National League Overview
Today is the second part of a two-part series looking at how each team in baseball is performing in relation to the expectations assigned them in Las Vegas at the start of the year—specifically their Over/Under number on win totals. You can read the overview of the American League from yesterday and today we wrap it up with a look at the National League, along with revisions on playoff predictions. A link to each team’s preseason preview from March is included…
Washington (49-34): A preseason expectation of 84 wins was cautiously optimistic, as the betting markets seemed to like the Nationals. That’s been justified, as the current pace has Washington winning 96 games, taking the NL East and grabbing the #1 seed in the National League playoffs (a prize that means homefield all the way through, now that the NL has won the All-Star Game and homefield for the World Series). But what happens if they follow through on their threat to shut down Stephen Strasburg? Washington’s pitching is good enough and their cushion large enough that they still clear the Over in any case, and probably by a comfortable margin. The big debate is going to be Strasburg’s use in the postseason.
Atlanta (46-39): I liked the Braves at the opening number of 86.5, and they’re on pace for 88 wins, so I suppose I should be happy. But I just haven’t liked the way this team’s pitching has come together—or not come together as the case may be, and now being without Brandon Beachy for the entire second half is going to make it tough for Atlanta to cash in on the Over.
NY Mets (46-40): On a pace to win 87 games after a preseason expectation of 72, the Mets are the second-biggest overachiever in the National League. It’s almost impossible to fathom a collapse so big it would push the team Under, but the Mets have their sights on a bigger prize, and it would help a lot if Chris Young can stay healthy and be a reliable middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Miami (41-44): Like Washington, the market was cautiously optimistic about Miami’s chances, pegging them at 84. But the Marlins have flipped that on its head, and the current pace has them losing 84, while winning only 78. A midseason trade acquisition of Carlos Lee only makes sense when you consider how bad Gaby Sanchez had been at first base. It’s not likely to help the Marlins substantially turn the corner.
Philadelphia(37-50): Betting numbers are notoriously conservative, because while the significant surprises get the media attention, the vast majority hover around fairly predictable numbers. Which makes it almost impossible to underperform by 23 games, which is what Philly is doing. A 92.5 win expectation—pretty reasonable given all the pricey vets on the roster—has given way to a 69-win pace and the possibility that Cole Hamels is heading out of town.
Pittsburgh (48-37): If Philly is underperforming by 20 games, there’s got to be a counterweight to that somewhere and it’s across the Keystone State in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the smart money thought Pittsburgh’s 2011 collapse in August and September was the real thing, while their four months of contention were a mirage. Maybe that will be the case again this year, especially if the front office doesn’t give should-be MVP Andrew McCutcheon some help in the lineup. But the Pirates were pegged at 73.5 wins in March and the current pace has them at 92 wins, helping the Bucs nudge out Baltimore for biggest overachiever of the year.
Cincinnati (47-38): Give Dusty Baker and his stars credit. The Reds had fairly high expectations, at an 88-win number and they’re on pace to nip out the Over, with a 90-win season. The offense is still too dependent on Joey Votto, and to a lesser extent Jay Bruce, but they have players capable of being better in the second half.
St. Louis (46-40): The market was looking for the Cardinals to come down after their epic World Series run, the retirement of Tony LaRussa and the loss of Albert Pujols, so this 87-win pace is still enough to beat the expectation by three games. The downside is that Chris Carpenter won’t be back at the end of this month as expected, or for the rest of the season.
Milwaukee (40-45): After all the injuries and the horrid first halves from Rickie Weeks and John Axford, the Brewers should probably be grateful to be on pace for a 76-86 season. But with an initial number of 85, their bettors need the Crew to step it up, particularly the two aforementioned players. And if Zack Greinke gets dealt, the season becomes a downward spiral.
Chicago (33-52): The Cubbies are on pace to lose 99 games, and the 63-99 record would leave them a hefty 11 games back of expectations. And we haven’t even factored in the seemingly certain trades of Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster and the possible moving of Bryan LaHair. A lot of Cubs fans make their way to Vegas, either traveling from the Midwest or from snowbird locations in Arizona and they bet their team loyally. You can tear any Over tickets up now.
Houston (33-53): Houston was only expected to win 64 games, and they’re only two back of the number, and they’ve shown promise in spurts through the first half, coming off a 56-106 disaster in 2011. If they don’t trade Brett Myers or Wandy Rodriguez I think they’ll hit the Over and probably by several games. But I find it hard to think Houston doesn’t get good offers for its closer and veteran starting pitcher and if that happens I doubt the fate of bettors who took the Over will weigh too heavily on anyone’s mind.
Los Angeles (47-40): I thought the 81-win benchmark Vegas set for this team was wildly optimistic. But the joke, as it usually is, is on me, with the Dodgers on pace for 87 wins. They’ve been scorching hot and they’ve been ice cold, depending on the month, so we now we have to see if they can stabilize and be consistent as Don Mattingly pushes his team for a playoff berth.
San Francisco (46-40): Nothing like hitting the number on the head, as the Giants are exactly on pace for their 87-win projection, the only team to be literally on the money. Let’s give this team credit though, because I don’t think anyone expects them to meet expectations with Tim Lincecum being one of the worst pitchers in baseball during the first half.
Arizona (42-43): For the first half as a whole, their 80-win pace is a disappointment, given the expectation was at 86 and the Diamondbacks were coming off an NL West title in 2011. But the worst baseball was played early and unless they trade Justin Upton, as inexplicable rumors suggest, they’ll have a winning season and probably clear the number.
San Diego (34-53): When you only have one noteworthy position player, third baseman Chase Headley, and your pitching is a relative disappointment, given the vastness of your park, then a 63-99 pace is what you get and with the Padres 10.5 games below expectations, the Under here is all but locked.
Colorado (33-52): After a .500 expectation that matched the Dodgers, the Rockies are a disaster, and their own pace is also at 63-99. It speaks volumes to how much Philadelphia is underachieving, that even a disaster like Colorado couldn’t join the Phils in the (-20) area based on performance to the number.
Speaking of disasters, let’s look at my preseason playoff picks in the National League, which started with a Milwaukee-Miami wild-card game. I suppose both are close enough and have had enough go wrong that a second-half run is feasible, particularly for Miami, who’s not going to be selling off any major parts. Then I had Atlanta, St. Louis and Arizona winning their respective division. I could be right with the Cardinals, but the pick was made on the expectation of Carpenter coming back. Without that, I’m giving the nod in the Central to Cincinnati, who passes punchless Pittsburgh. I noted my problems with Atlanta above and give Washington the benefit of the doubt to hold their lead. I’m not backing off in the NL West, where I think the Diamondbacks are going to turn it around.
Then the wild-cards? I’m going with San Francisco, who I expect to go to the wire with Arizona, and then I’m going to get a little stubborn and stick with Miami. The Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers and Braves all fade in the second half.
That then sets up a bracket of Miami-San Francisco, with the winner to play Washington, while Cincinnati and Arizona hook up in another Division Series. Pending what they decide to do with Strasburg, I give the Nats the favorite’s role in the National League thanks to their pitching and the presence of Davey Johnson and would pair them up against Texas in the World Series.