National League Team By Team Analysis:
Chicago Cubs (95-67)
Strengths: Solid pitching staff, a good blend of veterans and playoff experience, above average relief corps, a balanced and good offensive lineup.
Weaknesses: Inconsistencies from the bullpen and starting rotation. Will they be able to stay hot at the right time? Are their weapons enough to stay afloat with the rest of the National League?
X-Factor: LHP Cole Hamels. The Cubs have had a solid rotation going all season, but there was work to be done at the trade deadline. It looks like Theo Epstein found his guy in left-handed veteran Cole Hamels. Hamels was acquired from the Rangers before the trade deadline ended and he’s been the pitching gem that the Cubs needed to complement a solid rotation alongside Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks. Since the trade, Hamels has made 12 starts as a Cub, compiling a 4-3 record and an excellent 2.36 ERA. He also brings a lot of postseason experience to the Cubs, going 7-6 with a 3.48 ERA in his career in the playoffs. The Cubs will look for Hamels to stay in this form as the stretch run continues in October.
Milwaukee Brewers (95-67)
Strengths: They’re hot heading into the postseason (22-8 in last 30), offensive star power, and a strong bullpen group.
Weaknesses: An interesting starting staff with some question marks, lack of postseason experience, and minimal production from the catcher position.
X-Factor: LF Ryan Braun. Ryan Braun was once thought of as one of the best players in baseball around 2011, but a performance enhancing drugs scandal shot that argument down real quick. Braun is attempting a resurgent comeback late in 2018 after years of on and off struggles attempting to clear up his image. Braun has been exceptionally hot recently, hitting five home runs in his last six games. He’s having a decent season for the Brew Crew, hitting around .254 with 20 homers and a .785 OPS. He will hope to be a pivotal piece towards a potential deep run for a fun Brewers team that will be making its fifth postseason in franchise history.
Colorado Rockies (91-71)
Strengths: Playing in Coors Field, offensive firepower, a strong second half for their pitching staff.
Weaknesses: Playing in Coors Field, inconsistent bullpen woes, and question marks surrounding their rotation.
X-Factor: LHP Kyle Freeland. So are we just not going to give credit where it is due? I’ve seen people giving Rockies left handed starter Kyle Freeland minimal credit and respect for the season he is having. The young ace has been the reliable starter throughout 2018 for a Colorado team who otherwise has a struggling pitching staff. He’s made 33 starts this season, compiling a 17-7 record with a great 2.85 ERA. If you throw in the fact that Freeland has pitched to a 2.40 ERA at Coors Field, which is not by any means a pitchers park, and you’ve got a young star in the making for the Rockies. They won’t go far without Freeland’s continued excellence on the mound however. There’s no stopping this offense, but the pitching may be the downfall once again for the Colorado Rockies.
Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71)
Strengths: Offensive depth, balanced lineup versus both lefties and righties, stacked pitching rotation, powerful back end in bullpen.
Weaknesses: Front end of bullpen. They’ve historically struggled in the postseason in the 21st century. Can they stay healthy?
X-Factor: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have boasted the league’s best ERA since the midsummer classic, and you can undoubtedly attribute a great amount of that to the spectacular second half that left-handed veteran Hyun-Jin Ryu had. He finally got healthy and showed the Dodgers why they didn’t give up on him. He made nine starts since the All-Star break, compiling a 4-3 record with a 1.88 ERA. He will need to continue pitching at this level if the Dodgers want to go far in the postseason. He’s a crucial part of what looks to be a formidable starting pitching staff as we turn the page to October.
Atlanta Braves (90-72)
Strengths: Strong starting pitching, great offensive lineup, good defensive team.
Weaknesses: Minimal postseason experience on the roster. Weaker bullpen, bench depth.
X-Factor: RHP Anibal Sánchez. For someone who was cut by the Twins in spring training, Anibal Sánchez has been ridiculously effective since being plugged into the Braves rotation. The veteran right-handed has reinvented his pitching style to become similar to the pitcher he was in the 2006 and 2013 seasons. Sánchez is a reliable veteran pitcher with a complete repertoire that has made him an unheralded star for the Braves. He’s made 24 starts in 2018, compiling a 7-6 record with a 2.83 earned run average. Now the question is: can he maintain this level of effectiveness as the Braves march on their quest to potentially winning the World Series? That remains to be seen, but if Sánchez can maintain the level of postseason success he has had previously in his career (2.79 postseason career ERA), then I wouldn’t be shocked to see Atlanta celebrating with the World Series pennant.