National League Playoff Race Promises Exciting Finish

Mike Nanna

Much has been made this year about the National League’s inferiority when compared to the American League.However, for all of the criticism that has been heaped on the senior circuit this year, the playoff races in the National League are much more exciting, featuring ten teams with a legitimate chance at one of the four available playoff spots.When one considers the New York Mets and their 15-game division lead and the St. Louis Cardinals with their sizeable 6-game lead, the races really come down to eight teams racing for two spots. This looks pretty ugly, so let’s take a look as I attempt to figure out who will still be standing come October.

NL East: Umm…the Mets are the class of the National League.The scary part is they haven’t even unleashed Pedro yet.

NL CentralThe Cardinals have the reigning Cy Young winner in Chris Carpenter, a solid defense that includes gold glover Scott Rolen, and a certain alien named Albert who crushes baseballs like Jack Bauer crushes terrorists.Then again, Jim Edmonds can’t seem to keep his head from spinning and protection has been thin hitting behind the “Alien”. Nonetheless, the Cardinals are just too talented a team to surrender such a sizeable lead to teams like the Cincinnati Reds or Houston Astros, especially considering that their remaining opponents have a combined .481 winning percentage.NL West: This is the most difficult division to call, considering the first place Los Angeles Dodgers are a mere two and a half games up on the San Diego Padres and only four and a half up on the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately for the other teams in the division, the Dodgers score a lot more runs than their counterparts and still have solid pitching to keep them in games in which they don’t score many runs. Their top three starters can match up with any top three in the league other than the Astros and their bullpen is always solid as usual. Their only glaring flaw is a lack of power hitting, where Nomar Garciaparra leads the team with an uninspiring 15 homers. This would be a bigger problem if the Padres and Giants didn’t have problem areas of their own. The Padres have trouble scoring runs (they’ve scored almost 100 less on the season than the Dodgers) and the Giants have exactly one good starting pitcher in Jason Schmidt and one decent hitter in slugging outfielder Barry Bonds, who can no longer run while struggling from some sort of post-steroid distress syndrome.The Dodgers are the pick by default.

NL Wild Card:The Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins, Giants, Reds, Astros and Atlanta Braves are all in the race for the wild card, currently sitting in that order in terms of their overall records. San Diego is no more than four and a half games up on any of these teams, with the Phillies, Marlins and Giants all within two games. Who will triumph in this race towards playoff bonuses and coaching extensions?With every team seemingly evenly matched in terms of skill and all of their schedules looking fairly even, luck and experience will be the determining factors. And which team has been luckier or has been to the playoffs more often than the Atlanta Braves, who figure to have their record streak of 14 straight division titles snapped after this year?If I have learned anything in my experience of rooting against the Braves, it is that you can never count out a Bobby Cox-coached team.To the dismay of the other teams involved (and me): the Braves will once again be playing in October due to the pure fact that the Atlanta Braves never miss the playoffs.Never.Enjoy September baseball, folks.