Separating the Contenders from the Pretenders In The National League

I could’ve been a contender…

With the first half of the season is just about in the books, it’s finally time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There are four teams that I believe are completely out of the playoff picture (Chicago, San Diego, Colorado, and Houston). All four will be sellers in a few weeks, attempting to unload salaries in return for prospects. The remaining 12 teams will be classified into three tiers. The first all have a good chance of winning the pennant this season, the second have a decent chance, while the third are pretenders.

Tier 1:

Washington Nationals: The Nats have the best record in the National League to go along with the best pitching staff. They have allowed approximately 3.5 runs per game this year, which is flat out ridiculous. Look for the Nats to add a bat at the deadline in order to give that aching lineup some help. Jayson Werth has been out pretty much all year with his wrist injury, which has really hurt the offense.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto is putting up surefire MVP numbers, but the Reds pitching staff has been the biggest strength so far this year. Cueto, Arroyo, Leake, Bailey, and Latos have pitched well and stayed healthy, which is a recipe for success. The bullpen, although it has struggled as of late, has been the best in the MLB.

San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain has become the ace of the five headed monster of a rotation. Lincecum has pitched very poorly, but has had some recent success. The Giants need some more help with the lineup, so look for them to be in the market for a big bat.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Whenever you have strong pitching and a couple of star position players, you have a shot to win. The Dodgers lineup is not very good, especially without Matt Kemp, but the MVP candidate will likely return right after the All-Star break. Dee Gordon has struggled to get on base, but his speed does wreak havoc. Kershaw is having another fine year, but the Dodgers need some assistance in the rotation. They could make a push for Cole Hamels if he becomes available.

Tier 2:

Atlanta Braves: The Braves may be the best organization in all of sports. Every single year they seem to be in contention in some form, and this year is no different. Atlanta needs an arm in the rotation, with Brandon Beachy out for the season with TJ surgery. The Braves offense has been very good, led by a resurgent Jason Heyward.

St. Louis Cardinals: Another great organization that puts a solid team out there every night. Mike Matheny’s ballclub were red hot in April, but have since cooled down. Carlos Beltran has been the steal of free agency thus far, as he’s knocked 20 homeruns in the first half of the year. The offense is the fourth best in all of baseball, which is crazy to think when you consider who they lost in the offseason. The Cardinals also need help in the rotation and bullpen, which will be an area they look at near the trade deadline.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks are coming off a postseason appearance last year and they are finally playing better. They lost Daniel Hudson to injury, Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton have underperformed, but they are still in the thick of things out there in the NL West. They are playing mediocre baseball this year, but I expect them to start tearing it up in the next month or so. This team is young, but way too talented to be playing .500 baseball.

New York Mets: Here comes my bias. I believe this team has a shot, as do most die-hards. Some changes need to be made though, which could come very soon. The Mets need bullpen help desperately, as well as a right handed bat. The Mets could move Daniel Murphy, but I don’t see his value being high enough to garner any significant arms in the bullpen. They Mets might have to move one of their 2nd or 3rd tier prospects to get a Huston Street or a Brett Myers. The Mets could also promote some of their prospects, who seem to have futures in the MLB bullpen (Mejia and Familia).

Tier 3:

Miami Marlins: Miami went for a whole new look in the offseason, but the only noise that they’ve made has come out of Ozzie Guillen’s mouth. Heath Bell has been the worst signing of the offseason, while Jose Reyes still hasn’t picked up where he left off last year. This team has talent and could certainly get back into the picture, but I just don’t see how. They are just way too inconsistent.

Philadelphia Phillies: Sellers written all over them. 5 core players are on the wrong side of 30 and making a lot of money. The Phillies need to get healthy and trade some expiring contracts to get back some high-level prospects. It’ll be tough for Philly fans to swallow, but this team desperately needs to shed some of these high salaries this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Everybody fell in love with this team last July and then they had one of the worst second halves in all of baseball. Until they have a stopper in the rotation, I just can’t see this team as a legitimate 162 game team.

Miluwakee Brewers: Last but not least, the Brewers. Milwaukee’s pitching has not been pretty outside of Zack Grienke. Shaun Marcum has been just okay, while Randy Wolf and Yovani Gallardo have not pitched particularly well. The Brewers bullpen has not helped them out, while the offense is mediocre at best. Ryan Braun is shutting his “steroid” haters up, but he can’t do it all by himself.