If you had told me that the team with the best record in baseball at the All-Star Break was going to be a National League squad, I would have absolutely agreed with that. Except I would have presumed it was either going to be the Washington Nationals or Los Angeles Dodgers. And while those two clubs lead their respective divisions, the St. Louis Cardinals at 56-33 have the majors' best mark.
That St. Louis is a good team is obviously no surprise as the Cards are perhaps the model organization in the game -- at least when they don't hack the Houston Astros' computer system. But I'm pretty shocked that the club is this good considering it lost ace Adam Wainwright to a likely season-ending injury in late April (he is trying to return at some point this season, but it's not probable) and first baseman Matt Adams to a possible season-ending injury in late May. Even All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday hasn't played since June 8.
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The Cards are currently +325 favorites at Bovada with Washington to win the NL pennant and -400 favorites to take the NL Central again. The good news for St. Louis is that Holliday should be ready to return after the break. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Kolten Wong are having really good seasons. Outfielder Jason Heyward, the team's big offseason acquisition and who cost the Cards All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller, has just been OK. Pitching is carrying this team for the most part has St. Louis has four starters with an ERA under 3.00: Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and John Lackey. That Lackey deal with Boston last season looks like a bigger steal each and every day. St. Louis might look at adding one more pitcher just to limit the innings on Martinez and Wacha, but I don't think it will be a big name like a Cole Hamels or Scott Kazmir.
Pittsburgh closed the first half strong and is now only 2.5 games behind the Cardinals in the Central, with the Pirates at +275 to win it. There's no question in my mind that the Pirates will earn at least a wild-card spot as long as Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole stay healthy. The Cubs are 8 games back of St. Louis and currently hold the second wild-card spot. I do think they will claim that as Chicago is going to make some sort of trade. The Cubs are looking to upgrade in left field (until Kyle Schwarber is called back up in September) and with one more starting pitcher. I don't think the Cubs will give up any top prospects for someone like Hamels but rather just wait until this winter to sign a David Price or Jordan Zimmermann in free agency.
It's only a matter of time, I believe, that Washington (48-39) pulls away in the NL East. The Nats currently lead the Mets by 2 games. Everyone was projecting a 100-win season for this team, and it hasn't so much underachieved as failed to stay healthy. Currently, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Denard Span, Jayson Werth and Stephen Strasburg are all on the DL. Rendon has barely played this season (18 games). Werth (only 27 games) is out until August. Strasburg has been perhaps the biggest pitching disappointment in baseball. Shortstop Ian Desmond also has hugely underachieved -- he may regret turning down that $100 million-plus extension the Nationals offered him this offseason. The Nats are still the biggest division favorites in MLB at -700, and they will be fine once everyone gets on the field. I don't expect any major trades. The Mets have incredible young pitching but have to add offense or they will fade. You hear rumors of Ben Zobrist and Jay Bruce, among others.
As for the NL West, the Dodgers (51-39) lead the NL West by 4.5 games over San Francisco, and they are going to take that division. I'm 100 percent sure they will acquire a starting pitcher -- maybe the Reds' Johnny Cueto. The Dodgers have lost pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy for the season and are really thin after Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson; plus you can't exactly count on Anderson to stay healthy all year. L.A. is a -500 favorite to win the West and +425 to win the pennant. What I want to see the team do is call up super-prospect Cory Seager and put him at shortstop ahead of veteran Jimmy Rollins, who has been terrible. He is batting just .213 with a .266 on-base percentage. According to Fangraphs' calculations, the Dodgers would do just as well -- perhaps a little better -- with a journeyman at shortstop. Seager is now considered the top prospect still in the minors.
So my division winner picks are exactly as they stand now, with the Pirates and Cubs as your wild-card teams. The Central is the +138 favorite to win the pennant, with the West and East both at +200. I'm sticking with Washington as my pennant winner, facing the Angels in the World Series. But depending on what the Dodgers do via trade, I may change my mind.
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