We are just past the All Star break and inching closer to the trade deadline, where teams will try to add another piece or two to make that final push to make their playoff run. On the flip side of that, teams are also realizing their playoff chances are out of reach, and they may be selling some of their top players in hopes of getting a prospect or two for the future. Either way, at this point in the season, we all realize who are the real playoff contenders and who are the pretenders.
Looking at the National League, the Dodgers are far and away the best team in the league, and will be the favorites to make it to the World Series and even win it as well. There are a couple of other solid teams as well, but the Dodgers stand alone at the top. A couple of tight races in some of the divisions make predicting this league’s playoffs team a tough one.
In the American League, the Yankees and Astros look to likely be one of the teams to win the league, though there are other teams not far behind as well. Like the National League, there are a couple tight races to try and predict, let’s jump right into it.
NL East Winner: Atlanta Braves
As of Thursday, the Braves lead the Nationals by 5.5 games, which isn’t insurmountable, but is a comfortable lead nonetheless. Freddie Freeman continues to be an overlooked talent on this team, who leads the team in most batting categories. The Nationals and Phillies are tight with each other for second, and one if not both will likely be a Wild Card team. Bryce Harper has been somewhat disappointing in his first year with the Phillies, who had a lot of promise heading into this season. However, the season isn’t over, and there’s plenty of time for him to have a second-half turnaround and get his team back into contention.
NL Central Winner: Chicago Cubs
Full disclosure: I’m a die hard Cubs fan. So yes, I may sound a little biased with this prediction. But to be honest, this division is a toss up. This is easily the tightest division in all of baseball from top to bottom. The Reds, who are in last in the division, are only 8.5 games behind the Cubs. The two likely candidates to dethrone the Cubs before the season’s end are the Brewers and Cardinals. The Brewers are led by Christian Yelich, who, if it wasn’t for Cody Bellinger’s fantastic season, would be the favorite to win the NL MVP. The Cubs have started off great, winning five of six games since the All Star break. As mentioned before, this is a toss up, and I’m sticking with the Cubs here to win the division, but it’s likely that one of these three teams that don’t win the division will be in the Wild Card.
NL West Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
The easiest division in all of baseball to predict, the Dodgers are running away with this division, and have been steady year long thanks to the play of Bellinger, my vote for the NL MVP (and likely everyone else’s). He’s also had bats around him hit well, including guys like Max Muncy and Justin Turner. Their pitching top to bottom has been rock solid as well. Usually led by Clayton Kershaw, their best pitcher has been Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is in contention for the NL Cy Young Award. The Diamondbacks and Giants are right around .500 baseball, and will have to make a significant push to make the Wild Card.
NL Wild Card Winners: Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers
This is a four horse race between the Phillies, Brewers, Cardinals, and Nationals. I’m picking the Brewers and Phillies because they both have the better players in Yelich and Harper, though Harper hasn’t played to his expectations, but could still turn it around. What scares me with these two selections, though, is the run differential for each of these teams. The Brewers and Phillies both have negative run differentials, whereas the Cardinals and Nationals both have positive run differentials, so I’m cautious with these picks. However, I’m thinking that one team from each the East and Central will make it to the Wild Card.
AL East Winner: New York Yankees
The Yankees look to be the safe team to win their division, but this still seems to be one of the more intriguing divisions in all of baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays and defending World Champions Boston Red Sox are tight with one another for second place, and will likely battle it out for a position in the Wild Card. Boston seems to have all the talent in the world, but just haven’t been able to put it all together, and will be in danger of missing the playoffs if they don’t find a way to turn it around.
AL Central Winner: Minnesota Twins
The AL Central has been one of the worst divisions in baseball for a few years now, and continues that trend this year. Outside of the Twins and Indians, there aren’t any other decent teams in this division. The Twins have a comfortable lead over the Indians, and have somewhat flown under the radar as one of baseball’s best teams. If they can make a splash at the deadline for another pitcher, say maybe Madison Bumgarner, then the Twins will have a legit shot to make some noise come playoff time.
AL West Winner: Houston Astros
This is another division with one clear-cut favorite followed by a few teams battling for second and a Wild Card spot. The Astros are another one of those complete teams, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if they looked to add another arm at the deadline. The Athletics are the most likely team out of this division to find themselves in the Wild Card, and teams like the Rangers and Angels would need a significant push to put themselves in position to make the playoffs.
AL Wild Card Winners: Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox
This, like the National League Wild Card prediction, is down a four-team race. If the season ended today, the Red Sox wouldn’t make the Wild Card, but they are not far behind. I think they are too talented to not make the playoffs, especially after winning it all just last season. As for the Indians, they too have a talented team, but I really like the fact that they play in the weakest divisions in baseball, so they will have more scheduled games against lesser opponents. The A’s and Rays will likely be in the mix come the end of the year.