The 2016 MLB season has the potential to be a wild one for playoff purposes. You could argue that half the league has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but only 10 spots are available.
The early going has seen many teams come out of nowhere to lead their divisions while other stalwarts are faltering big-time. Which MLB playoff hopefuls are contenders, and which are pretenders?
In the conclusion of this mini-series, let’s look at the Senior Circuit, the National League.
See American League Contenders and Pretenders here!
New York Mets (19-11, First in NL East)
Following a shocking late-season run and an appearance in the World Series last year, the Mets’ hopes for 2016 were sky high. So far, those hopes have been warranted. The lineup has been at its slugging best, and the Mets’ young starters have been superb.
The Mets have taken over New York at this point in time, and are the toast of the NL East. It remains to be seen if they can take the ultimate step, but there is no doubt that the Mets are among the top contenders in the NL.
Washington Nationals (19-12, Second in NL East)
Few teams are as stacked on paper as the Nats, but they somehow always fail to meet expectations at season’s end. But this might be the year for new manager Dusty Baker’s squad. Bryce Harper spearheads one of the MLB’s most imposing lineups, and the quality pitching depth that the Nats have now is the difference between this year’s team and last years’.
The Nationals have looked like this before only to fall flat on their faces, but I think that the Nats are finally mature enough to get over the hump.
Philadelphia Phillies (18-14, Third in NL East)
The Phillies’ improbable start has some anointing them as this year’s Houston Astros. The young pitchers, such as Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez, are pitching like veterans, and the lineup has been surprisingly good thanks to Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, as well as Ryan Howard showing signs of life.
However, I can’t see the Phils sustaining this success. The Phillies have improved, but they aren’t ready for this leap yet.
Chicago Cubs (24-6, First in NL Central)
The Cubs look unstoppable right now. Another team that may have “peaked early”, the Cubs maintained their high level of play and then some. The loss of Kyle Schwarber hasn’t killed the Cubs’ mojo, as Jake Arrieta and Co. just keep on trucking.
Many predicted the Cubs as World Series Champions this year (myself included), and the Cubs look like the apex predators of the NL; they are playing .800 baseball through Mother’s Day.
Pittsburgh Pirates (17-14, Second in NL Central)
The Pirates have been a playoff team for the last 3 years, but have yet to make it past the NLDS. Despite their star power and clutch performers, the Pirates always run into the wrong opponent at the wrong time.
It will be tough for the Pirates to even make the wild card this year thanks to the strength of the NL as a whole, but they are on track right now. If the Pirates can win intra-division games now, they’ll be playing in October.
St. Louis Cardinals (16-16, Third in NL Central)
Has the magic for the Cards finally run out? Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Adam Wainwright look old, and the young guns haven’t done enough to garner wins.
But this is largely the same team that won over 100 games last year. It’s just a matter of time before the Cardinals figure things out. They’re going to have to hurry in the ultra-competitive NL Central though, or risk missing the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Los Angeles Dodgers (16-15, First in NL West)
The high-priced Dodgers roster has been merely above-average for the last 4 years. While some on the team are performing at a high level (Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Adrian Gonzalez, Corey Seager), others are injured or ineffective (Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Howie Kendrick, depth pitching).
This team has to win against the Giants to make the playoffs; they stand just 3-4 against their intro-state rivals at the moment. There may only be room for one of the top two California-based teams in the postseason. The Dodgers need to hit their stride and distance themselves from the competition to play in October.
San Francisco Giants (17-16, Second in NL West)
It is an even-numbered year, so the Giants are ready to win another World Series. While that seems ridiculous, the theory is holding true so far. The Giants look much better than they did last year. Their offense has been clicking and their rotation has been as advertised. They even have the edge over the Dodgers right now, a crucial point in determining postseason participants in the NL West.
The Giants look quite complete right now, but it will be tough for them to beat the Mets or the Cubs in a playoff series. If they can though, the World Series would be theirs to lose.
Arizona Diamondbacks (15-18, Fourth in NL West)
An exciting offseason had may D-Backs fans buzzing. Everything seemed right for the D-Backs to charge into the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller were supposed to remedy the rotation, and an offense led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and Yasmany Tomas seemed legitimate.
But Greinke and Miller have been abysmal so far this year, and Pollock will miss at least 3 months due to a fractured elbow suffered while sliding. Thus, the D-Backs have struggled, and they don’t seem to be showing any signs of re-emerging.