The Dodgers have become a fixture in the playoffs. The last time they weren't in the postseason was 2012. The last time they weren't in the NLCS was 2015 and the last time they weren't in the World Series was the glorious 2016 campaign. They are cruising again this season and are actually on pace to top their 2017 total of 104 wins. 

And yet, it's not automatic that they end up in the World Series again. They are easily the favorite and if I were going to wager, they would be my pick, but few things in baseball are ever guaranteed. What if the Dodgers don't win the NL? Who will take the pennant instead? Let's sort it out. 

The favorite

Though the bullpen is worrisome -- as it is for the Dodgers, mind you -- the Braves are totally different from the team that last year barely mustered a whimper against the mighty Dodgers in October. The kids are grown up and there's more veteran firepower. Let the tale of 2015, when the Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season but were swept in the NLCS, caution us against taking the result of this weekend's Braves' series win as something of substance. The Dodgers would still be the overwhelming favorites and their rotation would look a lot different, but the Braves have a top-to-bottom strong lineup and the ability to put forth a sturdy playoff rotation. 

If things break right ...

Could we get a third Chicago-L.A. NLCS in the last four years? The Cubs are absolutely abysmal away from Wrigley Field, but if they somehow luck into a road win, a run to the World Series is possible. The offensive upside is big and there's a way to squint to see the rotation and bullpen being good enough for a pennant, especially now that Yu Darvish is fixed. 

The only team in the NL with a better record since May 23 (arbitrary endpoint alert!) than the Nationals is the Dodgers. The Nats have an MVP-caliber player in Anthony Rendon flanked by studs like Trea Turner and Juan Soto. They can run a playoff rotation that starts with three aces in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. The bullpen is definitely an issue, but bullpens are volatile and few teams have them figured out. 

The Cardinals have an offense that just feels like it should be so much better and, honestly, we could probably say the same thing about their pitching staff. It sounds so simplistic, but they have a lot of good players. We've seen everything fall into place for teams at the right time before. It happened with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. It could happen again. They have the talent. 

Dream scenario?

I don't think it's going to happen, BUT! 

What if the Mets get their best versions of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman and Zack Wheeler in the playoffs? "So you're telling me there's a chance!"

Even bigger, I'm not seeing a run from the Giants, BUT! 

What if somehow, some way, the Giants make the playoffs and are personally responsible for making sure the Dodgers again come up empty? Four pennants and three titles this decade while the Dodgers have zero rings -- man, Giants nation has to be clamoring for this possibility. 

I'm just not seeing it

Again, I'm risking an appearances on freezing cold takes, but I see a zero percent scenario that the following teams somehow win the NL: Brewers, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Reds and we can throw in the Giants as well. As noted, I don't think it'll happen, but I'll handicap the Mets as a non-zero percent complete longshot. 

Where we stand in the NL is that it's likely the Dodgers with the Braves having a shot and the Cubs, Nationals and Cardinals with a small chance and the Mets as our Cinderella story dream. That's it. Sorry if this offends (I'm actually not). 

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Biggest Movers
4 Red Sox
4 Cubs
1 Yankees I'm at a loss for words when it comes to what DJ LeMahieu is doing this year, but still, no, he's not MVP. See the Angels' comment for more. 2 51-24
2 Dodgers Doesn't it seem weird that the Dodgers have never had a 50-homer player? That's likely to change this year. Cody Bellinger is at 41 right now. -- 46-29
3 Astros What is it about the Astros and strikeout pitchers? J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott ... and now in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, they have the two top strikeout pitchers in the majors. 2 33-40
4 Twins The Twins have hit 240 home runs this season. Their previous franchise record was 225 (1963). 2 41-32
5 Braves Sorry, benching Ronald Acuna was stupid and it's such eye wash, try-hard nonsense when managers do that unless it's a major problem child. Acuna isn't that. -- 40-31
6 Guardians It's amazing how they just bring guys up from the minors who are stellar at pitching. The latest example is Aaron Civale (1.50 ERA in four starts). The way the Indians develop pitching is the envy of the league. 2 44-26
7 Rays They just went 29 innings against the Padres and Tigers without scoring a run, but then walked it off in extras and stormed back to win the series finale. Quite a week of ups and downs. -- 34-39
8 Athletics Somehow, Matt Harvey's gonna be great for them, isn't he? 1 27-48
9 Nationals Man, if they could only get that bullpen sorted out ... 3 35-37
10 Red Sox Rafael Devers through 18 games was hitting .246 with a .295 slugging percentage. Now he's hitting .332/.380/.596 and leading the league in hits, doubles, RBI and total bases. He's only 22 years old. 4 39-35
11 Cardinals Though it may not look like they have an ace for the playoffs, look harder at Jack Flaherty. In his last eight starts, he's allowed just five earned runs in 50 1/3 innings (0.89 ERA). He has 61 strikeouts and a 0.77 WHIP in that span, too. -- 36-36
12 Cubs The Cubs just won their first road series since the middle of May. Seriously. 4 35-39
13 Mets Michael Conforto is absolutely on fire right now. He has six multi-hit games and five homers in his last 13 games. 3 35-37
14 Phillies The best part about the Bryce Harper walk-off grand slam was how he sprinted the entire way around the bases because he wanted to celebrate with his teammates as soon as possible. But, yeah, you're probably right that he's a selfish jerk, Bryce Haters. 4 49-24
15 Brewers Saturday's win in D.C. was a Game of the Year candidate, right? Amazing. 2 43-30
16 Giants Mike Yastrzemski was drafted in the 14th round and played 703 games in the minors. Now at 28, he's having an excellent rookie season. I'm sure Gramps is proud. 1 36-38
17 Diamondbacks What's come of Jake Lamb is pretty depressing, no? He looked like a star just two years ago. 2 36-37
18 Angels Picking up where the Yankees comment left off, please don't become numb to Mike Trout. He's having his best season ever. And for the love of all that is holy do not bring up his teammates when we're talking about MVP. Though this is a team sport on the surface, it's all individual matchups. He can only do so much on his own. This isn't basketball where he can control the ball every play. The most valuable players are the best players. Mike Trout is the best player in the world having his best season. 2 29-44
19 Rangers If you haven't seen Emmanuel Clase pitch yet, try to right that wrong. He throws over 100 with movement and it's just filthy. 3 33-40
20 Reds Aristides Aquino. Mercy. 1 35-38
21 Padres Fernando Tatis Jr. is the gift that keeps on giving, and yet we're only going to get 84 games of him this season. Life ain't fair. -- 37-40
22 White Sox Eloy Jimenez has fun power potential. He's also posted a negative WAR this season. I would say I don't understand why White Sox fans are so obsessed with him, but I think we know the answer. -- 20-54
23 Mariners Yusei Kikuchi entered Sunday with a 5.56 ERA total and a 7.88 ERA in his previous five starts. He threw a shutout Sunday, because of course he did. Baseball is baseballin'. 2 44-31
24 Blue Jays If you didn't see the Vlad Jr. home run from Friday night, seek it out. It was such a bad pitch to swing at and he still destroyed it. Shades of his father! 1 35-38
25 Rockies They've already won more games in August than they did in July. They aren't exactly hot, either. 1 25-48
26 Pirates Bryan Reynolds is a rookie and could win the batting title. I don't really care much about such a thing, but the Pirates broadcast mentioned it so many times over the weekend that I felt like I had to plug it in here. 4 35-38
27 Marlins Did you know Starlin Castro still isn't even 30 years old and has 1,572 career hits? Watch out, Pete! (I kid, but it is a lot). 1 24-49
28 Royals The Royals have now designated for assignment nine players from their opening-day, 25-man roster. That's kind of impressive, really. -- 41-33
29 Orioles The Orioles have had 33 different pitchers allow home runs this year. I'm not going to figure out how many gave them up to Gleyber Torres, but we can guess it's a lot. 2 47-25
30 Tigers At least Matthew Boyd is back on track. Right? 1 34-39