Playoff-picture preview: Phillies, Braves have all but locked up the National League
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It’s difficult to think of anything in this world that’s more arbitrary than preseason baseball predictions.
Of course, it’s always fun to forecast the future. Plus, without predictions there would be no compelling underdog stories. However, with considerations for the sheer longevity of the sport’s regular-season schedule alone, predicting anything postseason-related in Major League Baseball is relatively pointless prior to, we’ll say, mid-to-late August.
By then – or should I say now – the trade deadline has passed, typically inconsistent players on a year-to-year basis have given fans an idea of what they can expect the rest of the way and just a handful of teams remain within reach of playoff contention. While roster sizes have yet to be expanded for the playoffs, the majority of September call-ups are merely role players used to fill out the depth chart and rarely affect the overall complexion of their respective clubs.
That being said, the National League playoff picture is beginning to take shape earlier than most anticipated.
In the Central – once thought by many to be one of baseball’s most balanced and heated divisional races – the Milwaukee Brewers have surged ahead of the fading St. Louis Cardinals by 10 games thanks to a sizzling month of August. For only the second time in the last 28 seasons, and the first since 2008, there will likely be playoff baseball in Wisconsin.
The Philadelphia Phillies’ lead in the East has shrunk as of late, and Atlanta is making a run at making a late run. The acquisition of Michael Bourn at the deadline — in addition to the reemergence of Dan Uggla and one of the league’s most dominating bullpens – has Atlanta looking like an extremely tough out come playoff time. Whether or not the team will have enough to erase the Philadelphia’s comfortable 6 ½-game cushion within its division, however, is still up for debate.
At this point, only the National League West truly remains up for grabs, with both the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks in position to potentially punch a ticket to the postseason.
Yet, despite a total of just five teams considered realistic contenders at this point, there are still a few questions that surround the National League playoff picture.
Will the Phillies coast their way into home-field advantage throughout the entirety of the playoffs or will the Brewers ride their recent hot streak into an improbable top seed? Can the Giants earn the chance to defend their 2010 World Series championship? Or, do the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks have enough left in the tank to squeak into October baseball by capturing the franchise’s fifth NL-West crown in only its 13th year of existence?
After a relatively comprehensive look at each team’s remaining schedules, as well as a few other considerations, the questions above become clearer.
Let’s start with the Milwaukee Brewers, the inevitable NL Central champions.
The only question on fans’ minds at this point is whether or not their team can challenge Philadelphia for the league’s top overall seed and, more importantly, full home-field advantage come October.
Overall, the Brewers have one of the friendliest final schedules of any team in baseball. Milwaukee has 10 total series left on the slate, nine of those 10 come against non-playoff teams and only three feature opponents with a win percentage above .500. The Brewers’ 49-23 record against their remaining opponents is also encouraging for fans. Not to mention – aside from Cincinnati, who they are 5-8 against – Milwaukee holds a winning record versus all who make up their final schedule. Even the four-game series against mighty Philadelphia (Sept. 8-11) is fortunate enough to be played at Miller Park where the Brewers are 47-16, good enough for baseball’s best home mark.
Next, we quickly shift to the NL East.
The Phillies have 6 ½ games between themselves and Atlanta as August comes to a close. Philadelphia, at least from a schedule standpoint, has the toughest task on paper. For instance, Philadelphia plays more games on the road and against playoff teams than any of the other four contenders.
Similarly to Philly, the Braves will play the majority of their remaining 33 games on the road. However, Atlanta has just a 32-28 record versus all remaining opponents. The pair of three-game sets against the Phillies (including the season finale) should at least give the Braves an idea of exactly where they stand when the dust of 162 games is settled.
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