One month left: What needs to happen (NL edition)

Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg have played primary roles in the Washington Nationals’ dominance in 2012. (Getty Images)

With the month of September and a few days in October left, we finally have a clear picture of which teams should contend for this year’s postseason. Barring any amazing comebacks similar to the 2011 season, there are eight teams in contention for a playoff spot in the American League and seven teams in the National League.

The Diamondbacks are only seven and a half out of a wild card spot, and although I thought they’d make a run in the second half, I just don’t see it happening now.

Similar to what I wrote last week for the American League, let’s take a brief look at the potential playoff contenders in the National League, the rest of their schedules and what needs to happen for them to make the postseason.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals have come out strong in 2012 and currently have a seven and a half game lead over the Braves in the NL East. They are currently the best team in baseball, but that could all change without Stephen Strasburg in the playoffs. The Nationals have 18 games left against losing teams (Cubs two, Marlins three, Brewers four, Mets three and Phillies six). They only play nine more games against teams with records above .500 (Braves three, Dodgers three and Cardinals three). Eighteen more wins would put them at 101 and easily in the playoffs with the best record in baseball. This team is a lock for the postseason.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have been very inconsistent this year. At times they look like a World Series contender, but then the next week they look like they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. As it stands now they hold a two game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the top Wild Card spot and are three and half games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Braves have 20 games left against teams below .500 (Rockies two, Mets six, Brewers three, Marlins six and Phillies three), and a three game series with the Nationals and another one with the Pirates are the only hard games left on their schedule. Baring another collapse, this team should easily take one of the two wild card spots.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds currently hold the largest lead in any division in baseball at eight and a half games over the Cardinals. They only have 12 games left against losing teams (Astros three, Marlins three, Cubs three and Brewers three), while they have six left against the Pirates, three left against the Dodgers and three against the Cardinals. Even if they only win 12 games the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 95 wins and be a lock for the postseason.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Red Birds are looking to make another magical playoff run and have found their way into postseason contention by grabbing the second wild card spot. They’re currently a game and half ahead of the Dodgers and two games behind the Braves. Down the stretch, they have 16 games against losing teams (Mets one, Brewers three, Padres three, Astros six and Cubs three), and they have 10 games against teams with a winning record (Dodgers four, Nationals three and Reds three). This team is good and should be able to hold on to a playoff spot.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have put together a great season and continue to progress, but I think it’s time to start cheering for a winning season rather than the playoffs. They currently sit at 71-64, two and a half games out of a playoff spot. They finish the season with 18 games against teams below .500 (Astros four, Cubs seven, Brewers three and Mets four), which could definitely help push them into the playoffs. They also have six games against the Reds and three against the Braves. They don’t play the Cardinals again, so that hurts their chances of gaining ground in the wild card. Eighteen more wins puts them at 89 and in the playoff picture. Would be nice to see them get in, but fans have to be happy either way.

San Francisco Giants

My pick to come out of the National League, the Giants currently have 77 wins and hold a four and a half game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. They’ll look to feast off the bottom of the division as they have 20 games left against losing teams (Diamondbacks seven, Rockies seven and Padres six). They have six huge games left against the Dodgers to determine who wins the division. I believe this team wins 90-plus games and easily makes the playoffs as either the division winner or the wild card winner.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have made all the right moves to put themselves in contention, but players just aren’t performing, and they’re still a starting pitcher short. They are currently four and a half games behind the Giants in the NL West, but only a game and half back in the wild card. They face a tough road down the stretch with only nine remaining games against teams below .500 (Padres four, Diamondbacks two and Rockies three), while they face off against 16 teams with winning records (Giants six, Cardinals four, Nationals three and Reds three). I had this team in as a wild card at the beginning of the season, but I don’t see them getting in with that tough schedule.

My predictions

These are a bit easier to pick than in the AL. The division winners in the East and Central are all but locked up with the Nationals and Reds winning, and I think the Giants will pull away in the West. I also don’t believe much changes in the wild card as I have the Braves and Cardinals getting in. I like those two teams, and they have very favorable schedules down the stretch. The Dodgers will wind up just missing a wild card spot and the Pirates will fade but end up with their first winning record since 1992.

There you have it. I look forward to watching these games and seeing how things play out. Good luck to your respective NL teams the rest of the way.

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