Five Top Contenders for the 2018 National League Pennant – MLB Analysis
Published on July 11, 2018
Get ready for a photo finish in the National League because all three divisions are way too close to call at the moment.
As we get ready to celebrate the All-Star Game festivities, I want to take a close look at the top of the National League playoff race and talk about 5 teams that have a legitimate shot at seeing this thing through.
Can the Los Angeles Dodgers continue getting back on track and win the NL West? What about the top 3 teams in the NL East? It seems as if the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are for real, and it’s too early to count out the Washington Nationals.
The Cubs and Brewers are fighting for the Central crown, but do either of these teams pose a real threat to get the World Series?
There are so many teams currently in the mix for the National League pennant that you’ll find different opinions everywhere you go as to who is the favorite to emerge and which teams are just “pretenders.”
Well, here comes my opinion. I’ll throw my two cents into the ring. Get comfortable and enjoy the following sections as I reveal the 5 teams that I believe have the best chance to still be playing baseball come late October.
You’ll notice that the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies were left off this list, despite showing plenty of promise so far. But hey, I had to narrow it down to 5, so certain fan bases were bound to wind up unhappy!
If you are surprised to see the Atlanta Braves on this list, then maybe you just haven’t been watching Major League Baseball closely enough in 2018.
Not only are they keeping pace with the rest of the NL East, but as of July 7th, they were on top of the standings. This team might be young, and they might lack experience, but don’t make the mistake of counting this team out on that account alone.
Let’s start with Atlanta’s bats.
First baseman Freddie Freeman is no secret, and most around the league know how good he is. What the baseball community failed to realize was how quickly Ozzie Albies would make the transition to this level.
The 21-year-old from Curacao has quickly elevated himself into one of the premier middle infielders in the entire big leagues. Outfielder Ronald Acuna hasn’t even celebrated his 21st birthday yet, and he’s already producing for the Braves in the middle of their lineup.
Outfielders Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis won’t get the love from the average fan, but these guys have been beasts all season long and are big reasons why this team is currently leading the NL East.
When you look at their rotation, most hadn’t heard of Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz when the season started. Now halfway through, and folks are realizing that these two are for real, not to mention Julio Teheran can still be counted on.
This team isn’t my pick to get to the World Series in 2018, but the future is really bright in the capital city of Georgia. However, if you are interested in an NL flier that has what it takes to get hot and run the table in the playoffs, the Braves might not be a bad choice.
Don’t look now, but if the season ended at the time of me writing this article, the Milwaukee Brewers would be the number-one overall seed in the NL playoffs.
You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but the Brewers quietly have the most efficient pitching staff in the entire National League. The Brew Crew is holding battings to a league-low .224 batting average, and their starting pitching has accumulated 53 quality starts, which tops the NL.
You may not be familiar with names like Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, or Jhoulys Chacin, but these guys have been a thorn in opposing batters’ sides all season long, and they’re a big reason why this team is sitting 17 games over .500.
Ryan Braun is a role player on this squad at best. It’s guys like Lorenzo Cain and Travis Shaw who set the example for the young players. Having a stud like Christian Yelich helps, but it’s the totality of all the pieces that make this team the threat that they are.
They won’t create the buzz that their division rival Chicago Cubbies do, but the task wasn’t to give you the teams that generate the most interesting and popular storylines.
My goal was to give you the 5 teams in the NL that are most likely to reach the World Series. Right now, the Milwaukee Brewers fall into that group.
This team started off really hot and has come back down to Earth, but I’m not counting the D’Backs out just yet. The Arizona Diamondbacks should be in the mix to win the NL West Division, so long as their starting pitching can stay healthy.
They already lost Taijuan Walker for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and Robbie Ray missed more than 7 weeks with an oblique strain.
The good news is that Robbie Ray is back, and they still have Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation. The nice surprise so far this season is that southpaw Patrick Corbin has been lights out and has arisen as one of the dominant starting pitchers in all of the National League.
Paul Goldschmidt is still one of the most feared hitters in the game, and A.J. Pollock’s thumb has healed to the point that he’s back in the everyday lineup.
They’ll be one of the teams eagerly trying to add a piece at the trade deadline, so the final product we see from Arizona might not be clear just yet.
I’m not picking them to make it to the Fall Classic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have enough talent to get there.
After threatening the record number of wins for the better part of last season, the Dodgers were extremely slow coming out of the gates in 2018. Perhaps it was a bit of a hangover from losing a heartbreaking 7-game series to Houston in the final series of them all, but Dave Roberts’ squad looked sluggish for the first couple months, to say the least.
Corey Seager has been out and will miss the rest of the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow back in early May.
Say what you want about their star pitcher, but Clayton Kershaw is no longer the dependable ace he once was. He hadn’t thrown more than 175 innings in each of the last two seasons, and he’ll fail to hit that mark once again.
The good news for the Dodgers is that they have Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger manning the corner infield positions. The pleasant surprise in Hollywood has been the resurgence of 27-year-old Max Muncy, who was nothing more than a utility player in Oakland the past two seasons.
Max’s historic pace actually has landed him in the Dodgers’ record books, as Muncy cracked 20 home runs in fewer at-bats than any Dodger has in history.
I get that this team is starting to play better baseball, and I see that Kershaw is back in the lineup.
But I’ll tell you what, this team still doesn’t scare me that much when it comes to the actual contenders in the National League.
In fact, there’s a team who isn’t playing their best ball right now who is actually my pick to get to the World Series.
I picked the Nationals to get to the World Series before the season started, so there’s no reason to bail on them now. The season is barely halfway over, so I haven’t hit the panic button just yet.
Am I little concerned with Bryce Harper’s lack of production at the plate as of late? Am I bit worried that Daniel Murphy might not get back to the consistent level of production we have grown accustomed to seeing from the Nat’s 2nd baseman?
Maybe a little, and yes. It’s clear that Bryce is not having the MVP-type caliber season I had anticipated seeing from the Las Vegas native, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch.
Obviously, Daniel Murphy’s knee injury was much more serious than originally diagnosed. I’m a bit nervous that Daniel’s best days might be behind him, but I’m not counting him out just yet.
The good news for Washington is that they still have Trea Turner as their everyday shortstop, and Adam Eaton is finally back in the lineup. Juan Soto has emerged, and despite being only 19 years old and the youngest player in the entire big leagues, the kid can flat-out play.
Anthony Rendon is a wonderful piece in what I believe is the most complete lineup from top to bottom in the NL.
As for their pitching, boy, has this team missed Stephen Strasburg. The former San Diego State Aztec pitcher was utterly dominant during the second half of last season but has been hampered by a sore right shoulder all year.
The saving grace is that #37 appears to be on track to return after the All-Star break.
With a healthy Strasburg, he and Max Scherzer form the deadliest 1-2 punch in all of the National League. It’s the chief reason I expect them to contend for the World Series.
I just love when Major League Baseball’s 162-game season goes all the way down to the wire. How exciting is it when the first 161 games seem to mean nothing and it all comes down to “9 innings, may the better team win”?
The way these division races are shaping up in the National League, something tells me that we’ll see this scenario play out in at least one instance.
I only was able to list 5 teams, but we can’t count out the Chicago Cubs or Philadelphia Phillies completely. Even the Colorado Rockies or St. Louis Cardinals have the opportunity to string together some wins and plant themselves back into the picture.
However, when it’s all said and done and the “fat lady is singing” in the National League, I expect first-year skipper Davey Martinez to be spritzing the champagne bottles in the locker room.
Look for the Nationals to be celebrating and looking forward to a date with the Boston Red Sox.
If that’s the case, remember that you heard it here first!