What's left in the National League?

Justin K. Aller

A friend of mine occasionally writes an essay titled "What I'm Watching", in which he explains why he'll be watching a particular game (or games) that evening.

In the same spirit, here's what I'm not watching ... The National League, unless a) two of the National League Central contenders are facing off, or b) a National League team is playing one of the American League wild-card contenders. Because even before the halfway point in August, there is just. Not. Much. Happening. In the National League.

Consider ...

In the National League East, the Braves have a 14-game lead over the second-place Nationals. And aside from the Braves, nobody in the division has a winning record or a positive run differential. Even if you assume that the Nationals or maybe the Phillies are better than they've shown, it's just too late in the season to matter. Essentially, the Braves can spend the next seven weeks preparing for the playoffs and everybody else can prepare for 2014. Ho. Hum.

In the National League West, there's sort of a race still, if you consider 7½ games a reasonable number of games to make up between now and the last day of the season. I don't, really, but of course it does happen every few years. Of course, the problem for the second-place Diamondbacks is that the first-place Dodgers are one of the hottest teams we've ever seen. Which doesn't mean they'll keep being so hot. But at reasonably full strength, the Dodgers are almost certainly better and more talented than the Diamondbacks. And there's also that 7½-game lead. If I'm a D'backs fan, I'm dreaming about September, when my club visits Los Angeles for a three-game series, then hosts the Dodgers a week later for a four-game set. Take five or six of those games, and the math's not quite so daunting. But man, 7½ games ... if I'm a Dodgers fan, I'm not planning any trips in October. Except to Chavez Ravine.

Fortunately for you Senior Circuit aficionados, we do have Middle America: not so good for reproductive freedom or voting rights, but fantastic for pennant races! At least in the National League, where three potentially outstanding teams are vying for ... well, for three postseason berths. But at least it matters which berths! Winding up with a wild card is such a relatively terrible thing -- because of that 50/50 chance of getting knocked out in three hours -- that all three contenders simply must do everything they possibly can to ace out the other two squads.

So who you got?

The Pirates are sentimental favorites, with their 20-season drought.

The Cardinals are statistical favorites, with their league-best run differential.

And the Reds are ... Hmmm, I don't know what the Reds are. They're not Communist sympathizers; they proved that in the 1950s. Oh, the Reds have Joey Votto and if you don't like Joey Votto you're not a real North American and just get lost you commie pinko.

So, what I'm watching? Tuesday night the Pirates visit the Cardinals for a three-game series, hard on the heels of taking four out of five (and first place) just a couple of weeks ago in Pittsburgh. It would be wonderful to have three pennant races and a hot wild-card race, but then again that sounds terribly complicated. Now that I think about it, I sorta like it this way: Just one thing to watch in the National League, which leaves plenty of time for the two pennant races in the American League, plus the five- or six-team action for the wild cards.

Maybe this is perfect. At least until the Royals remember themselves, and my schedule gets freed up some.

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