Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild Card Week

Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

Date: Tuesday, September 30th
Park: Kauffman Stadium
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1981
Head to Head Record: KC 5-2
Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (16-11, 3.21) vs. James Shields (14-8, 3.21)

This matchup features teams that are headed in opposite directions. The Royals were only two games over .500 at the All Star break, and went on a 41-27 run in the second half to rally to the playoffs. Kansas City will be making their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1985. The Athletics had the best record in baseball at the All Star break, and then added Jon Lester at the trading deadline. Since the All Star break, the Athletics have gone 29-38, and backed into the playoffs. The Lester for Yoenis Cespedes trade hasn't worked out as planned, but that isn't Lester's fault. Lester has pitched very well in Oakland, but the trade took away the Athletics cleanup hitter, which weakened their offense. The A's have really been struggling, but one game could reverse a second half slump.

The Royals took five out of seven games against the A's this season. Unfortunately for them, their two losses came against Lester. This is the reason that Billy Beane acquired Lester was to win big games. The Royals counter with "Big Game James" in this do or die wild card game. The Royals were criticized over their trade of top prospect Wil Myers to acquire Shields two offseasons ago, but they wouldn't be here without the trade. Wade Davis also came in the same deal and along with Greg Holland and Kelvim Herrera, the Royals have arguably the best late inning bullpen combo in the majors.

Oakland finished the year ranking third in runs scored, but their offense has fallen on tough times in September. It was their only month they scored under 100 runs, and that would explain why they went 10-16 in September. Beane acquired Adam Dunn late in August to help out, and he is making his first playoff appearance in his 14 year career. Many of Oakland's best hitters like Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, and Josh Donaldson have fallen off in the second half. Oakland relies on walks and power for offense, while the Royals were last in the AL in walks. The Royals also don't hit for much power, but they do steal a lot of bases. That has been key in scoring hard fought runs for KC. This should be an interesting matchup against two teams that play vastly different styles of baseball.

Prediction: Royals over Athletics

San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Date: Wednesday, October 1st
Park: PNC Park
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1971
Head to Head Record: Pit 4-2
Pitching Matchup: Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98) vs. Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04)

This is the second year in a row that the Pirates will be playing in the wild card game. Last year, they ended a 21 year playoff drought. They beat the Reds in the wild card game, and lost a hard fought Division Series to the Cardinals. With a taste of October baseball, Andrew McCutchen and the Bucs are looking to go deeper into the playoffs. This year, the Pirates will face the Giants, who are no stranger to October baseball. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. San Francisco is hoping to continue their pattern of winning the World Series every other year.

The Giants will start lefty Madison Bumgarner in the wild card matchup. At age 25, Bumgarner has already made two All Star teams and has won two World Series games. After Clayton Kershaw, Bumgarner is one of the best left handed starters in baseball. Pitching playoff baseball can be tough in Pittsburgh, and it clearly affected Johnny Cueto last year. However, Bumgarner has pitched in many big games before, and is unlikely to be affected by the crowd. The Pirates will counter with Edinson Volquez. The Pirates have revived Volquez' career after he was let go by the Padres. Volquez has had his best season since 2008, when he was an All Star.

Offensively, the Pirates were one of the better teams in the NL. Pittsburgh also steals bases well, and play solid defense. Besides McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Sterling Marte, and Neil Walker had big years for the Pirates. Russell Martin not only had a good year with the bat, his work behind the plate has really helped the team out. The Giants will be without Angel Pagan for the rest of the season due to back problems. While Pagan isn't as well known as Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence, he is an important part of the Giants. The Giants table setter set the pace, and the Giants went 29-34 without him. Pagan's absence last year was one of the biggest reasons they missed the playoffs in 2013.

Prediction: Giants over Pirates

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 Award Winners

Here's a look at should win the MLB awards for 2014

Gold Gloves

National League

C-Russell Martin, PIT
1B- Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B- Chase Utley, PHI
SS- Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B- Todd Frazier, CIN
LF-Christian Yelich, MIA
CF-Andrew McCutchen, PIT
RF-Jason Heyward, ATL
P- Clayton Kershaw, LAD

American League

C- Salvador Perez, KC
1B- Albert Pujols, LAA
2B- Ian Kinsler, DET
SS- J.J. Hardy, BAL
3B- Josh Donaldson, OAK
LF- Alex Gordon, KC
CF- Adam Jones, BAL
RF- Nick Markakis, BAL
P- Mark Buehrle, TOR

A couple of close calls in the National League. Zack Cozart had a terrific season defensively, but not as good as Andrelton Simmons. It was also a close call at center field between Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez. Russell Martin has has a huge impact in Pittsburgh behind the plate, and helping the pitching staff. Since Yadier Molina missed two months, Martin will likely get the Gold Glove this year. In the American League, Salvador Perez has emerged as one of the game's best catchers. His play behind the plate has led the Royals to their first postseason in 29 years. Another Royal, Alex Gordon is a leading contender for the Gold Glove in left field. Gordon faces tough competition from Yoenis Cespedes. Ian Kinsler has made a huge difference in the Tigers defense this year. The Orioles are one of the best defensive teams in baseball, even without Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis are all have good cases for a Gold Glove.

Manager of the Year

National League

1) Matt Williams, WASH
2) Clint Hurdle, PIT
3) Mike Matheny, STL

American League

1) Buck Showalter, BAL
2) Mike Scoiscia, LAA
3) Lloyd McClendon, SEA

It looked like Ron Roenicke had the NL award wrapped up a month ago, before the Brewers collapsed in September. Matt Williams has taken some criticism in his first season as the Nationals manager, but his team has the best record in the NL. The Nats were able to overcome numerous injuries, and Williams has some problems early on with Bryce Harper. The AL award also goes to a team in the Beltway. Buck Showalter has the Orioles believing they can win a championship. Baltimore has had to endure numerous injuries this season, but they have kept filling the holes. Lloyd McClendon kept the Mariners in playoff contention this year, when few thought that was possible.

Rookie of the Year

National League

1) Jacob deGrom, NYM
2) Billy Hamilton, CIN
3) Kolten Wong, STL
4) Travis d'Arnaud, NYM
5) Joe Panik, SF

American League

1) Jose Abreu, CHIWS
2) Yordano Ventura, KC
3) Dellin Betances, NYY
4) Masahiro Tanaka, NYY
5) Jake Odorizzi, TB

It was a somewhat weak rookie class in the NL. Especially compared to last season, when Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, and Hyun-Jin Ryu emerged. Joe Panik has filled a gaping hole at second base for the Giants, after they tried several others at second(including a washed up Dan Uggla). If Kolten Wong  had a stronger first half, he could of very well been ROY. Wong's defense has been very good at second, and has some pop in his bat. He also has stolen the most bases by a Cardinal since Cesar Izturis in 2008. Speaking of fast players, Billy Hamilton is second in the NL with 56 steals. The Mets had another losing season, but have found a battery for the future in Travis d'Arnaud and Jacob deGrom. deGrom has went 9-6 with a 2.67 ERA, striking out 144 batters in 146.1 innings. Along with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the Mets have an very talented young staff. They are hoping that deGrom, Harvey, and Wheeler don't flame out like the Generation K (Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher) from the mid-90's did.

Paul Konerko is retiring at the season's end, and the White Sox have found his replacement. Jose Abreu has had a rookie season that rivals Konerko and Frank Thomas. The Cuban defector has clubbed 35 homers, drove in 105, and leads the AL in slugging pct. Masahiro Tanaka was giving Abreu a run for the award during the first half, but missed most of the second half. Dellin Betances grew up a Yankees fan and his favorite player was Mariano Rivera. Betances 2014 campaign rivals Rivera's 1996 season as a setup man. Yordano Ventura is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and has helped the Royals to the postseason.

Cy Young Award

National League

1) Clayton Kershaw, LAD
2) Johnny Cueto, CIN
3) Adam Wainwright, STL
4) Madison Bumgarner, SF
5) Lance Lynn, STL

American League

1) Felix Hernandez, SEA
2) Corey Kluber, CLE
3) Jon Lester, BOS/OAK
4) Chris Sale, CHIWS
5) Max Scherzer, DET

Clayton Kershaw has had a dominant season, and will certainly win his third CYA this year. That would give him as many as another great Dodgers lefty, Sandy Koufax. Kershaw leads the NL in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. He has done all of that after missing most of April. Adam Wainwright has been a perennial CYA runner up, finishing third in 2009, second in 2010, and second in 2013. Wainwright's influence has rubbed off on teammate Lance Lynn, who has made major strides in 2014. Despite the Reds disappointing season, Johnny Cueto has given them a dominant performance this year. Madison Bumgarner has been the Giants ace this year, and will likely start for them in the NL wild card game. Other NL pitchers who have had strong years include Zack Greinke,  Doug Fister, and Julio Tehran.

The AL Cy Young race is much tighter than the NL. Felix Hernandez is considered to be the front runner, but Corey Kluber has given him a run for the award. Kluber has had a career year and leads the AL with 18 wins, and is second in ERA. The Athletics have fallen off since acquiring Jon Lester, but that is not his fault. Max Scherzer has had an All Star season to follow up his 2013 Cy Young, proving not to be a fluke. Lester and Scherzer figure to get paid very well this offseason in the free agent market. Chris Sale finished as the AL's ERA leader. Sale might of received more consideration if he hadn't missed time because of injury.

Most Valuable Player

National League

1) Clayton Kershaw, LAD
2) Andrew McCutchen, PIT
3) Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
4) Buster Posey, SF
5) Adam Wainwright, STL
6) Anthony Rendon, WASH
7) Matt Holliday, STL
8) Yasiel Puig, LAD
9) Todd Frazier, CIN
10) Dee Gordon, LAD

American League

1) Mike Trout, LAA
2) Victor Martinez, DET
3) Josh Donaldson, OAK
4) Nelson Cruz, BAL
5) Miguel Cabrera, DET
6) Robinson Cano, SEA
7) Jose Abreu, CHIWS
8) Jose Bautista, TOR
9) Albert Pujols, LAA
10) Jose Altuve, HOU

No pitcher has won the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968. Doc Gooden in 1985 and Greg Maddux in 1995 had good cases, but were passed up by the voters. Kershaw's ERA isn't quite as low as Gibson's 1.12, but he has a solid case for the award. Giancarlo Stanton was making an MVP push before his season ended because of a pitch to the face. Stanton will still lead the league in homers despite the missed time. Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey are the most recent NL MVP winners, and both players have had big years. The Nationals don't rely on one singular player and have a deep team. That been said, Anthony Rendon has been a huge reason why Washington has the NL's best record. No one thought that Dee Gordon would be an All Star or recieve MVP votes, but he has been a big part of the Dodgers success. He has filled the hole at the leadoff spot, solidified second base, and leads the NL in stolen bases.

After losing out to Miguel Cabrera two seasons in a row, Mike Trout is likely to win his first MVP this year. His 2014 season isn't quite as good as good as the two previous seasons, but neither is Cabrera's. Trout has increased his power production this year, hitting 36 home runs. Trout also leads the AL in RBI's. While his power has increased, his average has dropped to .290, his steals to 16, and he leads the AL in strikeouts. Still, Trout is considered the game's best all around player, and he is a huge reason why the Angels have the majors best record this year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

AL Playoff Outlook

A look at the American League playoff contenders

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays (along with the Indians) are on the fringe of the last wild card spot. That is still better than the Yankees and Rays are, who are technically still alive. Toronto hasn't been to the postseason since Joe Carter hit a walk off home run to win the 1993 World Series. The Jays were in first earlier in the season, but have not been able to keep it going in the second half. Some of that was due to injuries to Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes, but the pitching has fell off.

The back end of the rotation as well as the bullpen have been trouble spots for the team. Toronto does have the 4th best offense in the AL, which has kept them in contention. The front office didn't make any moves to bolster the pitching staff at the deadline. One has to wonder if that was a mistake for this organization.

Cleveland Indians

Things haven't gone as well for Cleveland as it did last year when Terry Francona led them to the playoffs. The Indians let Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Chris Perez go in the offseason. The plan was to rely on younger arms like Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. Those two have had mixed results, but Corey Kluber has had a brilliant season for the Tribe. Kluber ranks among the league leaders in most of the major pitching categories and will likely finish in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting. Despite letting Perez go and the failure of John Axford, the bullpen has been pretty good for Cleveland with Cody Allen taking the closer role.

The Indians have dealt with several injuries to key players like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Asdrubal Cabrera was dealt in the offseason, and Jason Kipnis has had a down year. However, the Indians have had big years from Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall. Carlos Santana was terrible in the early months, but has been one of hottest hitters in the league during the second half. While the Indians most likely won't make the playoffs, they look to have back to back winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01.

Seattle Mariners

Not many people expected Seattle to contend this season. The Mariners made a big splash when they signed former Yankee Robinson Cano to a ten year contract last offseason. Still, the Mariners didn't have many other hitters to go with Cano. Cano's presence is credited on helping the Mariners improve this season. That is according to his teammates, including Kyle Seager. Seager leads the club with 23 homers and 89 RBI's, and made his first All Star team this year. At the deadline, the front office added Austin Jackson, Kendrys Morales, and Chris Denorfia to attempt to improve the offense.

The offense is better than in year's past, but Seattle is still only 10th in the AL in runs scored. The Mariners rank 11th in the AL in average and slugging, and are last in on base pct. The strength of this team is their pitching. Felix Hernandez has is a leading Cy Young candidate, and has helped the Mariners rank first in the AL in ERA. It isn't just the King Felix show in Seattle. Hisashi Iwakuma is also a pretty good pitcher, and Chris Young has had a comeback year. Rookie leftys Roenis Elias and James Paxton have rounded out a solid rotation. Fernando Rodney has had an All Star season as Seattle's closer, and the Mariners have a very good bullpen. They are looking to make their first postseason appearance since 2001.

Kansas City Royals

Speaking of teams who haven't made the playoffs in a while, the Royals have been on a league worst 29 year drought. They are in position to reach the playoffs for the first time since Bret Saberhagen and George Brett helped Kansas City win the 1985 World Series. For nearly a month, the Royals were in first place in the Central. Now, they are 1.5 games back and currently hold the second wild card spot. The Royals will have another shot at the division title when they play the Tigers this coming weekend.

The Royals win with speed, defense, and pitching. They aren't a high scoring juggernaut. The late inning trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera arguably gives KC the best bullpen in the league. James Shields has had a solid year, and the Royals have had strong seasons from young pitchers like Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. The Royals lead the AL in steals, but don't hit for much power. However, there are some good hitters like Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez in the lineup. With the Orioles and Angels already punching their playoff tickets, the Royals find themselves in a four way race for three spots. They are competing with the Tigers for the divison, and with the Mariners and Athletics for the wild card.

Oakland Athletics

At the All Star break, the Athletics had the best record in baseball. They also had the most All Stars in the majors with 7. Billy Beane made a big trade with the Cubs to acquire Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in June. At the July 31st trading deadline, Beane traded one All Star for another. He traded his starting right fielder Yoenis Cespesdes to Boston for left handed starter Jon Lester. Beane has also made several other moves with an eye for the postseason.

However, the Athletics slumped after these moves. They lost the division lead to the Angels and their offense has struggled. While Lester has pitched very good for the A's, losing Cespedes has hurt Oakland. Not all the blame can be placed on the Cespedes trade. Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, and Coco Crisp have slumped in the second half. The team has had to increasingly rely on All Star third baseman Josh Donaldson for offense. Beane acquired slugging strikeout machine Adam Dunn in late August for help. Dunn is looking to make his first playoff appearance and figures to get a lot of time at DH. With two straight Division Series losses in Game 5, the A's will have to win a wild card game just to get there this year. Beane has placed his bets on Lester being the big game pitcher to win those type of games.

Detroit Tigers

The offseason trade of Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler has paid off for Detroit this year. It allowed Miguel Cabrera to move from third to first, and has improved the Tigers defense. It also opened up a spot for Nick Castellanos at third base, who has had a good rookie season. Fielder has missed most of the season due to neck surgery. The team has had more than enough offense, with Victor Martinez having arguably a better year than even Cabrera. Kinsler, Torii Hunter, and J.D. Martinez have also had solid seasons. Unlike last season when he was banged up, Cabrera has heated up for the September stretch run.

The Tigers have recently regained first place after a disappointing August. Detroit made a huge splash at the deadline when they acquired David Price. It gave them three former Cy Young Award winners. Max Scherzer has had another terrific season, and will be the most sought after free agent in the offseason. The other former Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander has had a down year. Rick Porcello has had a career year, and has the best ERA on the staff. With Anibal Sanchez's status uncertain for the playoffs, the Tigers are hoping Verlander can re-find is old form. Joe Nathan and the bullpen has struggled mightily, but Joakim Soria could be an X-factor in the playoffs. Rookie manager Brad Ausmus is looking to accomplish something Jim Leyland couldn't do with Detroit, win a World Series.

Baltimore Orioles

Most teams would fold if their All Star catcher and third baseman went down for the year. Buck Showalter has kept this team going despite the loss of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. On top of that, Chris Davis has been suspended for 25 games for amphetamines. Showalter hasn't let the team feel sorry for itself, and the team kept winning with replacements like Caleb Joseph, Jimmy Paredes, and Steven Pearce filling in. Pearce is actually having a much better season than Davis, who has hit below .200 after being an All Star in 2013. Despite the injuries, the Orioles still have a good lineup led by Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy.

Baltimore's front office declined to spend money on a name closer in the offseason. Instead, they gave Ubaldo Jimenez a four year deal. Jimenez has been shaky in his first year in Baltimore, but the Orioles have had a solid pitching staff. While their are no dominant aces on this staff, the Orioles have five solid starting pitchers. Chris Tillman is the Orioles best pitcher and figures to get the ball for the first game. Zack Britton took over the closer job from Tommy Hunter early in the year, and has had a terrific season. Hunter has done better as a middle reliever, and along with Darren O'Day and Andrew Miller give Baltimore a solid bullpen. Even with the injuries, the Orioles will be tough in October.

Los Angeles Angels

The trio of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton were expected to lead the Angels deep into the postseason in 2013. It didn't happen and Mike Scioscia was rumored to be on the hot seat. The team kept Scioscia, but made some moves to improve their pitching. One of the big reasons for last season's struggles was the bullpen and the back end of the rotation after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. The Angels acquired Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago for Mark Trumbo. Then, they have completely remade their bullpen. Fernando Salas, Joe Smith, Jason Grilli, Joe Thatcher, and Huston Street have all been acquired since the end of last season. Garret Richards made a major leap forward this year, but both Richards and Skaggs have suffered season ending injuries. Luckily for the team, Matt Shoemaker has stepped up to fill a void in the rotation.

Besides the improved pitching, the Angels have scored the most runs in the AL this year. Mike Trout has had another monster season, and it is looking like he is going to win his first MVP this year. Pujols is healthy this season, and has had a rebound year. Hamilton got off to a hot start early, then missed two months due to breaking his finger sliding into a base. He hasn't been as good since coming off the DL. Hamilton is a X-factor who could be a difference maker in the postseason. The Halos have also had big years from Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Kole Calhoun, and have a lot of depth. While the Angels should certainly be considered a leading candidate to win the World Series, the winningest regular season team rarely does that. Since 2000, only the 2007 Red Sox and 2009 Yankees have accomplished that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

NL Playoff Outlook

A look at the National League playoff contenders. American League outlook coming soon.

Atlanta Braves

There are officially 11 teams still in the hunt for the playoffs, but only the Braves and Brewers have realistic chances to climb back into the playoff picture. Atlanta is a fringe candidate being 4 games out of the last wild card spot with less than two weeks left in the season. A lot of things need to go right for the Braves to make the playoffs. The team's offense has struggled this year and Atlanta is next to last in the NL in runs scored. The Braves led the NL in ERA last season, and allowed fewer runs in 2013 than anytime during Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz era. The Braves defense has still been a strong point, but they haven't been the same team this year.

The Braves let Brian McCann go in the offseason, and replaced him with Evan Gattis. While Gattis has put up good numbers after becoming a starter, the Braves bench was weakened. Dan Uggla was finally released after years of decline in Atlanta. Rookie Tommy La Stella doesn't hit for power like Uggla, but gets on base. Justin Upton has been one of the team's best hitters, but his brother B.J. has had another disappointing season. Chris Johnson has fell off quite a bit from his career year last year. Freddie Freeman has put up a good season, but the team is full of guys who strikeout a ton and get on base infrequently. Injuries have decimated the pitching staff, but they still had strong performances from Julio Tehran and Craig Kimbrel.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers have spent most of the season in first place due to their 19-7 start. Since April, Milwaukee has had only one winning month. The Brew Crew were 53-43 before the All Star break, and 25-29 after. As of today, Milwaukee is within a game of the last wild card spot. The Brewers are hoping to avoid a late season collapse and at least salvage a playoff spot. My view, this was a team that was playing over its head earlier in the year. Milwaukee has plenty of good players, but they also have some flaws. With 6 remaining games against the Cardinals and Pirates, Milwaukee could still position itself into the playoffs.

The biggest weakness offensively is their horrible combination of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay at first base. Jean Segura has had a down year, but still contributes with his glove at short. Jonathon Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, and Aramis Ramirez all were All Stars this year. Ryan Braun hasn't played at an All Star level, but is still a better than average player. The offense has been fine, but it has been their pitching that has let them down. Matt Garza went down with a injury that cost him a month, and Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse weren't as good in the second half as the first half. The same could be said about Francisco Rodriguez and the team's bullpen.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The thought of the Pirates making their second postseason in a row would of been considered a pipe dream by even the biggest Pirates fans a few years ago. If the season ended today, the Pirates would have the second wild card spot. They have had another strong performance from 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is making another run at the award. Super utility man Josh Harrison made the All Star team this year, and is in the race for the batting title. Harrison will likely get most of his time at third base after Pedro Alvarez went down for the season due to injury. Neil Walker, Russell Martin, and Sterling Marte have had strong offensive seasons, which has led to Pittsburgh being third in the league in runs scored.

The rotation has improved in the second half after the call-ups of Vance Worley and Jeff Locke. Getting Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano healthy has helped out, too. Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage have re-habilitated Edinson Volquez in a way that would make Dave Duncan proud. After trading last year's closer Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon has been outstanding at that role. Lefty Tony Watson has moved up to the setup role and made the All Star team. With Alvarez out, the team is hoping that Gregory Polanco can step up. The team's top prospect started off hot when he was first called up, but struggled since then. He could make a big difference if he played to his hype.

San Francisco Giants

This is a team to watch out for in the postseason. The Giants have won two recent World Series championships in 2010 and 2012. Will the trend of winning a championship every other year happen again in 2014. They still have a shot at the division, but are three games back from their arch-rival Dodgers. The team has survived season ending injuries to Matt Cain and Marco Scutaro, along with several other injuries that kept key players out for significant time. Led by Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants have kept themselves in the playoff hunt despite all of that.

Bruce Bochy has made a couple of moves with his pitching staff in the second half. He moved Sergio Romo out of the closer role and replaced him with Santiago Casilla. More recently he moved Tim Lincecum from the rotation to the bullpen. Bochy made the opposite move with Romo and Casilla in 2012 in the stretch run. He also made the same move with Lincecum during the 2012 postseason, and Lincecum thrived in that role. Madison Bumgarner has been one of the National League's best starters outside of Clayton Kershaw. Tim Hudson has been terrific in his first season in San Francisco, and Jake Peavy has been very good after being re-united with his former manager. This is a team with a lot of playoff experience, and not a team that anybody wants to play in October.

St. Louis Cardinals

At the All Star break, the Cardinals weren't sure if they were going to make the playoffs. Yadier Molina went down with a thumb injury and several of the team's starters were injured. The team's offense was struggling, and had inconsistent pitching with the exception of Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. At the deadline, the Cardinals signed A.J. Pierzynski, traded for Justin Masterson, and traded away Allen Craig and Joe Kelly for John Lackey. Those moves have had mixed results, but the team has played much better since then.

At the end of July, the Cardinals were 14th in the NL in runs scored and allowed more runs than it had scored. That isn't good news for a playoff contender. In mid-September, the Cardinals are now 9th in runs scored and have a 3.5 game cushion in the Central division. Among the reasons for improvement have been Matt Holliday's second half surge, Kolten Wong's improvement since coming back from injury, Jon Jay's rebound year, Matt Carpenter's ability to get on base in the leadoff spot, and Jhonny Peralta's power. The pitching has also improved, and St. Louis has one of the deepest organizations in baseball. Most teams are searching for arms at this point of the year, and the Cardinals still have many options, despite the injuries. Even if Michael Wacha is not available for the postseason, they still have Miller, Marco Gonzales, and Carlos Martinez as fourth starter options behind Wainwright, Lynn, and Lackey.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers ownership has invested a lot of money on this team. They have surpassed the Yankees for having the biggest payroll in the game. There is a lot of talent on this team, but there still are some questions and potential weaknesses. No team can top the 1-2 combo of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Still, the health of Hyun-Jin Ryu is the difference maker for Los Angeles. If Ryu is healthy, this team will be a lot harder to beat. If not, Dan Haren moves into the third spot, and the team might have to start someone like Roberto Hernandez or Kevin Correia. The team's bullpen has been thin outside of closer Kenley Jansen and lefty J.P. Howell. The team has invested a lot of money in Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Brandon League, and all have been disappointing. The Dodgers need at least one of these pitchers to re-find their All Star form in the postseason.

Offensively, the Dodgers have been one of the NL's best teams. With big names like Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig, that was expected. Still, some feel like this offense has under performed. Former All Stars Carl Crawford and Kemp aren't the players they used to be, but Andre Ethier has really fallen off this year. With a crowded outfield that also includes Scott Van Slyke and Puig, Ethier's playing time has decreased. Puig hasn't hit for much power after a very good first half. Dee Gordon and Justin Turner have given the Dodgers unexpected contributions. Gordon made the All Star team and leads the NL in stolen bases. This is a ballclub with a lot of talent when they are all healthy. Don Mattingly is expected to take this team to the World Series, and his job could be in danger if he doesn't.

Washington Nationals

This Nationals teams is one of the deepest teams in the league. There isn't an MVP candidate offensively, but this a lineup with no easy outs that has a good bench. This depth has allowed the Nats to stay in the playoff hunt despite injuries that kept Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Gio Gonzalez, and Doug Fister for significant amounts of time. Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond, and Adam LaRoche have all had solid seasons that have helped put the Nats second in the league in runs scored. Another key to the Nats success is their pitching, and they have allowed the fewest runs in the NL. First year manager Matt Williams has his team in position to win the NL East for the second time in three years.

Drew Storen has had a dominant year, and recently replaced Rafael Soriano as the team's closer. Tyler Clippard was made his second All Star team as a setup reliever. Washington has had four different starters win 10 or more games, and that doesn't include Gonzalez. Three of the team's starters have a sub-3 ERA, and that doesn't include Stephen Strasburg or Gonzalez. Jordan Zimmermann might very well be the Nats Game 1 starter, but Tanner Roark could find himself in the bullpen. Roark has had a very good year, but isn't likely to get the nod over Strasburg or Gonzalez. Strasburg was shut down late in the 2012 season and was controversially left off the postseason roster. Strasburg was disappointed in the decision, but he will have his turn this year.