MLB Division winner prediction

David Koier, Courier Staff

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With August coming to an end and September just around the corner, the MLB playoff picture is starting to come into a little more focus. Some teams have been red hot all season and have no fear about making the postseason. For others, each of these next thirty-something games means life or death when it comes to their playoff push. Here are my predictions for who will win each division and which two teams will duel it out for their respective league’s Wild Card spot.

Batting leadoff is quite possibly the easiest decision in the MLB: the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been one of the hottest teams in the past couple of years and they haven’t cooled down this year. Since 2012, the team has made the postseason six times, made the NLCS four times, including each of the past three seasons (2016-2018), and has made an appearance in the World Series the past two seasons (both in losing efforts).

While history shows that the Dodgers can’t win the big one, this season feels a bit different. At 82-44, the Dodgers not only have the second best record in the MLB, but they hold an 18.5 game lead in the West in front of the San Francisco Giants. The majority of their remaining games are against divisional rivals, which doesn’t pose much of a threat to the team. The Dodgers’ 36-18 record against NL West opponents is far and above the best interdivisional record in the National League. As boring and repetitive as this may be, it seems like once again the Dodgers will be pulling away with the West.

The NL East comes next with a little tighter of a race. A four way chase for the top of the division includes the Atlanta Braves who currently hold a five-game lead on the division, the Washington Nationals who hold a two-game lead atop the NL Wild Card and the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies who are both nine games behind in the division and two games out of the second Wild Card spot.

The Atlanta Braves have sat atop the division with fluctuating leads all season, but atop the division, nonetheless. However, any team in this division could get hot at the right time and snatch the East right out from under the Braves.

The Mets, for example, have caught up considerably in the month of August. On Aug. 1, the Mets sat in second last in the East, 11 games behind the division-leading Braves. With a sub-.500 record of 53-55, it looked like another rebuilding year for the team that just made it to the World Series back in 2015.

Then the winning streak happened. The end of July and beginning of August saw the Mets win seven in a row, bringing them closer to that magic .500 record. On Aug. 20, the Mets sit four games over .500 after going 12-5 so far this month and within reach of making the postseason once again.

While the Mets are as hot as they are, they still aren’t my pick for the winners of the NL East. No, my pick for the NL East is the Washington Nationals. While injuries to top stars like Max Scherzer may have slowed the team down for some part of the season, August has been red hot for the Nats.

Leading the NL in on-base-plus-slugging (.923), runs (116) and batting average (.293) for the month of August proves that if these bats can stay hot, the Braves better watch out. Even with their Cy Young caliber pitcher (Max Scherzer) on the IL, the Nats have managed to post an 11-5 record in August, with a mediocre 4.94 ERA. With the imminent return of Scherzer, if the Nats’ bats remain hot, the East is theirs for the taking.

In quite possibly the most competitive division in the MLB, there’s no clear frontrunner to win the NL Central. Last year it pained me to say it, but I had the Chicago Cubs winning the division. Then a miraculous September by the Brewers saw the Crew force a game 163, the team win the Central and make it to the NLCS. This year, however, may not be a similar story.

Three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brewers sit only three games above .500 for a season that just hasn’t gone their way. After having the top bullpen just a year ago, the Brewers seem to struggle in finding someone who can force an out. Despite being in their divisional position, the Brewers have one of the worst run-differentials in the NL at -32. Their offense, however, led by reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich is producing enough, but if the pitching allows 8-10 runs a game, it’s almost certain that it’s quitting time for the Crew.

That then brings me to my pick. Since it’s a toss-up between the Cardinals and the Cubs, it’s a lose-lose situation for a Brewers fan like me. And once again, as much as it pains me to say this, I pick the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals of recent years have consistently found ways to excuse themselves from the divisional runnings. It hasn’t helped that the Cubs have been a powerhouse since 2015, but it still makes it hard to pick them to win the division. So once again I pick the Cubs, and once again I hope that me picking them somehow ruins their season, opening the division up to the Brewers to snag at the last second.

The NL Wild Card race will come down to five teams: Brewers, Cardinals, Phillies, Mets and Braves. Out of these five teams, there is one obvious choice who will earn a Wild Card spot and that’s the Braves. As mentioned before, the Braves have been consistent all season and the only reason they aren’t winning the East is because of how hot the Nationals have become. The second team to earn a Wild Card spot will either be the Phillies or the Brewers. This may sound biased, but the Brewers have been in the Central race as well as the Wild Card race all season. Once pitchers like Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin return from the IL, hopefully the Crew can go back to their winning ways to secure a spot in the Wild Card game.

Finally, on to the American League. While the National League may be up for grabs, the American League isn’t as hazy. The AL East leading New York Yankees have been atop the AL East the AL, and the MLB for most of the season. They currently have an 11-game lead in the East over the also hot Tampa Bay Rays. Despite injury after injury after injury this season, the Yankees just don’t seem like they are going to be stopped.

Moving to the AL West, it is almost the same story. The Astros may not have been as dominant as the Yankees all season, but they have made a name for themselves recently. It all started when, at the trade deadline, the Astros added former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to their already unhittable starting rotation. Since the addition of Greinke, the Houston Pitching staff has gone 11-6 in the month of August, while tossing an MLB fifth best 3.43 ERA.

If pitching doesn’t impress you, look at how the ‘Stros are hitting. In the month of August, the Astros have been in the top three in the MLB for runs (124), batting average (.298), OPS (.919) and slugging percentage (.550). This combination of hitting and one of the best starting rotations in MLB history is good enough to lead the Astros to their second World Series appearance in three years. It would even be almost surprising if they don’t go on to win the whole thing.

Like its counterpart in the National League, the AL Central is up for grabs with the Twins only two games ahead of the Cleveland Indians. The Central won’t start to show a true winner until late September, but I think the Twins will be on top of the Central like they have been for most of the season.

The AL Wild Card picture is just as clear as the rest of the league compared to the National League picture. The Indians, Twins, Rays and Oakland Athletics are the three real competitors for the two Wild Card spots. The Indians sit atop the Wild Card with a 1.5 game lead over the Rays, who themselves have a game cushion over the A’s. While the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox are six games out of a Wild Card spot, which is still sort of in the race, this team is nowhere near the caliber of last year’s champs and I don’t think they stand a chance in this race.

The two teams who will duel it out in the one game Wild Card playoff game will be the Rays and the Indians.

Last September saw teams come from nowhere to take a playoff spot and saw other teams blow their postseason chances. With August running out of days and September quickly approaching, the Road to October is starting to heat up. Will your team ride to victory, or will they blow a tire and kiss their championship hopes goodbye?

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