Dodgers

What NL team has the best shot at dethroning the Dodgers?

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the creme of the crop in baseball right now. No other team looks remotely close to reaching their level of dominance. However, we have seen teams like this before. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, but lost in five to the Yankees who only had 95 wins in the playoffs. That means these regular season super teams can be touched.

The Dodgers are only 4-4 in their last eight games. This may be because Cody Bellinger has been on the DL, but he will be coming back on Wednesday. The 4-4 “skid” may also be a sign that the Dodgers are not as untouchable as we all thought. While they are still the highlight of baseball this year, here is a look at National League teams that could have a shot of keeping the Dodgers away from the World Series for the 29th consecutive season.

Washington Nationals

Dodgers

Harper’s absence has not slowed the Nationals down (USA Today)

The Nationals have been without their star since the 12th of August. However, Washington has managed to stay more than afloat with an 8-5 record. They are a lock for October at this point as they are 12 games up on the second place Marlins.

Washington has proved that they have the depth that is needed in order to do well in the postseason, unlike in the past. Part of the reason for that is because of their acquisitions at the trade deadline.

Howie Kendrick has been spectacular since joining the Nats as he has slashed .341/.374/.600 slugging percentage since being traded and has five home runs.

Sean Doolittle has also been bolstering the previously struggling bullpen. Other than a three-run blemish against the Brewers, he has been all the Nationals could have asked for. The team has also won in every appearance he has made.

How can the Nationals beat the Dodgers? Well if these teams were to meet in the postseason, it would be in a must-see NLCS showdown. The Nationals have the second best rotation in the NL after the Dodgers. The return of Max Scherzer also gives Washington some hope in that category. Clayton Kershaw historically is not nearly as good in the postseason as he is during the regular season. The Nats may have the edge in a Kershaw vs Scherzer matchup.

The Nationals also have their shortstop, Trea Turner, returning from injury. Once he is back to the mix along with Harper, the Nationals ought to give the Dodgers a run for their money if they meet in October.

Chicago Cubs

Dodgers

Lester has the postseason poise to give the Dodgers a run for their money (Photo by dailyherald.com)

The boys from the north side have been having a relatively rough year. Last season they managed to win the NL Central handily with a 103-58 record. Chicago looked to be the team to beat this year as well. There was no reason to think Joe Maddon’s ball club would regress at all. It did however.

Much of the regression can be credited to a weak starting rotation and an underperforming offense. The Cubs have the fifth worst rotation in the National League despite the fact they have Lester and Arrieta.

They addressed the rotation problem by trading their best prospect, Eloy Jiminez, to the cross-town rivals for Jose Quintana. Quintana looked very promising as he pitched a scoreless seven innings with 12 strikeouts in his first start. Things were looking up for the Cubs, but Quintana has gone back up to a 4.50 ERA since joining the Cubs.

Kyle Schwarber did not play for Chicago for most of last year. However, they were relying on him big time this year to be the big bat they know he could be. It would round out their stud hitters in Bryant and Rizzo. He has not lived up to expectations though as he was sent down for a Triple-A stint in June.

Wilson Contreras was a nice surprise for them as he was the best hitter on the team since the All-Star break before going down with a hamstring injury. He should be back by the end of September though.

The Cubs are on this list because they have the potential to beat the Dodgers in October. However, they are no guarantee to reach the postseason. They are only 2.5 games in front of the Brewers at the moment, so they still have a division race to be concerned with. The thing is that if the Brewers win the division, it will be highly unlikely they would be able to beat the Dodgers or even face them.

The reason why the Cubs are here is because they have the kind of talent that could breakout at any time. They have one of the most threatening lineups top to bottom when healthy. If the hitters show up, then they have a shot.

The rotation is also in good shape for the postseason. Lackey and Lester are both experienced playoff pitchers, and Lester may be one of the best in recent memory. Thus, we know they have the potential to go head-to-head with the Dodgers rotation if they do meet.

Arizona Diamondbacks

It’s difficult to believe that a team that is 19 games out of first place in their division in August is going to make the playoffs. At the moment though, Arizona has the best bet to take the first wild card spot.

Arizona would feasibly meet with the Dodgers in the NLDS. Zack Greinke would hypothetically start the Wild Card game, so they would not be able to get two starts out of him if need be against the Dodgers.

Arizona has been able to match up with the Dodgers okay this season. They are 5-8 against the best team in the league but three of those losses came in the last series they played. Arizona has also been an excellent home team so if they can manage to win one in Los Angeles if they play in the NLDS, then they have a shot at doing something.

The Diamondbacks do not have the same kind of firepower as the Dodgers do of course. They do have Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke who can put up a fight against Los Angeles. They also have Paul Goldschmidt who is a perennial MVP candidate at this point who can take the Dodgers for a ride. However, it is unlikely that they could prevent the Dodgers from moving on especially with the Wild Card game being played.

The reason the Diamondbacks made it on the list is because they have not been pushed around by the Dodgers nearly as much as other teams have. Arizona also has the capability of going on a role at any time, so if they can manage to get hot in late September then the Dodgers ought to be on the lookout.

Will the Dodgers win the NL?

Oddsmakers would give a heavy advantage to Los Angeles moving onto the Fall Classic. However, with the history there is in dominate regular season teams and their performance in the postseason, it could be easy to see the Dodgers losing in the NLCS.

The Cubs and the Nationals have the talent that can match up with the Dodgers pretty well, so the Dodgers should not coast into the playoffs for any reason. Either way, these matchups ought to be must-see come October.

 

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Dodgers

Should the Dodgers consider rest instead of 116 wins?

The Los Angeles Dodgers currently sit at a staggering 84-34 record. That puts them 11.5 games ahead on the next best team in all of baseball. They are now on pace to win 114 games when it is all said and done. Don’t expect them to slow down at all though, because they have the ninth easiest schedule remaining in the big leagues.

The Dodgers are currently looking at reaching the major league record of 116 wins in a single season, set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners. The question is: Are they really chasing the record though?

Should Roberts rest his team?

Dodgers

Dave Roberts has a lot to consider going down the stretch (LA Times)

In the end, the most you can ask for in a regular season is to get the best record in the National League. At this point, the Dodgers would have to try to lose the best record. This puts them at an interesting juncture in their season.

Yes, it would be quite the feat to tie or break the single season win record. However, the most important goal for the Dodgers is winning the World Series. This begs the question: Is it really worth it trying to reach 116 wins?

By no means does this imply the Dodgers should just give up on the regular season because it is in the bag. What this means is Dave Roberts might consider resting his players more regularly. The problem that this brings up is that there is such a thing as too much rest.

There are not many statistics on rest this far out of the postseason. However, for the Dodgers’ pitching core, it would be best to give them an extra day or two of rest in between starts. What this will do most importantly is reduce the risk of injury for any of their premier players.

Injuries

Dodgers

Dusty Baker feared the worst when his superstar went down (WTOP)

There have been some major injuries with contenders in the recent weeks. Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Correa, Bryce Harper, and Wilson Contreras all have missed or will miss a significant chunk of time. All of these players are key members of these contending teams, and the last thing anyone wants to happen is for their star player to get hurt at the most important part of the season.

The most notable injury of the bunch was Harper slipping on first base and bruising a bone in his leg. It was a scary moment that could have been prevented. The Nationals are a lock to win the NL East and Dusty Baker had Bryce Harper playing after heavy rainfall.

Now, it is extremely difficult to pull players that want to play because you want to save them. It is still vital to be careful though because Baker would’ve hated to lose his best player in the postseason for something as silly as slipping on a base. They got lucky and he should return in September.

Dave Roberts should look at the Harper injury and realize that the worst things can happen at any given time. He must be careful if he wants the team to be in the best shape it can be in October.

How about those Mariners?

What happened to that Mariners team that won 116 games in 2001? Well, they got knocked out by a solid Yankees team in five games in the ALCS. That is not to say they made a mistake by not giving their players more rest at the end of the season, but it is a reminder that no matter how many games you win in the regular season, anybody can sneak up and knock you out. The Mariners actually finished with a postseason record of 4-6 that year, so the Dodgers should be weary of that.

Will they reach 116?

As I stated earlier, the goal is not to reach the coveted 116-win mark. The goal is to win a World Series title, an accomplishment that has eluded the Dodgers’ organization for 30 years.

Los Angeles is a city with many attractions that fans can go out and see. The Dodgers are one of the best ones out there. Fans are starting to get antsy though as this is the time for the Dodgers to go for it. They have showed they are serious with the acquisition of Yu Darvish, who they traded for specifically for the starts he would make in the playoffs.

Dodgers

Kershaw’s health will play a key role in the Dodgers’ success in October (Baseball Essential)

One-hundred-sixteen wins is in the backseat to the World Series title. Because of this, Dave Roberts should be very cautious with his star players so they don’t run the risk of injury. Clayton Kershaw got hurt out of nowhere, and they are lucky that he is coming back soon.

Since the postseason is the most important thing on their mind right now and they don’t want a repeat occurrence of Kershaw, it is doubtful that the Dodgers will reach 116 wins. Especially considering that the Diamondbacks and Rockies are in a dead heat for the Wild Card with several NL Central teams.

It will be a race to the final day of the season and every team will be doing all they can to get a ticket to October.

 

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Will the Rally Cat launch the Cardinals into October?

The St. Louis Cardinals have had a reverse in fortune over the past week. Most of the year they have been floating around .500, and it didn’t seem apparent that they would be able to catch the Brewers or the Cubs. This especially seemed to be the case after they lost a pivotal series in Milwaukee and have scuffled prior to this week.

Since a loss to Cincinnati last Friday, the Cardinals have won every game they have played. In that five day span, they have scored a staggering 54 runs and find themselves just a game back of the Chicago Cubs. Now, it is important to stay close to Earth in these kind of situations. It would be crazy to say that the Cardinals have found themselves and are going to steamroll their way to the postseason. However, it isn’t so crazy when there is a rally cat involved.

The rally cat strikes

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

On Wednesday night, the Cardinals found themselves down to the Royals 5-4 in the sixth inning. Yadier Molina, who has had a very hot bat since the All-Star break, was at the plate with the bases loaded with Peter Moylan pitching.

After a first pitch ball, Molina pointed his bat to the outfield to let everyone know that there was a stray cat running around. After a groundskeeper wrangled the cat and everyone had gotten their laughs in, there was a very important at-bat that still needed to happen.

The very next pitch that Moylan tossed was sent for a ride by Yadier Molina. Everyone in the park knew the moment it came off the bat that it was a goner. That moment was without a doubt the most exciting moment in an otherwise mediocre Cardinals season.

The rally squirrel

Surprisingly enough this story deserves a bit of backstory. One might ask,”what possible backstory could there be for a cat running on the field?” Well, for the Cardinals, it is a pretty good one.

On Oct. 5, 2011, the Cardinals were playing the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS. Philadelphia was up 2-1 in the series and had won 102 games that season which was best in the majors. The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely snuck into the postseason thanks to a very good September for them and the demise of the Atlanta Braves.

It was the fifth inning of the game and the Cardinals were up 3-2. With Skip Schumaker at the plate, a squirrel ran across home plate and Roy Oswalt threw a ball. Oswalt went on to contest the call saying that the pitch should have been called off since he was distracted.

However, that was not what happened. The Cardinals went on to win the game, followed by a stellar Game 5 win that pushed them to the NLCS. The Cardinals were not stopped as they kept on going and won the World Series in dramatic fashion.

Many fans in St. Louis like to point to the rally squirrel as the unofficial mascot of the Cardinals. It was a season full of twists and turns, and every time the Cardinals seemed out of it, they would fight right back into it. This is why the rally cat from Wednesday may have jolted some excitement into St. Louis.

Yadi and the Cardinals’ offense is rolling

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of STL Today

We can’t give all the credit for the Cardinals’ success to the rally cat. Credit needs to be given where credit is due, and Yadier Molina has been excellent since the All-Star Break.

Since the break, Molina has a slash line of .325/.364/.554 with five home runs. It is hard to believe that with the mileage on Yadi and the fact he turned 35 during the break, that he has been able to keep up these numbers.

Don’t tell him you doubt him though. He will fire back which is evident with his manager, Mike Matheny. Matheny called Yadi tired in late July, and since then he has been firing on all cylinders.

Yadi was not the only one that got called out though for his play. The team has been starting to feel pressure as a whole. Tommy Pham, the Cardinals best offensive performer this season, called out the team for its lackluster offense last weekend. Since that happened, the Cardinals have won five in a row and the offense is playing as well as any team in the league.

Were the comments made by Pham and Matheny the kick start the Cardinals needed? Well, it certainly may be a big part of it. The team has needed a jolt for the past few months and it finally seems to be here for St. Louis.

The Chicago Cubs are slipping

Rally Cat

Photo Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune

All season, experts have been saying that the Cubs are just a step away from separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the Central. The Cubs have yet to take that step though. In fact, they have been backsliding the past week and a half.

Chicago has lost six of its last eight games and are now only one game in front of the Cardinals and  two in front of the Brewers. Worst of all, they may have lost their star catcher for an extended period of time.

Wilson Contreras has been the Cubs’ best player since the break and went down with a hamstring injury against the Giants on the 9th. The Cubs have not released a timetable yet for when Contreras may be back, but it may be an extended period of time per multiple reports.

The Cubs will need to pick it up without Contreras in the meantime. They traded for Alex Avila at the deadline so he may be a serviceable replacement during Contreras’ absence. There have also been rumors floating around of Kyle Schwarber taking the helm behind the plate. Either way, the Cubs will miss Contreras and his absence will have an impact on the division race.

Will the Cardinals be able to keep it up?

St. Louis is in the middle of a hot streak. They will not be able to keep up the offensive production that they have had over the past week. However, this stretch may be signs of the team coming together as a whole. The Cardinals have had stellar starting pitching success, so it may all be coming together now.

The team has realized that they were not playing to their full potential and the motivation from their outfielder and manager may have sparked a new hope in the team.

Heck, maybe a cat is what this team needed to reach its potential.

 

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Deadline

Dodgers, Cubs, others make big moves at trade deadline

One hour before the 4 P.M. MLB trade deadline, nothing was happening. There were rumors and whispers here and there. Some decent names had been moved but nothing that we have been looking for over the past few weeks. All of a sudden news broke that the Yankees would be acquiring Sonny Gray from the Athletics. Would this be the first domino to fall?

As the hour went on nothing else seemed to be happen. Everyone was expecting the Dodgers to make the big move they needed but nothing was coming. Is Los Angeles really going to stay put with the roster they have? Every World Series champion in recent memory had made moves at the deadline to bolster their team. Are the Dodgers really that good that they don’t have to go out and get anyone?

When 4 P.M. hit it seemed like that was the case. After about 20 minutes the news started to break however. The Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers in the blockbuster trade we were expecting. This trade also punctuated a trading season that emphasized pitching and had very little movement with hitters.

This was a very interesting deadline to track. There were some surprises as well as moves that we expected. Here are some of the notable teams that were making moves at the deadline.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquisitions: Yu Darvish, Tony Cingrani, Tony Watson

Los Angeles bolstered its bullpen with two solid left-handed relievers in Watson and Cingrani. These guys are a great compliment to Kenley Jansen and it takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, especially seeing that Kershaw will be out for the coming weeks.

Yu Darvish has been expected to go to Los Angeles for the last month. Most were surprised that no news had broke when the 4 P.M. deadline approached. I was ready to criticize the Dodgers for their lack of improvement. When the news was announced, it immediately became World Series or bust for this team.

Darvish provides the same sort of punch to the rotation that Zach Greinke provided when he was in LA with Kershaw. These pitching acquisitions may make the Dodgers the most complete team in the majors now. They filled their pitching needs and left their offense alone which has been fantastic. What might be the one of the biggest upsides from this trade season is that the Dodgers did not give up any of their top three prospects for Yu Darvish.

The Dodgers know that they will be making the postseason. These trades were specifically for October because they know that it is now or never if they want to break their 30-year championship drought.

Houston Astros

Acquisitions: Francisco Liriano

The Astros currently have the best record in the American League. Going into the deadline, it was obvious that Houston needed to bolster its pitching staff. Dallas Keuchel has been dealing with injury issues and may not be the same pitcher he was when he won the Cy Young. Lance McCullers has also not been consistent. On top of that, the Astros are in much need of bullpen help.

Houston acquired Liriano from Toronto, but this was not the attractive pitcher that many were looking for them to go out and get. They needed a pitcher to fill into a rotation that looks a bit shaky. However, Liriano will not be in the starting rotation and will be filling in the bullpen.

This had to be disappointing for Houston fans because they did not make the improvements that other contenders made. Even though they are sitting comfortably in first place in the West and are a sure thing for the playoffs, they may be sweating a bit.

Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and George Springer are all on the DL right now. The Astros must be comfortable with the injuries since they didn’t make any moves. However, the gap seems to be closing between them and the Yankees and Indians.

New York Yankees

Acquisitions: Sonny Gray, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, David Robertson

The Yankees made a big move a couple weeks ago acquiring Todd Frazier and David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox. Robertson really helps out a bullpen that needed some help and Frazier is a bat the Yankees needed to fill a hole in the lineup.

Deadline

The Yankees got one of the most valuable pitchers at the deadline in Gray (Getty Images)

The big news from Monday was the Yankees acquiring Sonny Gray from Oakland. This was a trade that made a lot of sense for the Yankees because it helps answer questions in their rotation for 2018 and 2019 as well.

The Yankees may lose the majority of their rotation after this year so getting this deal done is a big deal for New York. For this year though, Gray provides a big punch in the rotation for October seeing that the young pitcher already has postseason experience.

Starting pitching was one of the biggest question marks for the Yankees. Boston made a solid move in getting Addison Reed, but the excellent job at the deadline by Brian Cashman may make the Yankees the better team.

Look for the Yankees to separate themselves from Boston and give Houston some trouble in the postseason potentially.

Chicago Cubs

Acquisitions: Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson, Alex Avila

The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do in order to finally separate themselves from the rest of the NL Central. They addressed a rotation issue, a bullpen issue and a catching issue.

Deadline

Quintana is the highlight of the deadline for the Cubs (Sporting News)

Quintana was a get for the Cubs that was way ahead of the rest of the field at the deadline. Chicago knew what they needed and got a pitcher in the prime of his career that will be under team control for the future.

The rotation has been underperforming for the most part and Quintana provides a spark that has gotten the rest of the team going. With the potential this team has, they may be one of the best teams built for the postseason after the acquisition of Quintana.

Alex Avila adds experience at the catching position that the Cubs really needed. Miguel Montero was sent to Toronto after he ragged on the pitching staff for the Cubs’ shortcomings. He was the veteran presence that the pitchers need behind the plate.

Wilson Contreras has been very productive with a bat in his hands but he does not have the skills needed to call a good game in the playoffs. He is a converted infielder that is still learning the craft, so Avila provides the presence that the Cubs needed.

Theo Epstein went out and addressed the exact problems that needed addressing. Cubs fans should be happy with how he approached the deadline. The only downside is that the Cubs now have no prospects in the MLB Top 100. Much of their talent is at the big league level so that is a big reason for that. However, their talent has been underperforming this year.

The Cubs are hoping that their players play to their potential. If they do, then they are as good as anybody in the league.

Washington Nationals

Acquisitions: Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle

The Nationals’ bullpen has pretty much been a joke this year. It is by far their biggest weakness, so much so that a fan ripped on the bullpen in his obituary.

Deadline

Scherzer got the bullpen help the rotation desperately needed (Getty Images)

Washington has one of the best hitting trios in baseball with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. They also may have the best starting pitcher in the game in Max Scherzer.

However, they were not taken as seriously to compete with the Dodgers in the postseason because of how important relief pitching is these days.

Sean Doolittle has been struggling this year, but he is still a step in the right direction for Washington. However, Ryan Madson has been a very reliable reliever and Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star this year. Kintzler has converted 28 of 32 saves this season and also provides reliability at the back end of the bullpen.

Relievers were a hot commodity at the deadline this year. The Nationals knew that relievers are what they needed in order to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Mike Rizzo did a good job of getting these guys in order to be a threat in October.

Chicago White Sox

Deadline

Jimenez is the 7th ranked prospect in the majors (Baseball America)

Acquisitions: Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Blake Rutherford, AJ Puckett, Andre Davis, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin, Dylan Cease, Matt Rose, Byrant Flete, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez

As you can tell, the White Sox had a busy trade season. They traded away many major leagues such as Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera. Even though it is pretty apparent that you could say the White Sox are tanking, fans have to be happy with general manager Rick Hahn’s job this past month.

The White Sox now have two of the top 10 prospects in MLB, and eight in the top 70 according to MLB.com. Chicago is the only team on this list that are not contenders this season but they may have had one of the best months in the league.

The benefits from the past month will not show this season or next season. In a few years though the success of the front office will be apparent.

This may be a slight overreaction, but there is a possibility that we could see a Cubs-White Sox World Series down the road. That may be a bit dramatic but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a Chicago championship series? The only thing I would be concerned about is whether or not the city would still be standing in the aftermath.

Final thoughts on the deadline

The most glaring detail of this trade deadline was the emphasis of pitching. Outside of J.D Martinez, there were no major position players that were moved this year. Yes, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera were moved as well. However, all of the big trades were centered around pitching.

It seems that many teams are content with the hitting they have. It may not be a coincidence that major league players are hitting home runs at one of the highest rates in history. Bullpen and rotation help is the attractive thing these days. Especially considering how difficult it is to close out a game in today’s game.

By no means is the 2017 season decided already. There is still a long way to go in the season and anything can happen in October. Championship teams do look back to the trade deadline though to see what they did right at that time. Monday was a pivotal point in the season, but baseball is a crazy game so it will be fun to see how these moves pan out.

 

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