National League playoff preview

The National League is even more uneven than the American League this season. With one week remaining in the regular season, there are three clear runaway divisional winners with a tight wild-card race for the fourth and final playoff spot.

NL East:

Washington Nationals: The Washington Nationals are 7.5 games ahead of their division rivals, the New York Mets. Washington has been in control of the National League East the entire season. They got off to a 9-1 start to the regular season and never looked back. Their 9-1 start was the best franchise start over the first 10 games in MLB history.

The off-season acquisition of second baseman Daniel Murphy has certainly paid dividends. Murphy is batting a whopping .347 on the year with 25 home runs and 104 RBI. Murphy had killed the Nationals in the past as a member of the New York Mets which is another thing to not have to worry about.

Murphy leads Washington in all five of the major batting categories: home runs, RBI, OBP, hits and batting average and is a serious contender for National League MVP. The Nationals still have reigning National League MVP in Bryce Harper as well. Harper has dropped off a bit this year, but is still providing solid numbers with 24 homers, 82 RBI and a .245 batting average. If Washington can get back Steven Strasburg to go along with ace Max Scherzer, the Nationals’ 1-2 punch will be tough to hit against come October.

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs: 1908. That is the last year the Chicago Cubs were crowned as World Series Champions. Cubs fans, this year is the year. It really is. The Curse of the Billy Goat needs to and will come to an end this year.

The Curse of the Billy Goat started back in 1945 when the Chicago Cubs owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave the game at Wrigley Field during game four of the World Series due to the odor of his pet goat bothering other fans. As he was leaving the park with his goat he screamed, “them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” Since then the Cubs have not even made it to the World Series and fans really believe he jinxed them.

The Chicago Cubs were preseason favorites to win it all and still remain the favorites as the regular season winds down. Last night the Cubs won their 98th game of the regular season, their most wins in a season since the 1945 season.

The Cubs have had the most dominant starting pitching staff in baseball this year. They are led by the National League Cy Young front-runner in Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks has been a pleasant surprise for Chicago this season as he was their No. 4 starter on opening day and has evolved into their ace. Hendricks leads the NL this season with a 2.06 ERA.

Then there are the Cubs’ second and third starters for the postseason, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Lester is second in the NL with a 2.36 ERA and tied for first with 18 wins. Arrieta won the National League Cy Young award last season and is tied with teammate Lester for most wins this year with 18 of his own. Statistically, the Cubs sport the third-best offense in baseball as a whole. They are also a top five team — ahead in hits, RBI, OBP and runs scored. They are stacked on both offense and defense and I don’t see anything outside the Billy Goat Curse standing in their way.

NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Los Angeles Dodgers are closing in on their fourth consecutive NL West division title. They are currently seven games ahead of their postseason nemesis the San Francisco Giants. The past five years have been nothing but a two-car race in the National League West. It usually ends up with the Dodgers winning the division title and the Giants squeaking in through the Wild Card route.

Unfortunately in recent history, the Giants always end up taking out the Dodgers and have won the World Series three times in the past six seasons. While the Giants have three World Championships, the Dodgers haven’t even made one World Series appearance. It’s finally time to stop being known as regular season champions and put on in the postseason.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers’ No. 2 starter, Scott Kazmir went down for the season last night. However, Los Angeles just got back superstar Clayton Kershaw, the most dominant regular season pitcher in the modern-day era. Kershaw has been extremely effective when healthy this season; he sits pretty at 11-3 overall with a 1.73 ERA.

Unfortunately there is close to nothing after him aside from Japanese starter Kenta Maeda. Maeda was very solid for Los Angeles this year; he is 16-9 with a 3.20 ERA. The Dodgers offense is talented, but certainly not experienced. 22-year-old shortstop Corey Seager has been their catalyst all season. He leads the team with a .313 batting average, a .372 OBP and 187 hits. Third baseman Justin Turner has provided the power for the Dodgers offense by leading the team with 27 home runs and 87 RBI. They have dominated their division once again this year, though it doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere come October.

Wild Card:

New York Mets, San Francisco Giants?

The entire National League will be pulling for the New York Mets. Not because they aren’t good, mostly has everything to do with them just losing their flashy ace in Jacob deGrom to elbow surgery for the remainder of the season.

Also, the Giants have the most dominant playoff pitcher of this era, Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner and the Giants have taken everyone down in the National League in recent years regardless of getting in the postseason through the Wild Card or not. They were crowned World Series Champions in 2010, 2012 and 2014. It is an even year again — why couldn’t they keep their every-other-year tradition alive?

Sports Editor for the Maine Campus.

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