We are in the middle of the All-Star Break right now. I should really be enjoying the festivities. The Home Run Derby is always a good show. The game itself didn’t go as I wanted (Thanks, Wade Davis), but it was still a good display of pitching prowess. Nevertheless, if you know me in any capacity, having positivity and joy in my sporting life is a fleeting feeling. That is why I must look towards the future and an impending meltdown of some sort. Swerve time!!! In an earlier piece, I told you that the AL West race is over. The Astros have that locked up and trying to tell me otherwise is a loser’s game. Now I am doubling down. This one has me feeling a bit more apprehensive. Here goes nothin’: No team currently leading an NL division will lose said lead. Everybody else is playing for second.
This is the one I am the most nervous, yet equally confident about among NL leaders. To say the Dodgers were hot in June and July would be a gross understatement. Since losing three straight to the Nationals and Brewers, two teams we’ll talk about shortly, Los Angeles has gone an absurd 26-4 with none of those defeats coming on consecutive game days. They’ve won pitching ace duels. Slugfests haven’t been an issue either.
While the Dodgers have heated up, the teams pursuing them have cooled down. Colorado and Arizona flew high out of the gates, trading the division lead on numerous occasions. But familiar follies have befallen both clubs. Colorado has revived the career of closer Greg Holland, but getting to him has become an increasingly cumbersome endeavor. The team lost eight straight towards the end of June and haven’t won back to back games in July. They keep hitting, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t keep crooked numbers off the opponent’s half of the scoreboard.
Arizona’s fall is due to the exact opposite. Their mighty offensive attack has gone impotent over the past two or so weeks. Colorado is the only contending team the D’Backs have had any moderate success against recently in an offensive sense, and that was just spelled out before. Arizona will heat up again. The problem is will the deficit be too big by the time they do?
It should go without saying that the Padres and Giants are dead in the water. As a Dodgers fan though, I take great delight in writing that sentence.
No team has surprised more in 2017 than the Milwaukee Brewers. It all began with Eric Thames‘ return from Korea to tear the cover off the ball for the opening two months. While he’s cooled substantially, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, and Orlando Arcia have raked. Jonathan Villar and Ryan Braun will have their streaks as well, but let’s be honest. Milwaukee can only hang on to the NL Central if their pitching continues to defy the odds. They are trotting out a Quad-A staff on a weekly basis, yet came into the All-Star Break winning 8 out of 10. It should be said however that Corey Knebel will at least quadruple his salary at arbitration next year with his work in the ninth.
It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest story in baseball was the Chicago Cubs. Breaking a 100+ year streak of shooting yourself in the foot will do that. The kings of baseball haven’t looked very regal in 2017 though. Kyle Schwarber got demoted and is still under the Mendoza Line. Reigning MVP Kris Bryant is still hitting home runs, but most are with nobody on base. Anthony Rizzo is having similar woes. The staff is worse. Only rotation newbies Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler possess ERAs under 4.00. Jon Lester went into the break giving up TEN in the first inning against Pittsburgh. There could be Wrigley magic right around the corner, I just don’t see it this year.
The same goes for St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Neither team has found any semblance of consistency this season. The All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Cardinals as they finally began to put some power on display. They come out of the break to a ten game road trip though, one of two ten game stretches away from Busch they’ll have in the second half. For a team that struggles in that capacity, it will spell their doom. As for Pittsburgh, their rotation outside of Ivan Nova is a complete shambles. The bullpen is unproven and just as volatile. They are going to need a lot more of those ten run innings to even enter the conversation.
And I save the least taxing write-up for last. How thoughtful of myself to do such a thing for me. The Washington Nationals are the easiest of the lot to pick for an NL division title. The top three of their rotation (Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, & Stephen Strasburg) has arguably been the best in the league. Scherzer is angling himself quite well for a second consecutive NL Cy Young award. The lineup, even without Trea Turner, is the NL’s scariest 1-9. Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman all have OPS’s over .950 coming into the second half.
The Braves are currently in second place. That won’t last. Miami doesn’t have the pitching to compete and the Mets have taken to going “Full Mets” earlier than usual in 2017. Washington will be the first team in the NL to clinch their division, and they may do so as soon as the first week of September.