this year (we’re already seeing it), but with a weaker NL West and East and the fact that the Brewers are having a great year, they should be able to learn from last year and host the NL Wild Card game. This Brewers team, while they have had a decent season at the plate from players like Jesús Aguilar, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, and many others, the team strikes out a lot and they have defensive issues in the field.
With Manny Machado now out West, the rumors are the Brewers will now target Minnesota Twins’ Brian Dozier, which would provide some well-needed defense and offensive power in the middle of the infield.
Dozier’s batting average may be lower than usual at .231, but he heated up in a big way before the All-Star Break batting .321 in his last seven games and helping the Twins go into the break winners of seven of their last 10.
The Brewers also need to target a new arm in their rotation. Whether you look at someone like a Chris Archer, Michael Fulmer, J.A. Happ, or others, the Brewers should focus on getting another reliable arm in the rotation to help secure a Wild Card berth.
In the end, the Diamondbacks and Brewers will have enough to survive the rest of the NL and clash in Milwaukee in the 2018 NL Wild Card Game.
NL EAST CHAMPIONS: PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
The NL East is currently one of the closest races in the league today.
Quite simply, this will be another year for the East where you either win the division or you miss the playoffs.
From what we have seen so far, I think the Philadelphia Phillies have the extra advantage and will win this division. I have been very high on the Phillies this season, and they have actually exceeded expectations.
Their starting pitching has been very decent from Aaron Nola, to Jake Arrieta, to Zach Eflin. It’s no question that the starting pitching has helped keep the team near the top of the NL East.
The Phillies do however need some backup in their bullpen, which is rumored to be one of their top priorities come the deadline. Whether that be making a run toward Zach Britton, Kirby Yates, or Raisel Iglesias, just to name a few, the Phillies need to upgrade their bullpen.
The Phillies will go nowhere if they don’t get a bat in the lineup. Besides a few set pieces, the Phillies offense ranks as one of the worst in the NL.
Despite losing out on Machado, the team needs to make a push for one offensive weapon that can help the club. Whether the team goes for a productive hitter (and better defender) in Jose Iglesias, Scooter Gennett which would move Cesar Hernandez to shortstop and provide you with one of the best-hitting second baseman in baseball, or somehow pull off a trade for Mike Moustakas, the Phillies need to make a push to land a big bat.
The team has struggled mightily on offense this year, and they are still in first at the break. That says something. I believe with the right offensive power and help in the bullpen, it will be enough for the Phillies to win this NL East.
NL CENTRAL CHAMPIONS: CHICAGO CUBS
The Chicago Cubs had a phenomenal end to their first half. Posting a 25-15 record since June 1 and winning seven of their last 10, the Cubs are now back on pace to win the NL Central.
This is a Cubs team which, like always, has its biggest production on offense as they are top five in offensive categories such as RBIs, runs, hits, and walks. Whether that be from Javier Báez who is having one of the best years of his career, Jason Heyward who went into the break red hot, or Wilson Contreras who has been productive in his last 15 games.
Other players like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, and Kyle Schwarber didn’t have the greatest first half, but with the expectations they will come back strong in the second half, the Cubs don’t have much to address on offense.
It’s the pitching that is the biggest concern come the deadline.
Looking at the Cubs’ starting rotation, Yu Darvish has ongoing health concerns, Tyler Chatwood has had an awful season, as well as José Quintana and Kyle Hendricks struggling to keep runs off the board, getting a reliable arm behind Jon Lester is a must.
Cole Hamels provides the Cubs run prevention and his strikeout numbers have improved in 2018, J.A. Happ is having a productive year that can provide the Cubs a spark, or maybe even a former Cubs prospect in Chris Archer who has potential if given a new surrounding.
Overall, the Cubs have proven, last year and will again this year, they are a second-half team. The Cubs are winning the NL Central.
NL WEST CHAMPIONS: LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Any hope for the Arizona Diamondbacks and/or Colorado Rockies to come back and win the division is now gone. It’s a no brainer, the Los Angeles Dodgers are winning the NL West.
The Dodgers hit the jackpot yesterday in trading for Shortstop Manny Machado. This now gives the Dodgers a reliable shortstop with Corey Seager out for the season. Machado also provides a hot bat in the middle of the Dodgers lineup, and when you put that around players like Matt Kemp, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger, this offense will be a big threat to all comers in the weeks to come.
Now that the Dodgers took care of their biggest need, we see how good this team really is.
Their pitching has been their biggest strength this year.
Ross Stripling is off to one of the best starts of his career. Clayton Kershaw has pitched well recently. Kenta Maeda is leading the team in strikeouts. And on top of that, the team itself has one of the lowest ERAs in the league. They’re in the top three in earned runs allowed, top 10 in hits allowed, and top five in walks allowed.
Going into the All-Star Break, there was no clear cut favorite in the entire National League, let alone each division. Overnight, that NL Favorite became the LA Dodgers.
With a pitching rotation that continues to get better, to a newly stacked offensive powerhouse, the main question now becomes, who is going to stop the LA Dodgers?
Do you agree with my predictions on the National League Wild Card and Division winners? Follow me on Twitter @SMMcChesney to discuss your thoughts as well as see all my MLB discussion during the 2018 season.