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2nd Half NL Preview: Obstructed Questions

Yesterday I looked at the American League and teams with questions they will have in the second half of the season. Today I will look at the National League.

The National League, unlike the American League has really been competitive from top to bottom in 2019. 7.5 games separate the top wild card leader (Nationals) with the 14th place team (Mets) so in a year where no trades will be made at all after the July 31 deadline, teams will have to make their answers pretty quickly in the NL. So what are the questions?

NL EAST

Acuna and Albies are two Braves prospects who have made major impacts in Atlanta’s new run.

ATLANTA BRAVES (54-37, 1st place): Will the Braves use the farm to make a blockbuster for a starter at the deadline? Atlanta was ridiculed by many (myself included) for not making moves to improve the meager bullpen in the off-season. They made two under-the-radar moves in the season to improve it when they traded for Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak. It actually panned out as the bullpen ERA since May 1 has been the best in the Majors. But another question is, can the bullpen hold up especially if the starters can’t go longer than normal. It seems like the Braves starters can only go 5 or 6 before getting the hook from Brian Snitker. At some point for as good as Atlanta’s bullpen is, you worry about fatigue. Which means the starters have got to do better. Dallas Keuchel was a start. Mike Soroka has been strong. But Julio Teheran and Max Fried are both streaky/inconsistent right now and then the two guys who actually did something last year for the Braves down the stretch with Kevin Gausman and Mike Foltynewicz have been an epic disaster. The Braves *should* make it to October, but when they see the division leaders in Chicago and Los Angeles opposing them, they realize that the starting pitching doesn’t stack as well as for those teams. And like most Octobers since 1991, the Braves bats cool off too much. They need that guy who can just go long and shut down opposing hitters. But they have not been willing at all to move key prospects in trades (which may mean Gausman, Inciarte, and Foltynewicz could be pushed out of Atlanta) to get that front end guy. If they stand pat and not make that move, fans who have been irked by Atlanta’s inactivity will go through the roof at the deadline.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS (47-42, 2nd place, 6 GB): Can the Nationals shore up the bullpen woes? One of the hottest teams in baseball since the end of May have been the Washington Nationals. After going 19-31 to begin the season, the Nats are now 28-11 since. However, 6 of the 11 losses were from the bullpen and 4 of the 11 losses the Nationals had leads going into the 8th inning. In other words, the Nationals are rolling despite the bullpen issues. Let me put it this way: Sean Doolittle, the closer has a 3.13 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP with a 10.6 K/9 rate. That’s pretty much stout compared to the rest of the pen. Javy Guerra has a 3.43 ERA, which is the next lowest but then the rest of the crew have ERA’s in the mid 4’s or higher. IF the Nationals want to really be considered for a playoff spot, something must be done down in that pen, which has doomed them since 2012. Trade? Sure. But even that goes sideways in DC.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (47-43, 3rd place, 6.5 GB): Can the Phillies starting pitching get it together? While the acquisitions the Phillies got in the off-season (Harper, Realmuto, Segura) have not been as advertised, they are still doing their part and hitting. It has been the starters that have been a mess. Aaron Nola hasn’t repeated his 2018 performance at all (3.74 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) though he hasn’t been horrid compared to Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, and Jerad Eickoff (ERA’s 4.67 or higher). Those guys have got to get it together and right now have an injury concern (and probably concern between the ears) with Arrieta. Count Philadelphia as a team who will be looking heavy into starting pitching in the next three weeks especially if they have to shelve Arrieta.

NEW YORK METS (40-50, 4th place, 13.5 GB): Will the Mets finally start a rebuild? The Mets will always be that team that despite having a double digit number of games under .500/double digit number of games behind in playoffs will constantly think they should buy. Maybe it is out of fear they will remain the jokes of the city or they don’t know when to start the rebuild, but the Mets it seems really hate it when people think they should fold tent and start over. Of course, the Mets are way behind Atlanta and while only 7 out, they have to make a major jump/push to get to Washington/Philadelphia. But the talk again is could the Mets move Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard. However, they’d be moving them when both their value has never been lower (Wheeler is 6-6 with a 4.69 and a 1.28 WHIP while Syndergaard is 6-4 with a 4.68 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP) So the Mets could easily hold onto both because the value isn’t there like they had hoped. Some people think the Mets should move Jacob deGrom because the value will still be there despite having an “off-year” (4-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). But many feel like the Mets need to just start over as this season is already a disaster and an embarrassment with the dysfunction they have. But given the Mets front office, they will still think they have a legit shot at October.

MIAMI MARLINS (33-55, 5th place, 19.5 GB): Will the Marlins give whatever fan base they have any hope for the future? Credit the Marlins players for fighting constantly and credit Don Mattingly for sticking around. But the moves they made in the past two seasons gave little hope to the franchise as while there are some prospects ready, it isn’t enough to really make a splash in the NL East. The current crop of players are really unknowns and you have Curtis Granderson who is well past his prime. Neil Walker will probably end up elsewhere at the deadline as might Sergio Romo. But what is going on with the Braves, Phillies, and Nationals, may be a sign of things to come while the Marlins just don’t have a bright future ahead with their system yet. Maybe it should be Jeter’s team to split time in Montreal.

NL CENTRAL

Contreras is energetic but the other Cubs seem to just have no sense of urgency

CHICAGO CUBS (47-43, 1st place): Can the Cubs grow up? I’ve said it on a few instances Chicago’s run in 2016 while ended the curse, may have been too fast and too successful for that core of young Cubs players like Baez, Contreras, Bryant, Schwarber, Rizzo, etc. and the veterans who kept the kids honest (Dexter Fowler, David Ross, etc.) aren’t there. But the Cubs, they are that team that believe they are the best in the league but have that “ho-hum” attitude when they are struggling and and just expect they can flip on the switch (like they did last year and look how that turned out). They are really too good to be 47-43 and should be well ahead of Milwaukee instead of a half-game lead over the Brewers. But we’ve seen this story. I think even Theo Epstein is tired of this story and has made some comments about it. The likes of Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras, and Baez need to just focus on baseball like they did in 2016.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS (47-44, 2nd place, 0.5 GB): Can the Brewers make that big splash at the deadline to get a much-needed starter? In 2017 Milwaukee contended for the division with the World Series hungover Cubs, but failed to make a move at the deadline for a pitcher. The end result was a mini-collapse (to couple in with the Cubs realizing they were the Cubs). 2018 arrived and Milwaukee added pieces including future MVP Christian Yelich and took the Dodgers to 7 games in the NLCS. But again, little was addressed (okay, they traded for Gio Gonzalez during the waiver deadline period, which won’t happen this year). However, Milwaukee DESPERATELY needs a starter to really compete with the Braves/Dodgers/Cubs. Brandon Woodruff has been a great starter for the Brew Crew and Zach Davies has been solid, but past them they are in a world of trouble (and Gio has a dead arm right now and on the 10-day DL). Milwaukee has to really go after a big starter at the deadline, whether that be Stroman, Boyd, etc. to make that needed splash and jump ahead of the Cubs. If not, then Milwaukee wasted another season that could have been.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (44-44, 3rd place, 2 GB): Can Paul Goldschmidt return to form? St. Louis made a huge splash in the off-season by adding Goldschmidt from Arizona. Goldy’s numbers in Arizona were near the top in the baseball world. Since joining the Cardinals, he’s been really average at best. He’s nearly 50 points lower than his career average (hitting .254 this season as opposed to his nearly .300 career average) and his OPS is 150 points lower (.769 as opposed to a .917). He isn’t drawing as many walks like he did in Arizona, and is on pace for a career high in strikeouts. I’m not sure if it is adjusting to a more pitcher’s friendly park in St. Louis as opposed to a hitter’s haven in Arizona, but he has been a disappointment in St. Louis. But if he can get it going in the second half, the Cubs and Brewers are both going to be in trouble.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES (44-45, 4th place 2.5 GB): Will the Pirates buy or sell at the deadline? Pittsburgh is the opposite of the Mets in the sense of if they are in that shady area of going one way or the other, they often put up the white flag. Last year was an anomaly when they moved Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow for Chris Archer, but that trade completely backfired on the Pirates. The thing is, the Pirates offense is one of the best in the NL thanks to Josh Bell but also contributions from Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman, Colin Moran, Starling Marte, and even Melky Cabrera (yep, the ageless one). But what stings them has been the starting pitching which has been atrocious since the start of May. So would the Pirates make a push to get another starter to have a shot at the NL Central or move some veterans and get MLB ready prospects? Pittsburgh fans are somewhat getting tired of the whole “let’s get ready for next year” mode that has plagued this franchise since really when Sid slid in 1992.

CINCINNATI REDS (41-46, 5th place, 4.5 GB): Will the Reds buy or sell? Cincinnati’s window of competing may have started opening up this year. The Reds have a pitcher who is going to be the ace for a long time in Luis Castillo (the Marlins made an oopsie on that one too) and the staff has been solid outside of him (Sonny Gray, Anthony DeSclafani, Tanner Roark, and Tyler Mahle have been consistent/solid) and overall Cincinnati’s pitching is second only to the Dodgers in ERA. The offense is streaky however. After Yasiel Puig, Derek Dietrich, and Eugenio Suarez, the rest of the group including Joey Votto has been mediocre. They could grab a bat for a middle infielder if Scooter Gennett can’t keep healthy (Tim Beckham? Eric Sogard?). Or do they hope that Nick Senzel and Jessie Winker get it going in the second half and Votto turns on the fountain of youth. Or do they sell? I’d say they should stand pat and hope that the bats warm up to go along with their pitching to make things interesting in the NL Central.

NL WEST

Bellinger and Turner are enjoying the historic Dodgers season in 2019

LOS ANGELES DODGERS (60-32, 1st place): Do the Dodgers have a massive weakness right now? Los Angeles has the top offense in the NL though Braves fans may say theirs is just as stout. The pitching is tops in the NL too with that rotation dealing. There is something really special going on in Dodgertown where it is hard to imagine they aren’t considered the favorites to win it all. However, if they are active before the deadline it is probably to get a reliever and depth off the bench (but AJ Pollock is coming back which means Alex Verdugo will be utilized as a pinch-hitter). But if they are making a move, it will be that. It won’t be a splash to get someone like Shane Greene but probably an under-the-radar move. And the Dodgers making a trade for a catcher probably won’t happen since they have Will Smith in Oklahoma City (and deserves to be on the Big League squad).

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (46-45, 2nd place, 13.5 GB): Could the Diamondbacks string a big run in the second half? Despite the loss of Paul Goldschmidt via trade (and Christian Walker outplaying him this year) Arizona has turned many heads especially on offense with Walker, Ketel Marte (all-star), Eduardo Escobar, David Peralta, and even Adam Jones has made some noise. Arizona’s pitching has been solid with Zack Greinke looking like that Cy Young threat like we have come to know while Robbie Ray has looked solid. And even Merrill Kelly has been serviceable. Arizona could use an upgrade with the bats (outfield) and pitching at the deadline and they could pick up somebody to really make noise like they did a la JD Martinez in 2017. This is where maybe another deal with Detroit could happen and Greene comes over (maybe Castellanos gets moved here too?). Arizona won’t catch the Dodgers, but the Dbacks can get a wild card and go on a torrid run to really distance themselves from the rest of the NL.

SAN DIEGO PADRES (45-45, 3rd place, 14 GB): Do the Padres get that desperately needed starter at the deadline or do they sell? San Diego’s future is beginning now. Fernando Tatis Jr. is a superstar in the making and then you got some major boppers in Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe. And then the big signing of Manny Machado has starting to tear it up in the past month. Despite those guys and Eric Hosmer, the Padres have some holes on offense and starting pitching. San Diego has been inked to Cleveland pitchers Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber this season and they could dive in and try to bring in one of the top starters on the market. Or do they wait and go “next year is most definitely our year” where Joey Lucchesi, Chris Paddack, and Eric Lauer are more experienced and then it wouldn’t be as much of a need? I don’t see San Diego selling unless they get off to a slow start and then it would only be “who wants Ian Kinsler, Gregg Garcia, or Wil Myers?”

COLORADO ROCKIES (44-45, 4th place 14.5 GB): Can the Rockies do ANYTHING away from Coors Field? “Fool me once…” After years of not ever taking the Rockies seriously, I actually thought this year was the year they would do some damage in the NL and give the Dodgers a legit run. In fact, it looks like those days of the Blake Street Bombers in the 90’s when Colorado dominated on offense and needed to to off-set the pitching and then scuffle away from Coors Field and you couldn’t take them seriously. After splitting with the Dodgers at home, the Rockies have lost 5 straight including a 3-game sweep in Arizona. They are 24-19 at home and 20-26 on the road. We know they can hit, especially at home as the All-Star trio of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and David Dahl is lethal. But the minute you pull all three out of Colorado, you get pretty much average hitters (and Blackmon doing his Dante Bichette impression of being useless outside of Coors Field). Worse, the Rockies road schedule in the second half is a nightmare as all but 6 games are against teams .500 or better and 3 of them are to the pitching quality Reds right now. More fun: 11 road games are against the Yankees (3), Astros (2), and Dodgers (6). Colorado could be out of it around Labor Day Weekend if they can’t figure out how to hit away from Coors Field or be able to pitch.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (41-48, 5th place, 17.5 GB): Is it finally time for that rebuild? San Francisco has been competitive the last few years but a far cry from their run from 2010-2016 where three world championships reside. The cornerstones of the franchise in this run (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford) are aging, fast and have underperformed this year. Pablo Sandoval (also a part of that great run) has aged, but is actually looking like his old self. Then you have Madison Bumgarner (not his dominant self) and Jeff Samardzija (aged). Add in over 30 players in Evan Longoria and Kevin Pillar and you have a team full of veterans who are not getting it done. The farm system is better than it was in recent memory but still a long ways off from being productive aside from Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos (still not on track for the Majors until likely 2021). Giants have to start over. It was a nice run, but they fell too much into the “we kept our players far too long” category like the Tigers, Phillies, and Orioles did. Hopefully it won’t be as disastrous. But they need to make those moves.

That is it. Look forward to a fun 2nd half in the Senior Circuit.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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