Part I of his MLB Playoff Picture Outlook, Staff Writer Jared Frydman broke down the American League. This week in Part II, Jared takes a look at how the National League could shake out.
With two weeks remaining in the Major League Baseball season, we take some time to look at how the playoff picture is shaping up. Within the last week, the NL East, NL Central and NL West gaps have widened while each league’s wild cards races continue to scintillate. This year’s postseason race has become even more intense with the MLB’s addition of a second wild card team. The battle for playoff spots has also been heightened by the emergence of several young players who have helped turnaround notorious franchises. As we view today’s snapshot of the MLB standings, we take a look at the National League playoff picture. To date, the theme of the 2012 Major League Baseball season has been youth. The powerful young bats of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been astounding, widening eyes of baseball fans all across the country. Last week, we discussed the emergence of Trout who is now in the thick of a two-person Most Valuable Player race with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera. On the National League side of the things, there is the Washington Nationals’ 19-year-old phenom, Bryce Harper. Owning the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine while still in high school, Harper has lived up to the hype at every level he has played. In his rookie year, Harper has exploded onto the scene, and more importantly, he provides insurance for a powerful Washington Nationals pitching staff. This elite pairing is essential and has led the Nats to the best record in baseball. The youthful theme of 2012 will remain prevalent as we delve deeper into the divisional playoff picture. A number of other young guns have also played a pivotal role in the playoff push to date, including Atlanta’s Kris Medlen, who has allowed just six runs in his last nine starts, and Craig Kimbrel; Cincinnati’s flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman; and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, a premiere candidate for the NL MVP award. The aforementioned Washington Nationals have exploded onto the scene, with a star studded lineup including Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Adam Laroche, and Bryce Harper, and a pitching staff to boot with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and closer Tyler Clippard at the helm. The Nationals have attained the best record in baseball and proven they are not pretenders, they are here to stay and will contend for a World Series title, even with Strasburg sidelined for the postseason. The Atlanta Braves have also steadily put together a very solid team. The mix of young talent such as Medlen and Tommy Hanson combined with veterans Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones make the Braves a force to be reckoned with. Atlanta holds the top wild card spot and has begun to run away with a playoff berth, assuming they will not collapse and give away one of the two wild card positions. The National League Central is led by the Cincinnati Reds, a team that has had a true breakout season, running away with the division title. Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips have been staples in the lineup, and a pitching staff led by Cy Young contender Johnny Cueto has allowed the Reds to win 89 games entering Wednesday. The Big Red Machine has moved along all year despite injuries to offseason money-makers Ryan Madson and Joey Votto because of the terrific play of rookie of the year candidate Todd Frazier and another Cy Young hopeful in Chapman.