The Los Angeles Dodgers sit atop the Power Rankings this week and they are far and away the best team in the NL, which doesn't place another team in the top five overall. The Dodgers don't figure to go anywhere and it looks like once again the road to the World Series on the NL side will run through Dodger Stadium, just as it has four of the last six seasons.
Can anyone get in the Dodgers' way from seeking a third-consecutive World Series birth, as we saw the 2016 Cubs and 2013 Cardinals do? Let's take a look at the wide-open field, notably with what I see as the four obvious favorites to face off with the Dodgers in the NLCS.
They've been in first place pretty much throughout the season and have mostly been consistently good. The offense has lots of talent with Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Bryce Harper leading the way. After losing Andrew McCutchen, however, . There's also talent in the rotation, but are Aaron Nola (4.63 ERA) and Jake Arrieta (4.29) going to pitch better? The back-end of the bullpen could stand to be settled in front of Hector Neris, too, with David Robertson hopefully coming back in July.
I definitely like the Phillies to remain in contention the rest of the way and feel like they're a playoff team, but there are legitimate concerns.
Here they come again, having won six of their last eight games. The Braves are actually 18-9 since May 9, but they still seem to even out hot streaks, such as when they lost four of five to close May. The underperformance of Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gausman is certainly cause for concern and the Braves seem to share the sentiment, since they just signed Dallas Keuchel. Outside Freddie Freeman (and the Austin Riley shot of life), the offense could stand to be a lot more consistent, too.
The Braves are similar to the Phillies to me, in terms of what I expect going forward. I believe we've got at least a two-team race in the NL East going to the last week of the season.
Christian Yelich is off-the-charts good and Mike Moustakas has 20 homers. The Brewers actually lead the league in homers by a nice margin. The Yasmani Grandal signing has been amazing, too. The Brewers also have a problem at first base and it's possible Lorenzo Cain (33 years old) is entering his age-related decline phase. The rotation behind Zach Davies is a concern and the bullpen in front of Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader isn't near what it was last year.
Still, there are a lot of areas where the Brewers could see natural in-season improvement and they're still hanging right with the Cubs. It likely remains the case all season and an NLCS repeat isn't a stretch at all.
They've been the second-best team in the NL for most of the season, but with two extreme negative stretches. They started the season 1-6 and just recently lost eight of 10 before getting hot again. There isn't much reason for concern with the offense, even if it's top heavy and very reliant on four stars. A pair of 35-year-old lefties in the rotation in Jon Lester and Cole Hamels are going to be inconsistent, Yu Darvish is still a concern and there are plenty of questions in the bullpen, though Craig Kimbrel coming aboard and Pedro Strop being back from injury help. The biggest thing here for me is: Will the Cubs hit one of their extreme cold stretches at the wrong time? I could see it costing them the division and even the wild card or simply getting swept in the NLDS, but when they are going well they could win it all. Timing is everything.
Could someone else emerge? Sure! The Diamondbacks and Padres are within striking range and have talent. The Rockies run really hot and cold and a well-timed hot streak has gotten them to the postseason before. Hell, they rode one to the 2007 NL pennant. The Mets seem hopelessly broken, but they aren't far off of .500 and all it would take is a hot streak. The Nationals aren't completely buried and have talent. The Cardinals feel like they should be so much better and maybe they'll have another stretch where they win 20 of 30. The Pirates and Reds are long shots but shouldn't be ignored. If pressed to pick one from this group as having the best chance to reach the NLCS, I'll go Cardinals. As noted, they should be much better than this.
My pick here is we see Cubs vs. Dodgers, Part III -- a rubber match, if you will! -- but little would surprise and we still have far more than half the regular season left before a Wild Card Game (I'll say Phillies vs. Brewers with the Braves taking the East) and the divisional round. Maybe the Dodgers even get shocked in the NLDS round? Regardless of how it goes down, it's going to be fun.
|Hyun-Jin Ryu's stat line is ridiculous. It's not just the 1.35 ERA or 0.78 WHIP. How about the strikeout-to-walk rate? He's struck out 71 and walked just five. Outrageous.||1||43-17|
|Razor thin margin here for the top spot. Once the Astros get back to full strength, they're the best team in baseball.||1||29-31|
|Nelson Cruz comes back off the injured list and promptly homers in four straight games. This team and its power. Man.||1||36-24|
|Through his age-33 season, Charlie Morton had never made the All-Star team. This summer, he's gonna make it two straight.||1||40-20|
|Terrible week, but they had won 20 of 25 before to enable them to absorb it. Plus, Sir Didi is back!||2||33-27|
|Kyle Schwarber's on pace to hit 30-plus homers and he's fifth on the Cubs in home runs.||2||34-26|
|Bryce Harper is pretty firmly above average in terms of on-base percentage and slugging. His salary for this season is less than $12 million. Can we stop it with the "he's getting paid $330 million to hit .251" takes? That's really weak and dumb. Bet on Harper to have more hot streaks and a big second half.||--||28-32|
|Mike Moustakas just had an eight-game stretch where he hit .382/.432/.941 with six homers and then he homered again on Sunday for his 20th of the season. That'll spruce up the ol' All-Star resume.||2||29-31|
|I love the fit for Dallas Keuchel here. They will need to address the bullpen via trade now (Will Smith?).||1||35-25|
|The Red Sox are 1-4 against the Yankees and just lost three of four to the Rays at home. If this continues, the champs are playing for a wild card.||1||24-36|
|One of the biggest, pleasant surprises this season, the Rangers have gone 6-1-1 in series since being swept in Houston roughly a month ago.||--||22-38|
|After three wins to start May, the D-Backs went 8-17 the rest of the month. Since turning the calendar to June, though, they've now won six of eight.||2||25-35|
|They won eight in a row to close out a homestand and then went 2-4 on the road this past week. They are 18-12 at home and 15-19 on the road. The good news is the Rockies have seven home games coming this week.||--||26-34|
|The Tribe was really up against it heading into this week and they won series over the Twins and Yankees. Good to see, but they need to sustain it.||5||35-25|
|Frankie Montas, Cy Young contender? It's possible, but I worry the workload gets in the way. He only worked 136 2/3 innings last season between Triple-A and the majors. That was his biggest workload since beginning in the Dominican Summer League in 2010.||2||36-24|
|Fernando Tatis Jr. is back! :Heart-Eyes Emoji:||1||37-23|
|Just when it looked like they were turning the corner, they have a 1-4 week. It's been like this for a while.||5||30-28|
|Noah Syndergaard is the single most frustrating pitcher in baseball. He twirled a gem on Sunday, but it's frustrating because he should be doing it regularly.||2||26-34|
|Tommy La Stella is up to 15 homers. This is madness. He had 10 career homers in 947 plate appearances entering the season.||3||26-34|
|They've got about a month to climb into contention, otherwise it's gonna be crazy with the Anthony Rendon trade rumors. They have won 11 of 15, so this is something to be tracking.||1||26-34|
|Here's an anomaly that should get fixed pretty soon: Eloy Jimenez has eight homers on the road and zero at home.||3||35-25|
|Basically, everyone who gets regular playing time except Derek Dietrich should be hitting better. Something is broken nearly team wide.||--||31-29|
|The Pirates are 15-6 against teams under .500 and 15-28 against teams above.||--||19-41|
|Send your thoughts, prayers, good vibes, whatever you'd like to Mitch Haniger. If you don't know what I mean, look up his injury (maybe don't, gentlemen).||--||27-33|
|Through May 12, the Tigers were 18-20 and that isn't very good, but it's not awful. Since then, yikes they've been awful. 6-18 which is a full season pace of 41 wins.||2||23-35|
|You know who is fun to watch? Tayron Guerrero. If we include all pitches, not just fourseam fastballs, he's the hardest thrower in baseball at an average of 96.6 miles per hour per pitch.||1||31-29|
|Madison Bumgarner's cry-baby act after coughing up homers is so tired.||1||29-31|
|It was a rough start, but in his last 25 games, Vladimir Guerrero is hitting .292/.352/.563 with seven homers. Gotta give the kids time to adjust.||--||32-28|
|You might not have heard of Renato Nunez, but he has 16 homers, including nine in the last three weeks.||1||25-35|
|One of the few bright spots on the Royals' season was Hunter Dozier and now he's lost to a thorax injury.||1||26-34|