With roughly 40 games remaining for each team in Major League Baseball, races for playoff spots are heating up, which sets up perfectly for a little bit of prediction action. If you missed it, you can catch my American League Predictions here. As easy as the American League was to predict, the National League is just as hard with so many close races. With that in mind, let’s get to the predictions!
NL East Champs: Atlanta Braves
This is such an interesting race between two young teams that are probably a year ahead of where they planned on being. RahimAli Merchant wrote a good piece about the Braves and Ronald Acuna Jr. two days ago (which you can see here), and I agree with him. The thing that puts the Braves over the Phillies here is runs scored. The Braves have scored 60 more runs than the Phillies over the year, and they are close enough with most every other statistic (they are only separated by 0.05 team ERA, for example) that the runs scored differential is enough to put the Braves over the top. They also have MVP candidate and leader in NL WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in Freddie Freeman. That, combined with Ronald Acuna Jr. tearing it up, gives the Braves enough to win the division for the first time since 2013.
NL Central Champs: Chicago Cubs
This one is the easiest to predict. As good as the Brewers and Cardinals have been this year, the Cubs have won the division two years in a row and there’s no reason to think that streak will end. They were the first team in the NL to reach 70 wins and they’ve done it without arguably their best player in Kris Bryant, who hasn’t played in about a month. They’ve had enough experience in the pennant race that the heat of a division race shouldn’t make them sweat.
NL West Champs: Colorado Rockies
You can say this is the homer in me, but just as I mentioned in yesterday’s piece about the Oakland Athletics, these Rockies seem to have that inexplicable magic to them. They have the odds-on favorite to win the NL MVP (according to bovada) in Nolan Arenado, and they have two pitchers (Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland) who are top nine in the National League in FanGraphs WAR. Their weakness is clearly their bullpen, which they spent over $100 million on in the offseason. Wade Davis still leads the NL in saves, and Adam Ottovino only has a 1.70 ERA. If those two can continue to anchor the bullpen, the Rockies will win their first division crown in franchise history.
First Wildcard: Arizona Diamondbacks
After losing the division by one game, the Diamondbacks will host the wildcard game for the second year in a row. Paul Goldschmidt is an absolute monster, their pitching staff is great, and their bullpen ERA is second in the league. The only reason I don’t see them winning the division is because I think they peaked at the beginning of the year, whereas the Rockies have yet to peak. They’ll still make it in though.
Second Wildcard: Milwaukee Brewers
This one was another tough call, but the Brewers have simply been playing so great all year that I can’t see them not making it in. After making moves in the offseason for Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and having Jesús Aguilar play out of his mind, they have the team to punch their ticket to Phoenix for the wildcard playoff game. The only thing that may hold them back is their starting pitching not being stellar. Again, I think they’ve played too great all season to not make it in.
Just Missing Out: Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies
The Dodgers added some major firepower with Brian Dozier and Manny Machado, but this last week has revealed what I believe will be their downfall: their lack of bullpen depth.
The Cardinals have been on a run lately, and I almost put them ahead of the Brewers, but they haven’t shown the consistency of the Brewers, and that’s why they’ll be on the outside looking in.
Usually I’m very confident in my predictions, but you wouldn’t have to twist my arm to take Philadelphia over Atlanta in the east, and the reason is because they have a bona fide ace in Aaron Nola. Nola is third in the NL in ERA and second in WAR among NL pitchers—just barely behind Max Scherzer. They just aren’t as good as the Brewers or Diamondbacks overall, and they will finish one or two games behind Atlanta. They certainly have a bright future though.
There’s your scorching hot take article. I’m excited to see what your thoughts are!