As September dwindles on and the playoff picture becomes clearer than ever before, it becomes blatantly obvious that the National League is a three team race.
The Nationals (89-54), Reds (87-57) and Giants (81-62) all lead their divisions by 8.5, 11.5, and 7.0 games, respectively and now seem to be fighting for the top seed in the National League.
The Nationals, at the beginning of the season, looked to be a better team on paper, after the acquisition Gio Gonzalez and the return of Stephen Strasburg. However, after Strasburg was shut down for the season after 159 1/3 innings pitched, manager Davey Johnson said Strasburg’s next pitch would come in 2013.
The transition from Strasburg to John Lannan went smoothly last night, with the Nationals beating the Mets 2-0. With a magic number of 11, all Lannan has to do for the Nationals is keep them in the game. However, in the playoffs, the Nationals plan to move Edwin Jackson up in the rotation instead of using Lannan. Ross Detwiler would become the fourth starter.
The Cincinatti Reds were at an advantage when Albert Pujols signed with the Angels this past offseason. Sure, the Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran to be a power hitter, but nobody can replace Albert Pujols. The return of Joey Votto to the Reds lineup has given them the push they needed this late in the game. The biggest asset Cincy has going into the playoffs is Aroldis Chapman, who has 35 saves in 40 opportunities this season to go along with a 1.60 ERA and 119 K’s over 67.2 innings pitched.
Due to shoulder fatigue, Chapman has been shut down for a few days, forcing the Reds to rely on a few other arms in their bullpen. It was J.J. Hoover who got the save for them yesterday, facing four batters and striking out Jose Tabata to end the game. Expect Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall to get more opportunities, especially if Chapman has gone more than a few days in a row.
The San Francisco Giants have been in a season-long battle with the Dodgers to see who would finish tops in the NL West. Despite the Dodgers acquiring Shane Victorino, Josh Beckett, and Joe Blanton, the Giants still sit seven games ahead of the Dodgers going into this weekend. The Giants also made a deal of their own at the trade deadine, acquiring Hunter Pence from the Phillies.
But pitching remains the story in San Francisco. Matt Cain’s perfect game earned him the start in this year’s All Star Game and he hasn’t slowed down since then, going 4-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 74 innings pitched. Tim Lincecum has also found his groove post-break, bouncing back from a pre-break 3-10 record and 6.42 ERA.
The Giants have a seven game cushion, but they shouldn’t take it for granted. The rest of their season is played within the division and next head to Arizona, the only other team in the West that has a winning team against the division. The Giants have one more meeting against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium to end their season. The Giants can be their own demise.
The National League playoff race may be cookie cut on the outside, but each of these teams may face challenges in the next two weeks that might cost them a World Series ring.