The National League Moves into the Turn Before the Stretch: Moves and Predictions

As the calendar turns to August and the MLB trade deadline recedes in the rear view mirror, it’s time to take stock of the panting horses in the lead in the National League. Contenders Atlanta, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco all made significant roster moves, signaling their fans and players that their front offices expect them all to continue competing. Who made out the best in the swaps and signings? Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis arguably improved, adding respectively, Felipe Lopez and Jerry Hairston, Ryan Ludwig, and Rafael Furcal. All of those individuals are nice players, but all are likely on the downhill slopes past their peaks. How steep that slope is will be the key factor for each player and his new team.

That leaves fans in Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco arguing their teams improved most. The Braves picked up Michael Bourn from Houston, the Phillies Hunter Pence from that same team, and the Giants Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets. Before play August 1st, those players were hitting .303, .306, and .281 respectively, but unfortunately, “you couldn’t look that up” anymore (although I suppose you could fish the sports pages out of the re-cycling). All three players are former or current All-Stars, and Pence and Beltran have already played a few games for the Phillies and Giants, Pence going 2 for 9 for Philadelphia and Beltran 2 for 17 for San Francisco before the calendar turned. However, Pence should be 4 for 9, were it not for a blown call in his first at-bat in red pinstripes July 30th (costing him an infield single), and a base running error by teammate Ryan Howard July 31st (costing him another infield single). Both plays were seen by hundreds of thousands, but perhaps not covered on SportsCenter.

Philly wins the trade deadline dash by a nose over San Fran.

What will all this mean with two months to go in the season? Well, two months is long enough for people to forget predictions amid end-of-the-season excitement, so here goes:

First, it’s going to be very difficult to stop Philadelphia from winning more than a hundred games and going into the playoffs with baseball’s best record, the possibility of a horrible plane crash notwithstanding. Pence is energized by his new club, and Roy Oswalt will be coming off the disabled list.

Second, San Francisco will win the West, the Braves the Wild Card, and the Who Knows Mysteries will take the Central. Pittsburgh fared badly over the last weekend in July against the Phillies, but put up a fight in two of their three loses. Milwaukee probably shouldn’t win on the backs of Lopez and Hairston with Rickie Weeks on the disabled list, but — . And St. Louis is a Pujols jammed thumb away from falling out of contention. (Give the division to Milwaukee.)

Deserved awards at season’s end, assuming consistency? MVP: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee; Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia; Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh.