Every year, there are teams from both the National League and the American League who exceed expectations and make much more noise than everyone figured they would. While not always making the playoffs at season end, their names are at least in the running all the way up to the end, so at least they are considered to have a real shot at being one of the final five teams from each league making the playoffs.
For the NL, the Milwaukee Brewers currently lead the Central by one game over the Chicago Cubs, as that divisional race has looked like a two-horse race as the halfway point of June is passed. Riding on the backs of their stout offense, the Brew Crew have been able to get through their tough spots during the season to put themselves in a great spot before the All-Star break.
For the Cubs, looking up at the Brewers from second place is an all too familiar sight, as the 2018 season saw the Cubbies going back and forth with their northern rivals, needing a game 163 to determine who won the division, ultimately giving the Brewers a divisional title. Chicago was then forced to host the Colorado Rockies soon after in the Wild Card game, which they managed to lose, which also ended their season.
The National League East has the Atlanta Braves currently on top, leading the second-place Philadelphia Phillies by two-and-a-half games, much to the surprise of no one. The Braves, fresh off an easy loss in the NLDS last season at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, returned pretty much all of their pieces that got them to that point last year and recently just signed Dallas Keuchel to help anchor their starting rotation.
The Phillies have been struggling a bit, as their newfound hero Bryce Harper has looked very off in his first season in the city of Brotherly Love. While still quite early on in the season, the Phils are looking up at a tough team to catch, but thankfully the rest of their division looks to be struggling, so, like the Central, is also looks to be a two-team race.
Out west, the Dodgers hold a comfortable 10.5 game lead that looks to be insurmountable. While two teams, the Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, are both currently over .500, they will have a hard time even sniffing the Dodgers as they cruise to yet another divisional title.
Two teams are looking primed to turn their playoff pretender predictions into playoff contender results, much to the chagrin of writers. While not anything close to a guarantee, these teams have a decent shot at earning the wild card spots in the National League.
St. Louis Cardinals
Figured to be the third horse in the race to win the Central division, the Cardinals have struggled out of the gate, even with newly-acquired Paul Goldschmidt teaming up with Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna at the plate. Not having prime Andrew Miller, who was their high-level pitching acquisition this offseason, show up is a hard pill to swallow, especially at his inflated salary, but this team had made do so far without his big-time contributions.
Only sitting three-and-a-half games behind the first-place Brewers, they are more than within earshot of contending for the divisional crown, especially if both the Brewers and Cubbies flounder at any point, which is what both teams seem to be doing now. Needing a few bullpen additions at the deadline, this team is far and away one of the leaders and favorites to secure a wild-card berth.
San Diego Padres
Having reeled in the other premiere superstar this offseason in Manny Machado, the window for the San Diego Padres to compete is wide open right now, and that is why they will most likely throw caution to the wayside at this year’s trade deadline. Operating with a seemingly open pocketbook and numerous positions to fill, this franchise could make the deadline very interesting.
Pairing Machado with fiery rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. and stud veteran Eric Hosmer, this team needs a few pitching additions and they are set. Rumored to be interested in the Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, his pitching style would be a superb fit to this youthful ballclub that is just learning what it takes to win games.
Only two games under .500 is really good for this team, and they have a big-time opportunity to surpass both the Diamondbacks and Rockies before the season is over. Not having enough ammo to compete with the Dodgers, the Friars should be ecstatic to have enough of a farm system to go out and get the players they need to move up the standings and make a case to make some noise in this year’s playoff picture.