In the National League, there are currently seven teams looking at trying to get into the postseason. Five of them will, and once the games start, the opposing teams will look to take advantage of the biggest perceived weakness. Some of these teams went as far as to try to improve at the trade deadline. However, a bad bullpen or weak lineup is bound to rear its ugly head against only the best competition. Here is the biggest concern for each National League contender.
Chicago Cubs: Bullpen injuries
The Chicago Cubs are the most complete team in all of baseball, which is clear by the fact that they currently hold the best record. On pace to win 103 games, the Cubs are at or near the top of the charts in nearly every category, including runs scored and pitching. They have the best rotation — one-through-five — in the entire game and they’ve improved on their bullpen by adding Aroldis Chapman.
However, their one concern, as of this moment, are the injuries in the ‘pen. Setup men Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop are on the DL, and while they project to be ready for October there isn’t a whole lot that Joe Maddon can trust to get the ball to Chapman without them.
Washington Nationals: Dusty Baker
The Nationals, like the Cubs, are a well-rounded team. They aren’t the highest-scoring offense, but they’ve been good enough. The rotation is good, too, although Stephen Strasburg has fallen off big time during the last month or so. Even the bullpen, once a major question, has been solidified with Mark Melancon replacing Jonathan Papelbon.
The biggest concern for the Nats has to be their manager, Dusty Baker. He never seems to have a problem winning with a talented team in the regular season, but in the microscope of the postseason Dusty always comes up short. Whether it involves abusing a starting pitcher, putting awful players in the regular lineup, or bringing in the wrong reliever, there’s the looming possibility that he’ll make a boneheaded move in the playoffs.
San Francisco Giants: 3 & 4 starters
The Giants have a top two in their starting rotation that any team would be jealous of. Madison Bumgarner is playoff tested and one of the few true aces in the Major League Baseball, and Johnny Cueto is nothing to sneeze at, either. But where the Giants come up short is with the rest of their rotation. Jake Peavy has a 5.55 ERA and, at this point, is pitching out of the bullpen and isn’t likely to be in the playoff rotation. Matt Cain is back on the disabled list and has a 5.81 ERA.
Even Matt Moore, who was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the deadline, hasn’t been all that good — with a 4.70 ERA and 6.7 BB/9 in four starts. Jeff Samardzija, who has a 4.17 ERA and 4.24 FIP in 25 starts this year, is the No. 3. If San Francisco loses one of the first two games of a five-game series, there’s a big reason for concern.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Weak rotation after Kershaw
It’s amazing that the Dodgers sit where they are in the standings, given everything we know. They’re a fairly average run-scoring team and they’ve dealt with a ton of injuries — especially to their starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw has been out since June with a herniated disc in his lower back, and he may not return until mid-September. Even if he’s healthy and pitching at his peak, the rotation after Kershaw is ugly.
Kenta Maeda has been good but has never pitched a full major-league season plus playoffs before.
Rich Hill is still on the DL; Julio Urias is only 19 years old; and Scott Kazmir has underperformed as well. Kershaw gives enough reason for optimism about the Dodgers’ chances of winning, but everyone who follows him in the rotation creates our biggest reason for concern.
St. Louis Cardinals: Nothing after Carlos Martinez
Similar to the Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals have big concerns in their starting rotation. Only with St. Louis, it’s not in any way related to injuries. Carlos Martinez has had a good season — albeit some of his peripheral numbers are down — with a 3.24 ERA in 144 1/3 innings pitched. But after him? The rotation is pretty ugly.
Adam Wainwright is 34 years old, has a 4.71 ERA, and has a curveball that no longer fools hitters. Mike Leake and Jaime Garcia haven’t exactly been stellar this year, and Michael Wacha is on the disabled list with shoulder problems, and he may not return this season. If the Cards get into the postseason, the rotation beyond Martinez must be the biggest concern.
Miami Marlins: Mediocre offense
Even being in contention for a playoff spot is a bit of a surprise for the young Marlins. But they don’t have a ton of huge strengths beyond Jose Fernandez lining up as their ace. The starting rotation is somewhat mediocre, with the second best pitcher being Tom Koehler. Even a deal for Andrew Cashner hasn’t worked out so well for them.
However, the biggest concern for Miami must be a mediocre offense that will have to make it through the rest of the season — and maybe the playoffs — without slugger Giancarlo Stanton. They’re just No. 11 in the National League in runs scored. They’re not only missing Stanton but also Justin Bour, who has yet to return from an ankle injury.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Depleted rotation
It’s somewhat amazing that the Pirates are still even in the discussion, but here we are. Pittsburgh made moves at the trade deadline to improve going into the future and somehow still have a strong bullpen despite dealing Melancon to the Nationals and sending away Arquimedes Caminero, who has the best name in baseball to go with a hard fastball.
But the big concern for Pittsburgh is the depleted starting rotation, which has Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and not a whole lot else. Ivan Nova has been okay but not great; Jeff Locke is bad; and big-time prospect Tyler Glasnow is on the DL. The chances of the Pirates making the playoffs are slim as it is, but once they get there, the biggest concern would be not having anyone of quality to send to the mound.
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