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NL wild card race: Breaking down six contenders’ biggest flaw

first_imgMORE: A new team sits atop SN’s latest MLB Power RankingsBelow are six teams that could make a run at the NL wild card this year — sorry, Giants fans — and what could deter them from making the playoffs. Guess what: Pitching is a big part of all of them.MetsFlaw: BullpenBrodie Van Wagenen did good at the deadline — the Mets were too good on paper when it comes to talent — not trading Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler or even the smaller pieces like Todd Frazier in order to get smaller stuff back in return. Acquiring Marcus Stroman while keeping the other arms in Queens was cunning. But not making an effort to bring in another arm to a bullpen that has needed one is questionable. In all, the Mets’ rotation is deeper than Flushing Bay, and when all five guys are firing on all cylinders, that’s a recipe for winning.But it’s the bullpen that’s been the biggest question mark, and that’s not something that has really changed in recent weeks. The Mets’ bullpen has a 6.21 ERA over the past two weeks. ERA is always a little inflated because one bad appearance can blow the whole thing up, but this bullpen’s problems go deeper than a few bad outings.Edwin Díaz has been nothing short of a disaster. He’s already given up a career-high 11 home runs this season with a 5.32 ERA, two runs higher than his career worst (3.27 in 2017). Jeurys Familia spent time on the IL this season, but has pitched much better in August (two runs allowed in nine innings of work).Robert Gsellman has been shut down with a triceps issue. Between the injuries and the ineffectiveness, you might as well replace the Mets’ bullpen gate with a revolving door: In total, 23 players have thrown a pitch for the Mets out of the bullpen this season.If Díaz would  just get right  this team would be much more dangerous in the final month of the season, but if it hasn’t happened yet then don’t expect it.CubsFlaw: Win some dang road games.The Cubs are probably the most confusing team in baseball this year. They’re 66-58 — a good record — with a 41-19 home record, which is outstanding. So what’s the problem? They can’t win on the road.Chicago North is 25-39 on the road with 308 runs scored, 107 home runs and a .759 OPS. At home, the Cubs have 302 runs scored, 87 home runs and an .807 OPS.*insert confused Nick Young GIF here*So, clearly, the problem is probably not the offense on the road. Rather, the pitching staff has allowed more than an entire run higher on the road than at home: 4.75 as opposed to 3.35. Over their past two road trips, the Cubs have gone 7-12 and have been walked off three times. Some of that can be atributed to a shaky back-end of the bullpen (they really need Craig Kimbrel to get right), but being 14 games under .500 on the road is baffling for an otherwise really good team.How can a team that’s so good at home not even break .500 on the road? What can the Cubs do to right their road woes? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?The Shadow knows.CardinalsFlaw: OffensePaul Goldschmidt has had an up-and-down year for the Redbirds so far in 2019. His walk rate is a career low, he’s on pace to set a career high in strikeouts and his OPS is the worst it’s been since his first season in the majors. Goldschmidt is still hitting the ball hard and playing solid defense, so he hasn’t been a detriment to the team at all (2.2 bWAR this season). But he also hasn’t been the perennial MVP candidate he was for so long in Arizona.The Cardinals haven’t scored many runs in the second half. They’ve scored 156 runs in 35 games, stuck in the bottom third in baseball. In 14 of those games, they’ve scored two runs or fewer. Not great, Bob!Side note: The Cardinals have scored one more run over that span than the Cubs have. With Harrison Bader trying to figure things out in Triple-A — someone the Cards  really, really  needed to be good this season — there’s not a whole lot of offense coming from that outfield, even with Dexter Fowler on pace to have his best season with St. Louis to this point (though, that’s not really saying much).Even with Marcell Ozuna back from injury, the Cards haven’t been lighting up the scoreboard. If they continue to not be able to score, expect St. Louis to look toward the Blues defending their Stanley Cup and not the Cardinals making a World Series run.BrewersFlaw: Starting pitchingLet’s run ’em down:Wade Miley left for Houston before the season;Brandon Woodruff is on the IL;Brent Suter and Jimmy Nelson are still awaiting returns from injury;Jhoulys Chacin is out until the middle of September;Gio Gonzalez dealt with two separate injuries this season;Yikes. Zach Davies returned from injury (back spasms) on Monday night, but will he be enough to keep the Brewers afloat for the next few weeks? The Brewers’ biggest trade deadline acquisition was Drew Pomeranz (he’s made one start for Milwaukee), despite desperately needing to add more help to the rotation and not tax the bullpenThey did acquire Jordan Lyles (for a second straight season, too) and he’s been mostly OK for them through four starts (3.43 ERA, 10 runs allowed in 21 innings).But relying on the bullpen — whether out of necessity or just because some of those guys are really good — for a second straight season after they were so taxed in 2018 is gutsy. The Brewers rank fifth in the majors in bullpen innings behind the Angels, Rays, Blue Jays and Mariners. Coincidentally enough, all of those teams have starting pitching issues and only one of them (Tampa Bay) is a wild card contender.PhilliesFlaw: Surprise! Pitching, pitching, pitchingMatt Klentak went into the offseason after 2018 knowing he had to make changes to the Phillies’ lineup. He did: He brought in Bryce Harper, who has underperformed but is still having a good season, Andrew McCutchen (out for the year with a torn ACL), Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto.While those moves have worked out to varying degrees of success, Klentak’s biggest failure has been to ignore starting pitching almost entirely. Yes, Arrieta was a solid No. 2 behind emerging ace Aaron Nolan, but the rest of that rotation isn’t pretty: Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and deadline acquisition Jason Vargas all have FIP numbers north of 5.00, even if their xFIP numbers are a bit below that.Obviously, quality starting pitching doesn’t grow on trees, but the argument can be made that the available starters at the trade deadline this season would all be better than what the Phillies are trotting out there this season.The Phillies have been slapped with injury after injury to their pitching staff, with Jake Arrieta the latest to hit the IL with season-ending elbow surgery. While Philadelphia has actually put up respectable numbers from the rubber in the second half, not having the horses in the bullpen or in the rotation could spell disaster during the late stages of the season.NationalsFlaw: Guess what: BullpenThe Nationals turning around their season after a year-and-a-half stretch of steaming mediocrity should be unsurprising, especially when you consider the amount of pure talent they have on the field: Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon have all had very good to great seasons at the plate. But akin to most of the other teams on this list, there’s one fatal flaw that plagued the Nats early in the season and is still rearing its ugly, pimpled head: the bullpen.In its last two weeks of games, the Nats’ bullpen has allowed 29 runs in 41 innings, with three blown saves to boot. Their three new bullpen arms — Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias (currently on the IL) — have added some stability to the back end, and their numbers corroborate that. But with Elias and closer Sean Doolittle currently on the injured list, Washington is going to have to rely on arms that maybe underperformed — Matt Grace, who hasn’t performed well in big spots, and Tanner Rainey, who has nasty stuff but has a tendency to walk the ballpark — in the short term.The good news is that Washington can still mash, which is better than getting mashed.The Nationals have …- 43 runs and 52 hits in their past 31 innings- 62 runs and 72 hits in their past 47 innings- 79 runs and 99 hits in their past 72 inningsUm … wow. pic.twitter.com/yKCWGmVqgF— Ryan Fagan (@ryanfagan) August 20, 2019 There are 15 teams in the National League and it seems just about every one has a chance to make the playoffs. This is the most open the NL has been in years. On the morning of Aug. 20, for example, there were three teams within 2 1/2 games of the second wild card spot in the Senior Circuit with just over a month’s worth of games left to play. As usual with baseball, there’s a common theme: This year is bullpens and their seeming ineffectiveness, coupled with the offensive explosion (once again), meaning pitching staffs are pretty bad.last_img

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