We talked mostly AL last week, so let's take a closer look at the NL this week.
It feels like a long time since a league felt so wide open in the first week of August. If any of the following made the World Series, I wouldn't be surprised: Dodgers, Nationals, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants, Pirates (really!).
It's hard to see it happening, but would it be crazy to see the Braves or Reds in the World Series? I don't think so.
Of course, some of these teams -- yes, possibly even the Dodgers -- will miss the playoffs. We've seen enough ups and downs from everyone that not too much would surprise me over the final seven-plus weeks.
And can we definitely count out the Marlins for a wild-card spot (5½ back)? The Mets would be pretty surprising, but at seven games back, they aren't 100 percent out of it.
I feel pretty confident in saying that the Dodgers, Nationals, Brewers and Cardinals are the top four teams while the Giants, Pirates, Braves and Reds have enough talent for a run.
Of course, there are cases against each team ...
• The Dodgers seem like the best team, but they were only 31-30 through their first 61 games. They also can be inconsistent and start a grueling road trip Wednesday (2 @ LAA, 3 @ MIL, 4 @ ATL).
• The Nationals also battle inconsistency. After an extended stretch of good play, they've lost seven of 11, including four losses to the Marlins and Phillies.
• The Brewers lost 11 of 12 less than a month ago. Any team capable of that once can do it again.
• The Cardinals' offense does not produce consistently. The Padres are the only MLB team to score fewer runs.
• The Giants have gone 19-31 since June 8. That alone is an indictment.
• The Pirates don't have a very good rotation and now might be without Andrew McCutchen for a little bit.
• The Braves have lost seven straight. They are 0-4 against teams with winning records since June 22.
• The Reds are without two middle-of-the-order All-Stars until late August. Say what you will about Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips -- two polarizing players -- but that is a crushing blow to the lineup.
Everyone is flawed on some level. Only four teams make the divisional series round (and let's face it, the wild-card game is like the NCAA basketball tournament play-in round, where it's technically the playoffs but still doesn't really feel like the playoffs) and there are at least eight worthy contenders -- maybe as many as 10, if we stretch it pretty thin.
Talk about a fun pennant race.
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