Ranking the teams in the NL wildcard race

The National League playoff race isn’t nearly as entertaining as the AL one; as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs lead the pack.

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Jon Lester has anchored the Cubs rotation, and playoff hopes. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel — Getty Images)

There really isn’t a ton of pressure on the top teams in the NL Wildcard, as the league is top-heavy this season. In the Central, the St. Louis Cardinals have a 5.5 game lead over the second place Pirates, and an 8.5 game lead over Chicago; in the West its a little closer between the Dodgers and Giants with a two game lead…and then there’s the East, which is just a giant mess

New York has caught-up to the Washington Nationals, and have actually surpassed the Nats in the AL East standings. Neither team has been able to separate from the other one, which has led to pure chaos and entertainment in the pursuit of the division crown; and that’s really the must watch story line heading into the 50+ games of the season.

4) Washington Nationals/New York Mets

Whomever doesn’t win the NL East will a decent shot at the second Wildcard spot heading into October. After the trade deadline, it’s increasingly likely that the Mets will be the team racing ahead for the NL East crown while the Nats are fighting for the last playoff spot.

New York went out at the deadline and traded for OF Yoenis Cespedes to improve the team’s struggling offense, and fielding in the cavernous Citi Field. Cespedes has had success in pitcher friendly ballparks  — *cough* *cough* Oakland Coliseum — before, and it’s not unreasonable for him to continue to put up big numbers in the Big Apple. The big concern with Cespedes though is that he is going to force aging (and fielding misadventure) Curtis Granderson back into CF…and that’s something New York should have tried to avoid at all cost prior to the deadline.

While the Mets improved their corner outfield, and their offense, at the deadline, all remained quiet inside the Beltway as the Nats failed to make any moves at the deadline. This was a poor decision for a team that has seen every starter not named Max Scherzer struggle with consistency; as a result, Washington’s bullpen is going to be under a ton of pressure to keep the team in the playoff hunt.

3) Chicago Cubs

Many pundits expected the Cubs to be pushing for a wildcard berth at the trade deadline, and they were. They were also on a three game winning streak heading into the deadline, they’ve since reeled off four more wins to firmly take over the second wildcard spot. The Cubs went out and acquired Dan Haren to shore-up their starting rotation prior to the deadline, which should take a lot of pressure off of the team’s bullpen heading into the last two months of the regular season.

Chicago’s rise has been fueled by the success of super star rookie Kris Bryant, who has hit .246/.344/.436 in 412 PAs. His offensive prowess has only been matched by his solid defense at third — he’s posted a positive UZR of 3.5. If the Cubs are going to stay in the second Wildcard spot, then they need to hope that Bryant doesn’t wear down throughout the last third of the season, and can continue to be useful in the outfield.

2) Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh needed starting pitching help, so they acquired J.A. Happ (a fly ball pitcher) from the Seattle Marines in a relatively hitter friendly ballpark…no, that’s not the wisest move. Other than that, the Pirtaes stayed the course with their young but talented roster and are continuing to rely on Clint Hurdle and the experienced home-grown veterans to enhance team’s third straight playoff run.

1) San Francisco Giants

During the off-season San Francisco lost Pablo Sandoval, and that’s it; during the trade deadline, San Franicsco acquired no one. The Giants are really comfortable with (essentially) the same roster that won the World Series last year, and they should be…especially with the emergence of a consistent Chris Heston at the back of their rotation. Heston adds assurance that there won’t be a black hole at the end of the rotation in August and September, which should help San Francisco’s push for its second straight Wildcard berth…or maybe even the West if Los Angeles (for whatever reason) can’t hold on.

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