SportsPulse: For The Win’s Ted Berg discusses how the National League wild card race should make for a fun final stretch of the season. Max Schreiber, USA TODAY
If the baseball gods truly want to be honorable …
The Houston Astros, who had the guts to trade away four prized prospects and the stomach to add $54 million worth of payroll for starter Zack Greinke, will become World Series champions.
If the baseball gods want to be respectable …
The New York Mets, who had the bravado to stand by their beliefs, refusing to listen to the outside world when they acquired Marcus Stroman, will earn a playoff berth.
If the baseball gods want to be righteous …
The Cleveland Indians, who made the daring move of trading away controversial ace Trevor Bauer – while the Minnesota Twins opted to play it cautious – will win the AL Central.
If the baseball gods want to be sensible …
The Chicago Cubs, refusing to let their window close without another World Series run, making a flurry of last-minute acquisitions while their competitors stood idly by, deserve to pull away from the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers and win the NL Central.
If the baseball gods want to be noble …
The Atlanta Braves, who rebuffed the idea they can’t compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the pennant, re-making their bullpen by acquiring a trio of relievers, will win the NL East.
In six weeks when the postseason starts, we’ll find out if the baseball gods were ever paying attention.
Let’s be honest, it will take divine intervention for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Astros not to have a 2017 World Series sequel.
The Dodgers have shown since opening day they clearly are the best team in the National League, and really no one else is close.
The Astros have demonstrated since the trade deadline that they are the best team in the American League, and have a handful of aces to make everyone else ends up folding.
Still, this is baseball, and sometimes things are written in the stars, like a Kirk Gibson home run or a Mookie Wilson ground ball.
Then again, some teams made sure to make the trades to help define their destiny, unwilling to simply roll the dice and take their chances.
Others walked away and called it a year.
And some teams, well, a lot of teams, played it conservative or stayed pat, still hoping they can win, but not at the expense of giving up any prospects that potentially will play a role in the future.
Now, with the playoffs set to begin Oct. 1, and front offices revealing at the trade deadline just how much they believe in their team, we’ll make our own predictions with the six division and two wild-card races.
The loser of the AL Central race between Cleveland and Minnesota is virtually guaranteed one spot, while it’s a battle of the small-market Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s for the other. The Boston Red Sox are technically still alive, but unless Rafael Devers goes 6-for-6 every night, it’s too late. The TV folks will hate the matchup, but Minnesota and Tampa will provide good theater.
There are seven teams bunched within 3 ½ games, led by the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals. No team is hotter than the New York Mets. No team is colder than the Philadelphia Phillies. And no team is scarier than the Nationals, particularly with Max Scherzer on the verge of returning.
Ultimately, the Mets and Nationals earn the wild-card berths, providing us with one of the greatest pitching matchups in a postseason elimination game in baseball history – defending Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom vs. Scherzer, a three-time winner.
The New York Yankees may fly their flag at half-mast knowing that they no longer have any remaining games against the hapless Baltimore Orioles after Wednesday. Their only suspense the rest of the season is whether they can hold off the Astros for home-field advantage in the American League, leading by 1 ½ games. The Yankees, who had the division locked up by the All-Star break, will celebrate their first division title since 2012.
This division has the most parity in baseball, and could have four winning teams for the first time since 2005, but the Atlanta Braves still are the team to beat. They could ice the division with 14 consecutive games against the Nationals and Phillies in September.
The Braves’ biggest dilemma is figuring out a closer.
They brought in Shane Greene, Mark Melancon and Chris Martin at the deadline, believing they remedied their bullpen woes. They’ve gotten worse, with the bullpen coughing up a 6.55 ERA since their arrival. Still, the Braves will ultimately win their second consecutive division title.
This race was supposed to be over in May when the Twins broke out to an 11 ½-game lead, and led by 11 games on June 15. Cleveland refused to listen. And Jose Ramirez woke up. Cleveland is a major-league best 43-18 since June 4, and Ramirez is hitting .329 with 12 homers and 39 RBI since June 21. Cleveland have a torturous remaining schedule compared to the Twins, but this is their time of year and they’ll win a fourth consecutive division title.
The Cubs certainly were the most aggressive of the contenders in the division, while the Brewers and Cardinals stayed quiet. The Cubs have the most talent, with outfielder Nick Castellanos turning into Sammy Sosa since being acquired, with five homers in his first 12 games. They certainly have the pedigree, reaching the playoffs each of the past four years, while the Cardinals are in danger of missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year, and the Brewers haven’t had back-to-back playoff berths in nearly 40 years.
But at some point, they may want to figure out how to win on the road. They are 41-10 at Wrigley Field, and 23-36 on the road, having not won a road series since May. They would have to go 18-4 the rest of the season away from Wrigley just to prevent a losing road record.
Unlike the Dodgers, the Astros have at least had a little competition in the division. The only team still standing with them is the Athletics, but there will be an investigation if the Astros aren’t drinking champagne by mid-September.
It would have saved a whole lot of time just handing the Dodgers their seventh consecutive division title in spring training. They have made a mockery out of the race. They’ll spend the final six weeks resting their starters, experimenting with their bullpen, and mixing and matching with their position players. They didn’t do much at the trade deadline to strengthen their bullpen, but it still shouldn’t keep them from a return trip to the World Series.
So, there you go, all of the predictions in one neat package, but stop by again in six weeks to see if the baseball gods really do reward the right teams.
If not, well, that’s why they play the game – right?
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale