After our last look at the American League, this will be a glance at the Senior Circuit, the National League, right at the true midseason mark, the All-Star break. And, if you watched the All-Star Game, which probably only happened if you were forced, then you saw that the NL look a tad behind their AL comrades during the insomnia inducing 3-0 shutout. Those were the National League All-Stars? And they mustered only three hits? Yikes.
So, until football kicks-off in just a few more weeks, let’s take a look at the Good, Bad and the Ugly, so far, in the National League: (As of Aug. 5)
National League East
Atlanta Braves – Atlanta (67-45) has owned the National League East all season long, and now sits super comfortably with a 12-game lead over the scuffling Washington Nationals and a 16.5-game cushion over the now officially dead Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves have been red-hot as of late too, winning 10-straight games thanks to an offense that is producing just over six runs a game during the streak and a pitching staff that sports the second best ERA (3.28) in baseball. In fact, it’s Atlanta’s second 10-game winning streak of the season, a feat that has only been accomplished by four other teams in the NL over the last 50 years. Atlanta also owns the best home record in MLB (38-15). Those have to be good signs.
Another good sign is that the Braves have clear sailing ahead with a remaining schedule that features only seven games against teams with a record over .500. But don’t pull back on the reigns just yet Freddie Gonzalez, let’s not forget last season’s epic collapse.
Chris Johnson – Chipper who? Atlanta’s new third baseman, Chris Johnson, is leading the National League in batting with a hefty .346 average and has already accomplished something Chipper Jones never did – logging eight-straight multi-hit games. In fact, Johnson is the first Atlanta Braves’ player to match that streak, which was last accomplished back in 1956 during the franchise’s Milwaukee days by a player named Hank Aaron.
Philadelphia Phillies – It appears Philadelphia’s dominance over the division is officially over. The Phillies (50-61) have dropped five in a row and 13 of their last 15 contests – including the most recent four-game sweep at home by archrival Atlanta – to fall an embarrassing 16.5 games out of first place. You can’t pinpoint one fault either, everything has been bad. The Phillies rank in the lower third in all the major categories including 27th in batting average (.264) and 23rd in ERA (4.21).
Cole Hamels – One of the main reasons for Philadelphia’s many years of recent success has been lefty ace Cole Hamels. Now, Hamels seems to be one of the main problems. With an ugly 4-13 record and an ERA to match, 3.87, Hamels is not living up to his nearly $21 million a year salary.
Miami Marlins – After loading up on talent two years ago, then dumping it all last year, the Marlins are exactly where everyone expected them to be – last place. Miami (43-67) is last in baseball in basically every offensive category, including batting average (.231), runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. So, despite their team ERA of 3.66, which is ninth best in baseball, the Marlins are MLB’s second worst team, behind only the Houston Astros (36-74), thanks to their basically non-existent offense.
B.J. Upton – Is it any coincidence that the Atlanta Braves most recent 10-game winning streak coincided with B.J. Upton’s stint on the disabled list? What a bust. Upton signed a $13 million a year deal with Atlanta in the off-season, the largest free agent contract in Braves’ history, and is batting .182 with 20 RBI. As of last look, Upton was batting .026 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Just Pitiful.
National League Central
The Top of the Division – The top three teams in the Central are three of the best in all of baseball – St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati. Although the Reds have lost seven of 10, they still have 61 wins, which would have them in competition in every division, but they sit six games out in the Central. Pittsburgh (67-44) has been building toward this moment after three straight years of faltering late. The Pirates – that’s right, the Pirates – own a 1.5-game lead over the always strong St. Louis Cardinals (65-45). The way it looks now, the Wild Card will be coming out of the Central. Are you ready for the Pirates in the postseason?
Chicago Cubs – It is always too easy to make fun of the Cubs, but let’s do it anyway. With a 49-62 record, the Cubs sit 18 games out, which is par for the course in Chicago. Even though these Cubs are just as bad as usual, they have actually been surprisingly scrappy, especially on the road where they hold their own with a 26-29 mark. One of the reason’s for the road success has been a pitching staff that’s not too shabby, especially for Cubs’ standards, allowing opponents just a .244 average, sixth best mark in MLB. It’s been at the plate where these Cubbies keep up the tradition, batting .242 (24th) with an on-base percentage that is one of the worst, .302 (26th).
Ryan Braun – The Milwaukee Brewers (47-64) are one of only eight teams in MLB still under fifty wins. Probably the main reason for the Brew Crew’s swoon is the absence of former MVP Ryan Braun, who recently received a 65-game suspension from MLB for steroid use. Most stories say how embarrassing this is for Braun and baseball in general. Well, any true baseball fan knows that steroid abuse has been rampant for a long, long time. The only shame is on MLB’s tortoise-like response to a problem that unfairly and quickly rewrote the record books. Start testing these guys and dolling out more major punishments and lets get baseball back the way it was.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers – If this were written a couple of months ago, the Dodgers would have been in ‘The Ugly’ column. But thanks to a recent 14-game road-winning streak, Los Angeles (61-49) now owns a nifty 5.5-game lead over second place Arizona Diamondbacks (56-55). The NL record for consecutive road wins belongs to the 1916 New York Giants, by the way. These road warrior Dodgers have the third best ERA in baseball (3.42) and the sixth best batting average (.264). Solid pitching and consistent hitting is how you win baseball games, and the Dodgers are doing just that.
Yasiel Puig – The Dodgers winning ways this season has been a direct effect of the early season call-up of rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig. Despite his strange name, Puig has become a household name with his meteoric fame thanks to a smoking hot bat that has produced a .376 batting average and 11 homers. Puig has provided the spark that the Dodgers needed to get things going and maybe even saved manager Don Mattingly’s job. Now, can the rookie keep it going into the postseason?
San Francisco Giants – The World Series champs from two of the last three seasons appear to have fallen on rough times after losing 10 of 16 to sink into last place, 12 games behind their nemesis Los Angeles Dodgers. Nothing has clicked in San Francisco this season. The pitching, which was their rock during the title runs, has been below average with overall numbers that rank near the bottom in baseball, while at the plate the Giants can get on base but they can’t score runs. They rank 8th in batting average (.261), but near the bottom (24th) in runs scored. Things have gotten so bad that they are reportedly shopping ‘The Freak,’ starting pitcher Tim Lincecum, and have already dealt eccentric closer Brian Wilson to the Dodgers. That had to hurt.
Puig Haters – Whenever you are good these days it seems you attract a good deal of haters. Just ask LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Well, the most recent target has been the Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig. In his first 20 games, Puig was batting nearly .500, and subsequently received almost over night fame thanks to ESPN’s Sportscenter, whom seemed to revel in not only the youngster’s talent, but also his odd name. Ever since it seems someone is spouting off about Puig. There is already a Face Book page called Puig Haters, no doubt started by jealous Giants’ fans.
Even Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon said it would be a “joke” if Puig made the All-Star team. Isn’t Papelbon in the AL and Puig in the NL? Well, Puig didn’t make the team, which was the real joke. He is the most exciting and talked about young player in baseball and he wasn’t at the All-Star game. Well played MLB.
Humble Prediction: Division winners – Atlanta, St. Louis and Los Angeles. Wild Card – Pittsburgh. World Series – Atlanta over Detroit.