The Dodgers are good. I mean really good. We know that.
Just because they have the best record in the National League and are just one game back for the best record in baseball does not mean they do not have question marks surrounding them. The Dodgers are not the only team facing an uncertain future — many contenders are as well. Fortunately, the Dodgers have less uncertainty than basically any other team in the National League.
The Dodgers clinched home-field advantage in the NLDS today with the Cardinals' loss to the Brewers.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) September 15, 2019
So, let’s take a look at every contender — there are fifteen of them — and identify their biggest weakness and question mark heading into a potential October. For the sake of this column, I will be including records and playoff race placement that is dated to September 16 before games begin.
New York Yankees (98-53, +9 AL East): Health
The Yankees have no glaring holes as you would expect from a club of their caliber, except for one.
Coming into the year, the Yankees were expected to have an ace in Luis Severino and a big bat in Giancarlo Stanton. Severino has not thrown a pitch for the Yankees this season and Stanton has played just nine games. The Yankees are also missing outfielders Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman, and super reliever Dellin Betances just returned for his first appearance all season.
Houston Astros (98-53, +8.5 AL West): Bullpen
The Astros are the odds-on favorites to win the World Series as of today and it is for good reason. They boast the best offense in baseball with a 125 wRC+ and arguably the best 1-2-3 combo for their starting rotation (Cole, Verlander, Greinke).
Over the last 30 days, however, their bullpen has gone by the wayside. Over that span, the Astros’ bullpen has been the 8th-worst in the league in terms of FIP (5.14). This output, or lack thereof, might be attributed to All-Star Ryan Pressly and right-handers Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh going on the injured list.
Minnesota Twins (91-58, +4.5 AL Central): Handling Losses
The Twins have been baseball’s biggest surprise this season as they look to handily cap off the 2019 regular season with their first division title in nine years. In recent days, though, Minnesota has lost a starting pitcher for the rest of the season with a 60-game suspension and have lost their defensive star center fielder in Byron Buxton.
Byron Buxton is out for the season.
Max Kepler has a sore shoulder.
Jake Cave has a sore groin.
Miller, Wade, LaMarre: 11 CF innings.
BRING ME WILLIANS ASTUDILLO, ALDS STARTING CENTER FIELDER. pic.twitter.com/0YIWbrT27C
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) September 10, 2019
How will they handle it?
Tampa Bay Rays (89-62, +1.5 on Wild Card): Offense vs. LHP
Tampa Bay is a team that seems to surprise us every season and in 2019, have done it without the help of their two budding aces for large chunks: Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.
The club has no glaring holes, but their offense against lefties (94 wRC+) could improve.
Oakland Athletics (90-60, +3 on Wild Card): Starting Pitching
Oakland likes to surprise us every year just like Tampa Bay. Their one major issue is their lack of true impact starters and because of it, have only managed a 5.00 FIP over the last 30 days.
For a secondary problem, their offense against southpaws has been 13 percent below average over the same span.
Cleveland Indians (87-63, -1.5 Wild Card): Bullpen
Brad Hand is a nice place to start, but he just got hurt yesterday. Nick Goody is a nice piece. One of the Indians’ top starters could head to the bullpen should Cleveland make it to the ALDS.
The Indians bullpen has allowed a 5.32 FIP over the past calendar month. Simply put, that will not get it done with powerhouses like Houston and New York ready to pounce.
Los Angeles Dodgers (97-54, +20.5 NL West): Consistency
The Dodgers are up and down constantly and while they typically figure it out prior to October, this season will have to be somewhat different with injury questions. Hyun-Jin Ryu is tiring, Rich Hill is coming back from a major injury, and Alex Verdugo might be done for the year.
The bullpen needs consistency and so does the lineup, but honestly, we are just cherry-picking here. The Dodgers are good.
Atlanta Braves (93-58, +9.5 NL East): Offense vs. LHP
The Braves, for being considered a favorite to play the Dodgers in the NLCS, have some offensive issues. This past month, the Braves posted just a 99 wRC+ as a team and a 78 wRC+ against southpaws in particular. The Dodgers rotation being so lefty-hefty might cause issues for Atlanta.
Moreover, their bench depth took a hit when former Dodger Charlie Culberson was lost for the season after getting hit in the face by a pitch. Culberson had one of the highest batting averages vs southpaws on the team in 2019.
St. Louis Cardinals (83-66, +2 NL Central): Inexperience
The Red Birds have been led by the youngest two pitchers and the oldest on their staff in Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Adam Wainwright. They boast the big bats of Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, but are they for real? The answer is yes. The Cardinals seem to have figured it out down the stretch with solid pitching and a few overproducing players. Still, they remain in the thick of things and could very easily challenge the Braves in the NLDS — if they win their division.
This one is cherry-picking, but the inexperience of their club could be their downfall.
Washington Nationals (82-66, +2.5 on Wild Card): Bullpen
The three-headed monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin rivals any big three, including that of the Dodgers. Their lineup is not as deep as the Dodgers, but with MVP candidate (and possible future Dodger?) Anthony Rendon and young star Juan Soto running things, they will be in the mix.
Their bullpen is by far their biggest weakness, shown through a 5.93 FIP over the last month.
The Nationals bullpen. pic.twitter.com/n5I9Yn325f
— District on Deck (@DistrictOnDeck) September 14, 2019
Chicago Cubs (81-68, +1 on Wild Card): Offense
The Cubs are without Javier Baez and could be without Anthony Rizzo. Kris Bryant isn’t the same guy he was to start the year. The Cubs best hitter is seemingly Nick Castellanos at the moment. Their rotation outside of Yu Darvish has been average.
Moreover, Brandon Morrow hasn’t thrown a pitch since 2018, and mid-season signing Craig Kimbrel (6.64 FIP) simply has not worked out.
This team is not capable of doing much in the playoffs, in my opinion. Not only have they posted an 89 wRC+ as an entire offense, they have posted a 74 wRC+ against lefties this month. If they face the Dodgers with Ryu and Kershaw throwing well, good luck to the Cubbies.
Milwaukee Brewers (80-69, -1 for Wild Card): Pitching Staff
Since Christian Yelich went out, the Brewers are 5-1. They are still a really good team, but with question marks galore. Their biggest one comes in their pitching staff — not just the bullpen or the rotation, but both. Over the past month, the Brewers have gotten a brutal 5.16 FIP from their rotation and 4.97 FIP from their ‘pen. That won’t get it done.
Also, this seems a bit unlucky…
Brewers are releasing Jeremy Jeffress, key performer in great 2018 season. On IL with hip issue but struggled earlier. Will take time off to rest before coming back next spring. @Ken_Rosenthal 1st
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) September 1, 2019
New York Mets (77-72, -4 for Wild Card): Defense/Bullpen
The Mets have a solid rotation with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Marcus Stroman. They are making a push. Pete Alonso is continuing to do Pete Alonso things. They have a ton of question marks with their defense (-78 DRS, -1.7 UZR/150) and Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia just aren’t it. If they get there, they could surprise in a short series, but they simply don’t have the roster to go much further.
There you have it, everyone currently in the hunt for a playoff spot. A lot will transpire between now and September 29, but these are the teams that will be in it, and this is the most current assessment of their issues.