On September 1st we took an in depth look at MLB American League scheduling as it is one component of many that will impact the post season. Today we have the opportunity to take a look at the National League where teams have 23-26 games remaining. One thing we know right from the start is that the wildcard will come down to the last week and there will be as many as 3 teams fighting for that one spot the last week of the season. Those teams will be a focal point in the Division analysis below.
National League East Division
At this time the Atlanta Braves have a one game lead on the Phillies as the Braves have lost 3 straight games. Atlanta has a fairly easy schedule in September but must hope that St. Louis is out of the NL Central race when the Braves play 3 games against them next week. Usually having 6 games remaining with the Washington Nationals in September would be a Godsend for a team in the mix of a divisional and wild card race. But the Nationals have been playing some pretty impressive ball lately and by no means are they a pushover. The 3 games with the Mets are no gimme as the Braves just played the Mets last week and had the misfortune of facing a brilliant Johan Santana until he was pulled in the 6th inning with an injury that may keep him from pitching a few weeks. The Braves need to get lucky that they do not have to face Santana again. The Braves also have 5 games with the Marlins including today and the Marlins are playing good ball. It might come down to 3 games at Philadelphia in Mid-September.
The Phillies have home and away 3 game series with the Marlins, Mets and Nationals which is 3/4th of their remaining schedule with the 3 games left with the Braves. Undoubtedly Major league baseball saw the Phillies as the team to beat in the NL East and thus scheduled all of those games against their Eastern Division opponents hoping there was going to be a race. Well, MLB has got the race they wanted. But with the scheduling that is remaining for both the Braves and the Phillies the bigger question is going to be what part of rotations are each team catching when they play. The Braves a couple of days ago had the Marlins and obviously did not want to see Josh Johnson on the mound.
The scheduling hurts the Braves as their strength has been pitching and that 4 headed monster at the top of its line-up. The Phillies have all of their big bats back for the stretch run. But the Braves have been hit big time by the injury bug and that combined with a less than favorable schedule makes that current one game lead a non-issue
Edge: Phillies; Braves fighting for wildcard with either the Padres or Rockies from the National League West.
NL Central Division
Two weeks ago it looked like the St. Louis Cardinals would walk away with the division as they swept the Cincinnati Reds and the Cardinals next 9 games were against weak opponents. But the Cardinals have proven this year that winning the big ones mean nothing when you can't win games where a this team is a prohibitive favorite. This year the Reds are showing their strength against the teams they are supposed to beat. The Reds are 6-12 against the Cardinals in their heads up matchup. But the Reds are 27-10 against the rest of the Division. While the Reds obliterated the weak teams in the division, The Cardinals are 19-23 against the rest of the Division. The edge in September's schedule also goes to the Reds as they play the majority games against weak NL Central Division opponents while the Cardinals have to play NL West opponents that are battling for a Division title or wild card berth.
Edge: The Reds easily as the Cardinals need to do what the Minnesota Twins did last year in the American League Central and the Reds need to completely fall apart like last years Detroit Tigers. With the scheduling this is never going to happen
National League West
Ten days ago the Padres had the best record in the National League and were cruising to a Division championship until a seven game losing streak has made this the Division to watch. A fool would count out Colorado given last year's Division run to the post season. Colorado may be 6-7 games back but plays all of their remaining games against NL West opponents except for 4 games against the Reds. Colorado is playing good ball. San Diego is sitting 3 games up but has a brutal September schedule. They have 4 games left with both the Giants and Rockies. Then to make things even worse, they have 3 games left against both Cincinnati and St. Louis. There saving grace may be that there season ends with 4 games against the Cubs who most likely will be looking at minor league players that have been called up for evaluation against major league opponents. For the Cubs this is extremely useful prior to making out the Spring Training invitee list for next year. The Giants have the easiest schedule of their foes in the Division. They have 3 games series with the Padres and Rockies remaining. But throw that in with 5 games against the Dodgers, 6 games with Arizona, 3 with the Cubs and 3 games with the Brewers, the Giants have the most favorable schedule.
Edge: The Giants by 2 games; Padres, and Rockies fighting with the Braves for the wild card. In a rarity, I am calling a 163rd game between the Braves and the 2nd place finisher in the NL West