However, the NL’s All-Star Game success on Tuesday restored a bit of pride and gave the Senior Circuit home field advantage in the World Series for the third consecutive season.
Good luck with guessing which team will be hosting Game One of the Fall Classic though.
Just as the American League playoff race is wide open, the majority of the teams in the National League will think they are still in with a shout as we head into the second half of the season.
The National League East is the most competitive of the three divisions and the team that has owned that division for the last five years is sitting in the cellar. The Philadelphia Phillies’ run as NL East Champions is surely over as they entered the All-Star Break on a 37-50 record, 14.5 games behind the Washington Nationals.
Chase Utley and Ryan Howard only barely managed to make their season debuts prior to the All-Star Break after long injury lay-offs, while ace Roy Halladay was set to begin a rehab assignment in High-A on Thursday. Does having those guys back give them any chance of a Wild Card run? At ten games out it would seem a longshot. The key will be their early post-All Star form because if they don’t quickly make up ground then they may feel they have little choice but to trade a few players before the 31 July deadline.
The Phillies’ fall has created an opportunity for the other four teams in the division and all of them are doing their best to take advantage. The Washington Nationals could be the emerging force in the National League and the rapid rise of Bryce Harper has generated plenty of excitement, while Gio Gonzalez has settled in quickly after his offseason trade from Oakland. The question mark hanging over the team is how many innings will Stephen Strasburg be allowed to pitch and, if he’s shut down late in the season, can they still compete without him?
Meanwhile the Atlanta Braves are quietly putting together a strong season and the Miami Marlins are noisily putting together a decent season, with the belief that they might make a bigger splash than trading for Carlos Lee to push them on. That leaves the New York Mets. Much like the Orioles in the AL East, everyone keeps waiting for them to slip back and that may well still happen. However, considering their expectations coming into the season, David Wright’s renaissance, R.A. Dickey’s incredible first half and Johan Santana’s shattering of the Mets’ no-hitter hoodoo have all combined so that any other positive news from 2012 will be a bonus.
In the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates are making everyone blink hard when they look at the standings. Yes, that really is the Buccos at the top of the division. They will find it difficult to stay there without making some additions – Andrew McCutchen is a fantastic player, but even he can’t provide a one-man offence for a full season – and that could lead to some difficult decisions. They’ve been so bad for so long that they could be forgiven for jumping at the chance to contend, but they shouldn’t give up too many of their good prospects to make that happen because they are probably not quite as close to being a real contender as their position currently suggests.
The Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals will be intent on steaming past the upstarts. Both teams have had to cope with injuries, with the Reds losing Ryan Madson for the season before he had thrown a single pitch for the team, and the Cardinals seeing Adam Wainwright return only to have Chris Carpenter go down for the season. Thankfully Lance Berkman’s knee injury suffered in May wasn’t as serious as first thought – by which was meant season-ending, and possibly therefore career-ending – and he should be back fairly soon after the Break.
As for the Milwaukee Brewers, they are most likely to be in the news for potentially trading Zack Greinke over the next couple of weeks. The Brew Crew have predictably fallen back after losing Prince Fielder over the offseason, a blow made worse by Rickie Weeks’ terrible first half to the season.
The NL Central and NL West provide the four teams who are already out of the playoff running for 2012, namely the Cubs and Astros, and the Rockies and Padres.
That leaves three teams in the race in the NL West. The Arizona Diamondbacks have flown under the radar during the first half of the season and that’s hardly surprising as they haven’t been pulling up any trees. They have done enough to stay in the race though and while the loss of Daniel Hudson (another pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery) is a setback, they shouldn’t be underestimated, especially if Justin Upton has an upturn in form. That’s unless they trade him first, of course.
The San Francisco Giants have had their ups and downs this season, losing Brian Wilson to injury (another Tommy John casualty) and Tim Lincecum to a baffling loss of form, but gaining Buster Posey from his injury ordeal, a red-hot Melky Cabrera and a perfect game from Matt Cain. As for the Los Angeles Dodgers, they were the hottest team in baseball early in the season (16-7 in April) but predictably have cooled down as Matt Kemp cools his heels on the Disabled List. With new ownership in place, the Dodgers may make a splash before the non-waiver trade deadline passes to supplement an offence in need of help and to make the NL West a great battle the rest of the way.
I will refrain from making any predictions, other than that it is going to be fascinating second half.