Race for the Postseason: NL West

Over the past weeks I have been previewing the race for the postseason. On Monday, I covered the NL East, and today I will be previewing the NL West. We will organize our discussion by the current standings.

Los Angeles Dodgers
65-50 | division lead

A year after Yasiel Puig burst onto the scene to help lead the Dodgers’ improbable comeback, LA is in control of the West, sitting 15 games over .500.

On the offensive side of the ball, Puig leads the team with a .316 batting average to go along with 13 home runs and nine triples. Including Puig, the Dodgers have 5 starters (Puig, Gordon, Kemp, Ramirez, and Gonzalez) batting .257 or better. All of this combines to give LA the eigth highest batting average in the majors at .257, as well as a 12th place rank in the majors in runs scored with 472.

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The crumbling of the Yankee Empire

The Yankees aren’t scary anymore. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Bronx Bombers were an evil empire, led by George Steinbrenner, that crushed the hopes of any team that dared challenge them. They were an all-powerful and deep-pocketed dynasty that had won five World Championships, seven pennants and 13 AL  East titles. But the Yankees have fallen from their pedestal.

In 2013, they failed to make the postseason for just the second time since 1995. This year, they are competitive, but are hindered by issues like age, health and an inability to hit in the clutch. In 2012, the team as a whole hit an astounding 245 home runs, though that number went down to 144 in the following year.

About two thirds of the way through 2014, they have managed just 101. For a club that has traditionally been home to legendary sluggers like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle, that is shockingly few. There are many reasons that help explain the Yankees’ fall from greatness, but age and the lack of a good farm system in particular come to mind.

A team built on aging stars

Out of all the starting position players on this team, not one is under the age of 30. Derek Jeter has been one of the greatest players of all-time, but he is 40 years old and about to retire. Mark Teixeira, 34, has 19 home runs, but is batting just .229. A career .276  hitter, the last time he hit over .256 was 2009. 30 year old catcher Brian McCann was signed in the off season for $85 million, and is batting a disappointing .236 with 12 home runs. Even the usually consistent outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran, another free agent signing at 37, has just a .248 batting average. Finally, former ace CC Sabathia, 34, struggled mightily in his first eight outings, then underwent season-ending knee surgery.

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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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Samardzija-Hammel deal makes sense for A’s

Playing for the present

For what the Cubs got in this year’s first blockbuster trade and what it means for them, check out yesterday’s piece. The deal was a play to the future for the Cubs, but what about the A’s? Was it a wise decision?

There are always risks in trades. Heck, there are risks in signings, draft picks, promoting players at certain times. Risk is all part of the game. But don’t let yourself think for a minute that this deal was a bad move for the A’s just because it’s a win-now play that could have consequences.

The Oakland Athletics lead the AL West by 3.5 games with the best record in baseball, 55-33. The move is a play from strength. While there may be an effect on the future due to some impact on the farm system, acquiring two pitchers in a trade signals to A’s fans that the front office thinks this is their year.

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