MLB Playoff Watch: After Dodgers, Mets, Braves, National League gets interesting

By Rowan Kavner
FOX Sports MLB Writer

With a month and a half to go in the MLB season, the Dodgers, Mets and Braves have established themselves on a level of their own. Then the National League playoff picture gets interesting.

The Dodgers are on a record pace, sitting comfortably 16 games ahead in their division. The Mets and Braves continue to vie for the top spot in the NL East, though a healthy rotation and some new additions in New York have helped the former start to separate.

As it stands today, the Mets, Braves and Phillies would all make the playoffs, putting pressure on the Cardinals or Brewers to win their division or risk missing out. St. Louis, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and San Diego all are within five wins of one another and likely battling for three playoff spots.

Here’s a team-by-team look at where the National League contenders stand.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Arrow pointing: Up
Overall: 79-34
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 9-1
Last week: 4-1
Playoff odds (via FanGraphs): 100%

Sound the alarms. The Dodgers lost a game. 

It hadn’t happened all month, and it ended a 12-game winning streak that came one victory short of matching the longest streak in Los Angeles history. The Dodgers are 34-6 in their past 40 games, so it’s less a question of if and more of when the Dodgers will wrap up the division, as they enter this week leading the second-place Padres by a commanding 16 games in the NL West

The Dodgers’ pitching staff has been the best in baseball, weathering the losses of Walker Buehler (now out for the year) and Clayton Kershaw (on his second injured list stint) to go 11-1 with a 2.36 ERA this month. Their offense has also been the best in baseball, and they lead the majors in August specifically with an .872 OPS and 84 runs. Max Muncy is starting to find his stroke, a dangerous thought when considering what the rest of the lineup has accomplished this year. 

The Dodgers’ 11-1 record to begin August was the best start to a month in franchise history.

The Dodgers and Astros lead Ben’s MLB Power Rankings

The Dodgers and Astros lead Ben's MLB Power Rankings

Ben Verlander breaks down this week’s MLB Power Rankings, with the Dodgers, Astros and Mets on top in the rankings.

NEW YORK METS

Arrow pointing: Up 
Overall: 75-40
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 10-2
Last week: 5-1
Playoff odds: 100%

The Mets’ only loss in their past nine games entering this week was an extra-inning defeat to the Phillies. Their pitching staff has allowed two runs or fewer in eight straight games and just blanked Philadelphia in two straight games. They’ve won 17 of 20 games. 

What’s more, the top of the Mets rotation looks as good as any in baseball: Chris Bassitt, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom have a combined 7-0 record and 0.94 ERA in August. The Mets’ .361 on-base percentage this month is the best in baseball. Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso have looked like superstars in August. 

While the moves at the deadline were more supportive than substantial, they appear to be prudent. Tyler Naquin (1.245 OPS) and Daniel Vogelbach (.949 OPS) have thrived in their new uniforms, and Darin Ruf, in a small sample, has done what he was brought in to do against lefties (.846 OPS). A monumental stretch awaits with four games against the second-place Braves, four games against the third-place Phillies and a two-game set against the Yankees.

Mets are World Series contenders with deGrom, Scherzer and Diaz

Mets are World Series contenders with deGrom, Scherzer and Diaz

Ben Verlander breaks down three reasons the New York Mets are a World Series-caliber team, starting with the dominance of their pitching.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Arrow pointing: Up 
Overall: 70-46
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 7-5
Last week: 6-0 
Playoff odds: 99.4%

The Braves have tallied six straight wins, all against the Red Sox and Marlins. If they hadn’t played the Mets earlier this month, their August record would look considerably better; Atlanta is 1-4 against New York and 7-1 against every team other this month. The Braves will have a chance to make up ground when they face the Mets again at home this week, looking to minimize their 5.5-game division deficit. The Mets have won six of the previous eight games between the clubs.

Regardless, the Braves are comfortably above the rest of the pack, sitting six games ahead of the Padres in the wild-card race. The youth movement is going swimmingly in Atlanta. Top prospect Vaughn Grissom has looked every bit the part, starting his major-league career 7-for-18 with two homers and a stolen base. The Braves have an NL MVP candidate in Austin Riley and an NL Rookie of the Year candidate in Michael Harris, who is making his case for the award with a 129 OPS+ overall and a .357/.400/.667 slash line in August. Ronald Acuña Jr. is also starting to see his power numbers jump — he’s slugging .521 in August — and the Braves’ offense is picking up an Atlanta rotation that sports a 4.04 ERA this month. 

Although no longer in his normal closer’s role, Raisel Iglesias did pick up a save already and has provided an eighth-inning upgrade. Max Fried’s health will be something to monitor after the ace went to the injured list due to a concussion on a bizarre defensive play.               

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Arrow pointing: Slightly up 
Overall: 63-51
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 8-3
Last week: 3-3
Playoff odds: 75.6%

The Phillies were rolling. Then, like the Braves earlier this month, they ran into a Mets squad extending its lead atop the NL East. The Phillies’ pitching staff has guided them through August. Seranthony Dominguez and new acquisition David Robertson are both 2-for-2 in save opportunities, with no runs allowed this month. Their performances become increasingly important with Corey Knebel landing on the injured list due to a lat strain. While Noah Syndergaard has stumbled early in his new digs (4.91 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, six strikeouts in 11 innings through two starts), Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson both have sub-2.00 ERAs this month to pace the Phillies’ rotation. 

Philadelphia’s offense ran into Sandy Alcantara, Scherzer, deGrom and Bassitt in four of its past five games. Consequently, the Phillies head to Cincinnati this week with just six runs scored in their past five games. Newcomer Brandon Marsh (6-for-27) is still trying to gain his footing, and Alec Bohm’s tremendous July pace (1.088 OPS) has decelerated in August (.549 OPS), but Rhys Hoskins has four homers in August, and Nick Castellanos has an .806 OPS this month. The offense is also still missing some key parts, with Bryce Harper on the comeback trail and Kyle Schwarber now dealing with a calf issue.

The Phillies have a good chance to make up ground on the NL East leaders this month. If they can win their Aug. 19-21 series against the Mets, their other series this month are against the Reds (twice), Pirates and Diamondbacks.

Jacob deGrom, Kyle Tucker, Aaron Judge lead MLB Team of the Week

Jacob deGrom, Kyle Tucker, Aaron Judge lead MLB Team of the Week

Ben Verlander gives us his latest team of the week, featuring stars from the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Cardinals and more.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Arrow pointing: Slightly up 
Overall: 63-51
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 8-3
Last week: 3-3
Playoff odds: 77.5% 

From a win-loss perspective, everything about the Cardinals and Phillies has looked almost identical the past couple of weeks. They’re both 63-51 overall and 8-3 since the deadline, and they both went 3-3 last week to snap seven-game winning streaks. The biggest difference has been the way they’re winning. The Cardinals are mashing in August, boasting the second-best offense in baseball this month, behind only the Dodgers.

Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt continue to look like the two best players in the National League. They’ve combined for 10 homers and 24 RBIs through the Cardinals’ first 12 games this month. Paul DeJong, Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar are providing depth. Albert Pujols has gotten into the action, too, posting his 63rd career multi-homer game on Sunday to tie Willie Mays for fifth all time. Also, deadline acquisitions Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana have been the Cardinals’ two best starting pitchers this month, allowing a combined three earned runs through their first four starts with their new club. 

The Cardinals have won 12 of their past 16 games, jumping ahead of the Brewers in a tight division race. They have a chance to add to their slight advantage with series against the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Cubs coming up. That’s good news for them because even with the new postseason format, it might take winning the division for any team from the NL Central to make the playoffs. 

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Arrow pointing: Neutral
Overall: 65-52
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 5-6
Last week: 4-2
Playoff odds: 83.6%

Manny Machado has carried the Padres’ offense all year. Even after the massive deadline additions, he hasn’t stopped. The reigning National League Player of the Week went 12-for-28 with seven extra-base hits and a six-game hitting streak to earn the weekly honor.

Over the weekend, Juan Soto also became the first player since Mike Trout in 2018 to walk 100 or more times in the first 112 games of a season. Machado continues to mash, Soto is getting comfortable, Trent Grisham is getting hot (five homers in August) … and it all makes the Fernando Tatis Jr. news even more of a damper. The suspension could either galvanize or demoralize the Padres from this point forward, and it’s up to them how they handle it. 

The lineup everyone envisioned won’t materialize, the Padres are still waiting for Brandon Drury and Josh Bell to replicate their pre-Padres form at the plate, and the deficit in the NL West is likely insurmountable — Sunday marked the first time since July 26 that the Padres won and the Dodgers lost on the same day — but the Padres’ October hopes remain in play, and enough talent is in place for them to make a run.

After being swept by the Dodgers, the San Diego offense started picking up the pace against the Giants and Nationals. But their rotation will need to get back on track. San Diego’s starters are 5-6 with a 4.46 ERA in August, despite encouraging play recently from Blake Snell (2-1, 1.02 ERA, 27 strikeouts, two walks in three August starts).

What Fernando Tatis Jr.’s PED suspension means for San Diego

What Fernando Tatis Jr.'s PED suspension means for San Diego

Ben Verlander dives into Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 80-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and what this means for the remainder of the Padres’ season.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Arrow pointing: Down
Overall: 61-52
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 4-7
Last week: 3-2
Playoff odds: 59.3%

It’s not entirely related to the Brewers’ decision to ship Josh Hader to San Diego — he blew his first save opportunity with the Padres — but Milwaukee’s bullpen has scuffled since the deadline. Taylor Rogers, acquired in that deal, has allowed five earned runs in 3⅔ innings. Matt Bush, another deadline acquisition, has a 5.06 ERA and 1.50 WHIP through six appearances.

The Brewers are 3-for-6 in save chances this month, and their relievers are 2-4 in August with a 4.19 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. It’s far from the worst in baseball — plus, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Eric Lauer continue to lift up the rotation — but pitching mediocrity won’t cut it for a team that should be able to rely on that part of the game to reach the postseason.

On the other side, Rowdy Tellez is mashing this month (.281/.395/.688), but the offense as a whole possesses a .220 batting average in August (24th in MLB). As it stands today, the Brewers are 1.5 games behind the Phillies for the final NL playoff spot. And two of their next three series are against the Dodgers, which might make it difficult to gain ground on the Cardinals in the immediate future. 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS 

Arrow pointing: Neutral
Overall: 57-57
Since Aug. 2 deadline: 6-4
Last week: 4-2
Playoff odds: 5.2%

They swept the Pirates and salvaged a spot on this list, but the Giants sit at .500 after Sunday’s walk-off win. Following their early second-half struggles — they dropped 12 of their first 15 games out of the All-Star break, including two four-game sweeps by the Dodgers — their playoff odds look increasingly slim. 

Wilmer Flores, Joc Pederson and Thairo Estrada (who hit the walk-off) have been swinging hot bats, and the deal for J.D. Davis (8-for-26, three homers) looks fantastic for the Giants. Logan Webb and Carlos Rodón have pitched well this month, and closer Camilo Doval has held down the ninth inning well of late, but getting there has been an issue. To keep the playoff hopes alive, things will have to shift dramatically for the rest of a scuffling pitching staff (4.82 ERA this month) and a defense that has been the worst in baseball this season.

The Giants trail the Phillies by six games for the final NL wild-card spot. They also sit just four games ahead of the fourth-place Diamondbacks in the NL West.

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. A proud LSU alumnus, he credits his time as a sportswriter and editor at The Daily Reveille for preparing him for a career covering the NFL, NBA and MLB. Prior to joining FOX, he worked as the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. When not at a stadium or watching sports, Rowan enjoys playing with his dog, hiking, running, golfing and reminiscing about the Mavs’ 2011 championship run. You can find him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.


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