MLB Coverage: The National League Playoff Race

If you were hoping for some increased drama in a dry National League playoff race, then this past week was a disappointment. The Arizona Diamondbacks visited the Cincinnati Reds with a chance to tighten up the wild-card picture. The four-game series on the banks of the Ohio River ended with three wins for the Reds and the increasing certainty that we already know the five teams that will be involved in postseason play.

Arizona is now seven games back of Cincinnati for the second wild-card spot, and the Diamondbacks are nine and a half games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West. I’m not ready to call either race just yet, but I can’t say I’d fault anyone who would, particularly the Dodgers. After a three-game series with Boston this week, Los Angeles promptly resumes its easy schedule with a set against the Chicago Cubs early next week.

Cincinnati’s success in getting back into the race for first place in the NL Central has been the most significant development in recent weeks, and that was chronicled last week here in TheSportsNotebook. The health of the Reds’ pitching is perhaps the second-biggest storyline.

Jonathan Broxton has returned to the disabled list as fast as he came off, with right flexor strain. Tony Cingrani, who has been lights-out in replacing Johnny Cueto in the rotation, is day-today with a back problem.

And Cueto, who has endured a lost season with various ailments? He’s finally been cleared to begin a throwing program, and the hope is he can come back some time in the latter part of September.

Cincinnati is 2 ½ games back of Pittsburgh in the division race. The Reds host Milwaukee this weekend and then get set for a big three-game series in St. Louis starting Monday. The Cards, a game back in the division, are hosting Atlanta this weekend.

The Pirates righted a slumping ship by taking two of three from San Diego this week and winning a series opener last night in San Francisco. Pittsburgh’s injured closer Jason Grilli threw a bullpen session yesterday and is on track for a September return. And a week from today they start a huge stretch of home games against the Reds and Cards.

One team that has nothing to worry about is the Atlanta Braves, still 14 games up in the NL East and I think it’s safe to say, in the parlance of political commentators, that we can call this race over. TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage has an upcoming feature breaking down exactly how the Braves blew open this division.