Race for the Postseason: NL East

Over the last two weeks, I previewed the division races in the American League. This week I will be covering the National League. Up first is the NL East. We will organize our discussion by current standings.

Washington Nationals
60-49 | division lead

Following a 2013 season where they fell four games short of a wild card birth and 10 games out of first in the NL East, the Nationals have taken control of a weak NL East.

Washington’s offense has struggled recently.  Denard Span has the highest average on the team at .291, and their team BA of .250 is 19th in the league. Also, Bryce Harper spent three months on the DL earlier this season, which certainly hurt their offensive output.  However, there are some bright spots.  The Nats traded for Asdrubal Cabrera at the deadline, who adds some much-needed power and a decent bat to the lineup (not to mention some flashy fielding). Also, Harper has been been slowly heating up sine his return to the majors, and is now hitting .260 on the season.

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Athletics land Lester

Editor’s Note: Dan Johnson contributed to this post.

In what is the first blockbuster trade on the trade deadline day, the Oakland Athletics traded Yoenis Cespedes and a competitive balance draft pick to the Boston Red Sox for staff ace Jon Lester, outfielder Jonny Gomes and an unannounced amount of cash.

Immediate impact for the A’s

Lester joins a rotation of the recently acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, as well as Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. Jesse Chavez is currently listed as the sixth starter, so someone will likely move to the bullpen soon. It could be Hammel, if his numbers don’t improve.

Lester, 30, has had a solid year despite Boston’s turmoil, pitching to a 10-7 record and 2.52 ERA. The lefty’s career ERA is considerably higher at 3.64, and Oakland looks to capitalize in particular on his success in a contract year.

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Race for the Pennant: AL West & Wild Card

Today’s topic in my series about the race for the postseason will cover the AL West and the AL Wild Card. The content is organized by current standing:

Oakland Athletics
66-40 | division lead

When this season began, the expectation was that the Oakland A’s would compete in their division and a playoff spot. Currently they find themselves sitting 26 games over .500 with the best record in baseball.

Right now everything is clicking for Oakland, their offense is the best in the majors, scoring 534 runs. They are being led by Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Brandon Moss, who have combined for 60 doubles, 62 HR, and 214 RBIs. But what’s scary about the A’s team is not how good their offense is, but how much better their pitching is.

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Race for the Pennant: AL Central

The All-Star break is a great time for evaluating where a team stands. Last week, Joe looked at the long-term prospects of some cellar-dwelling teams. This week and next, we’re previewing the race for the postseason within each division. Monday I discussed the American League East; today’s topic is the AL Central. The content is organized by current standing:

Detroit Tigers
55-42 | division lead

The Tigers offense is firing on all cylinders. Currently they are second in the league in OBP with a .332 mark. They rank 4th in runs scored with 453, and 2nd in batting average at .278. Victor Martinez is batting .322, and Miguel Cabrera is batting .311.

While the offense is doing its job, however, the pitching has struggled this year. Justin Verlander has struggled to find his form so far, posting a 4.88 ERA, (1.3+ runs above his career average) while the team’s 4.00 ERA is 23rd in the majors. Some of Verlander’s peripheral stats indicate he may be having some bad luck, but even his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is above 4. Also of worry is the Tigers’ home record, which is hovering around .500.

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Race for the pennant: AL East

The All-Star break is a great time for evaluating where a team stands. Last week, Joe looked at the long-term prospects of some cellar-dwelling teams. Over the next week, we will be previewing the race for the postseason within each division. Up first is the American League East. We’ll organize this discussion by current standing:

Baltimore Orioles
53-44 | division lead

What’s scary about this Baltimore Orioles team is not how good they are doing right now, but how much better they can be. Chris Davis, after his 53 home run performance last year, has only hit 15 home runs and is batting under the Mendoza line at a horrid .199. His last long stretch this bad was in 45 games for Texas in 2010, though he had almost no power numbers then. Manny Machado is batting .270 and has hit only 10 doubles so far this season, far off the pace of the 51 doubles he ended with last year. Ubaldo Jimenez has an ERA of 4.52 this season, 55 points above his career average. J.J. Hardy has hit only three home runs all year. The list goes on.

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