Column: How the Dodgers’ rivals have set themselves up for the playoffs
This might not be the most dramatic September in baseball history, at least in the National League. The calendar has not yet turned to August, but the NL playoff field appears pretty set.
For the first time since the league split into three divisions in 1994, the NL could have repeat winners in each division: the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals.
The Dodgers and Nationals have double-digit leads. The Cubs spotted the rest of the NL Central half the season, but no other team took advantage of that generosity. Now the Cubs have the look of last year’s World Series champions. They won 11 of their first 13 games after the All-Star break, just as the Milwaukee Brewers were losing nine of their first 13.
Although the Cubs entered the weekend with a 1 1/2 game lead over Milwaukee, Baseball Prospectus projected the Cubs had a 74% chance of winning the division. Fangraphs put the Cubs’ chance at 88% — and gave the St. Louis Cardinals better odds than the Brewers to win the division.
Beyond the division leaders, only three NL teams have winning records: the Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. Let’s put two of them down for the wild cards.
Those five teams — the Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Rockies — are the teams best positioned to stand between the Dodgers and their first World Series appearance since 1988. So, as we wait to see what the Dodgers do at Monday’s trade deadline, let’s see what those five teams have done.
Who they got: LHP Jose Quintana.
Who they gave up: OF Eloy Jimenez, their top prospect and ranked among the top five in baseball; RHP Dylan Cease, their No. 2 prospect and ranked among the top 100 in baseball; and two other minor leaguers.
Impact in short series vs. Dodgers: Major.
The Cubs’ starters led the majors in earned-run average last year; they do not rank in the top 10 this year. The ERA for Jon Lester is up from 2.44 to 3.88, for Jake Arrieta from 3.10 to 4.03, for Kyle Hendricks from 2.13 to 3.95, for John Lackey from 3.35 to 4.97. Quintana won both of his first two starts for the Cubs, with two walks and 19 strikeouts in 13 innings. Game 1 starter?
Who they got: LHP Sean Doolittle, RHP Ryan Madson, IF/OF Howie Kendrick.
Impact in short series vs. Dodgers: Appreciable.
Max Scherzer can’t pitch every game, so the Nationals are going to need some help from a bullpen that ranks last in the NL in ERA. Doolittle, given the latest shot on the Nationals’ closer carousel, has been shaky. He has made four appearances, each for an inning, and he has walked one each time. His ERA in Washington: 9.00. Madson has not given up a run in four appearances for the Nationals, and he has given up one run in his past 17 2/3 innings overall. Adrian Gonzalez has five hits in 10 career at-bats against Madson. Kendrick could be a pinch-hitter or left fielder against the Dodgers’ trio of left-handed starters; he has six hits in 15 career at-bats against Clayton Kershaw.
Who they got: OF J.D. Martinez
Who they gave up: IF Dawel Lugo and two other minor leaguers from one of the thinnest farm systems in baseball.
Impact in short series vs. Dodgers: Huge.
Martinez crushes left-handers, and the Dodgers could start left-handers Kershaw, Rich Hill and Alex Wood in a series. Martinez is batting .452 off lefties this season, with seven home runs in 42 at-bats. He has reached base four times in nine appearances against Kershaw. In his first six games with the Diamondbacks, Martinez hit four home runs.
Who they got: RHP Pat Neshek.
Who they gave up: Three All-Stars from the Class-A South Atlantic League, none highly ranked on prospect lists.
Impact in short series vs. Dodgers: Limited.
The Rockies’ bullpen entered the weekend having pitched fewer innings than the Dodgers’ bullpen — that’s on the Dodgers and their five-inning-by-design starters — but the Rockies’ results have been spotty beyond closer Greg Holland and left-handed setup men Jake McGee and Chris Rusin. Neshek offers a proven right-handed alternative. His 1.12 ERA is the second-lowest of any major league pitcher to throw 40 innings this season, trailing only Felipe Rivero of the Pittsburgh Pirates (0.67).
Who they got: RHP Anthony Swarzak, LHP Tyler Webb.
Who they gave up: IF Garrett Cooper, who struck out nine times in his first 24 at-bats with the New York Yankees, and OF Ryan Cordell, a triple-A project with power, a potential major league DH or bench player.
Impact in short series vs. Dodgers: Minimal.
The Brewers, like the Rockies, have a terrific closer, but they’re short on bullpen depth. The Brewers gave Webb two outings, then sent him to triple A. Swarzal had a 2.23 ERA for the Chicago White Sox, a team that has accelerated its youth movement by trading arguably its top four relievers: Swarzal to the Brewers, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees, and Dan Jennings to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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