Aug 29, 2013, 1:25 PM EST
The top teams in the league have plenty of stars, but at this time of the year, some of the most important players on contending teams are the ones flying under the radar. The Braves, Dodgers, and Cardinals are riding players like these straight to the postseason.
Here’s how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the league shaking out:
1. Atlanta Braves (80-52; LW: 1) – Hughes: Pulled out of their bullpen in late July, 22 year old Alex Wood has become the Braves’ hottest starting pitcher.
2. St. Louis Cardinals (78-55; LW: 8) – Zuckerman: Allen Craig: Best hitter in baseball who doesn’t get enough attention.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (78-55; LW: 2) – Roney: Yasiel Puig gets the headlines for one reason or another, diverting attention from the starting rotation. Ricky Nolasco, especially, has been a revelation since coming over from Miami: 6-1, 2.20 ERA in 10 starts.
4. Boston Red Sox (79-55; LW: 4) - Hughes: Since joining Boston at the trade deadline, Jake Peavy is 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA through five starts. They’ll take that.
5. Detroit Tigers (77-56; LW: 5) - Zuckerman: Sure, anything can happen. But Detroit really looks like the clear-cut class of the AL this year.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (77-55; LW: 3) - Zuckerman: Byrd trade pays off immediate dividends when Marlon goes deep in his Bucs debut.
7. Texas Rangers (78-55; LW: 6) - Roney: They’re not better without Nelson Cruz, but they certainly haven’t missed him yet: They’re 16-5 and have averaged 6.4 runs per game since his suspension, compared to an average of 4.3 runs before losing him.
8. Cincinnati Reds (75-59; LW: 9) - Zuckerman: Just when it looked like they were falling apart, they ambush Wainwright and Cards on Wednesday.
9. Tampa Bay Rays (75-56; LW: 7) - Hughes: Matt Moore is hurt, Jeremy Hellickson has become even worse and Chris Archer has had a bad month. The Rays could be in trouble.
10. Oakland A’s (75-57; LW: 10) - Roney: Despite giving up six runs in just over three innings on Sunday, Sonny Gray has burst onto the scene and could be a difference-maker in the AL West race.
11. Cleveland Indians (71-61; LW: 11) - Zuckerman: Terry Francona has done a fine job this season, but Tribe is running out of time to make its move.
12. Baltimore Orioles (70-61; LW: 12) - Hughes: Baltimore is staying in the mix, but unless they put together an extended run there may not be postseason baseball at all in the mid-atlantic region this October.
13. New York Yankees (70-63; LW: 13) - Hughes: C.C. Sabathia (11-11, 4.81) is in the middle of the worst season of his career. It’s incredible how consistent he’s been up until now.
14. Washington Nationals (67-65; LW: 16) - Hughes: Remember how hot Bryce Harper was at the end of last year? He’s starting to get going and could be the perfect catalyst for a Nationals’ run at the NL Wild Card.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks (68-64; LW: 14) - Roney: They designated Jason Kubel for assignment; he’s having a rough, rough year, but he’s been a consistent bat in the past. Some team on the outside of the wild card race (Baltimore, Cleveland?) will probably take a shot.
16. Kansas City Royals (68-64; LW: 15) - Zuckerman: They aren’t going to the playoffs, but a winning season is a big step in the right direction for Kansas City.
17. Colorado Rockies (63-72; LW: 19) - Roney: Wilin Rosario has blossomed fairly early, for a catcher: at age 24, this is his second straight season with at least 20 home runs and 70 RBI, and he’s upped his average to .288.
18. Philadelphia Phillies (61-72; LW: 25) - Hughes: How weird is it to see Roger Bernadina in a Phillies uniform?
19. Los Angeles Angels (59-72; LW: 24) - Roney: Word is that the Angels will part with either GM Jerry Dipoto or Manager Mike Scioscia after the season. Scioscia has served under Bill Stoneman, Tony Reagins, and Dipoto — it might be time for a change in the dugout.
20. New York Mets (59-72; LW: 17) - Hughes: Everyone get ready for Sunday Night Baseball between the Nats and what’s left of the Mets!
21. San Diego Padres (60-73; LW: 23) - Roney: Edinson Volquez was released, Carlos Quentin is out for the season, nothing really to show yet for the trades of Mat Latos and Adrian Gonzalez…yeah, nothing to see here.
22. Seattle Mariners (59-73; LW: 18) - Roney: King Felix gave up eight earned runs — the most of his career — over three innings last night. Even more surprising: it was the first time all season that he failed to get through at least five innings.
23. Toronto Blue Jays (60-74; LW: 20) - Hughes: I read something recently that said the Marlins and Blue Jays didn’t just trade players, they traded identities. That’s a perfect summation of where that team is at.
24. San Francisco Giants (59-74; LW: 21) - Roney: Hunter Pence — of all people — hit the longest home run of the season a few days ago. Not who I would’ve guessed; maybe Giancarlo Stanton can try breaking part of Marlins Park again to top him.
25. Milwaukee Brewers (58-74; LW: 26) - Zuckerman: They’re going to have a big impact on NL Central race: 25 of final 42 games vs. Pirates, Cardinals, Reds.
26. Minnesota Twins (57-74; LW: 22) - Zuckerman: Josh Willingham back from knee injury; could be a last-minute trade target before Sept. 1 roster deadline.
27. Chicago Cubs (56-77; LW: 27) - Zuckerman: Big debate on the North Side: Is Starlin Castro the long-term answer at shortstop? Still undecided.
28. Chicago White Sox (56-76; LW: 28) - Zuckerman: Brutal year on the South Side, which could cost Robin Ventura his job.
29. Miami Marlins (49-82; LW: 29) - Hughes: Jose Fernandez has a really good shot at being NL Rookie of the Year. The amount of young pitching talent in the NL East is quite amazing.
30. Houston Astros (44-88; LW: 30) - Roney: Their team is paid less, collectively, than a couple dozen individual major leaguers, allowing them to turn almost $100m in profit this year. Pretty novel idea: when you know you’re going to be bad, just be epically, cheaply bad, make a ton of money, and reinvest over the next few years.
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com.
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