Analyzing the 2018 MLB Playoffs: NL East Braves, Phillies, and Nationals
The Atlanta Braves
The Milwaukee Brewers finished the 2017 season one game from the final playoff spot. The Brewers are rebuilding and most did not expect their window of MLB Playoff contention to start until around 2019.
Similar to the 2017 Brewers, the 2018 Atlanta Braves took a big step in their rebuild. Several young Braves hitters had breakthrough seasons and Atlanta’s mostly young starting rotation matured.
The Braves will make the 2018 MLB Playoffs because…
Atlanta has a good, balanced lineup. Not only have players such as Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, and Johan Camargo had breakthrough years, but veteran All-Stars Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis are contending for the NL batting championship.
Furthermore, Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb have developed into a good 1-2 punch for the rotation. Atlanta made that a 1-2-3 punch by trading for Kevin Gausman before the trade deadline. Gausman has a 2.00 ERA and .96 WHIP with Braves after 4 starts.
And, in the back end of the bullpen, A.J. Minter has saved 11/13 games with 10.26 K/9.
The Atlanta Braves’ quick rebuild and early arrival to the MLB Playoff picture might be surprising, but they have a good balance of peaking veterans and breakout youth without the injuries of some other clubs.
The Braves will NOT make the 2018 MLB Playoffs because…
The young players for the Braves cannot maintain their standout stats all season. For instance, breakout second baseman Albies is a tremendous player with great overall 2018 stats. However, his pre All-Star OPS is .834 and his post All-Star OPS is just .595.
Also, the Braves have a tough schedule for the final run. They only have three off-days left. Furthermore, they finish 2018 with seven of their last ten against their closest competitor for the NL East, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies could easily use that opportunity to knock out the Braves if Atlanta slumps.
The Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have followed the trend of outstanding youth in the MLB. Philadelphia has been developing positional players in the big leagues for a few years now.
Andy MacPhail has given Phillies general manager Matt Klentak a great brain-trust with which to collaborate. Pat Gillick, Larry Bowa, and Charlie Manuel all work for the organization in an assistant or advisory role.
During the offseason, they gambled on Jake Arrieta who many thought had lost his stuff. He has turned out to be a good risk and has led the team’s young rotation.
The Phillies have a better record than the Nationals, which few thought they could do in 2018.
The Phillies will make the 2018 MLB Playoffs because…
Arrieta has a 3.37 ERA through 25 starts, but the team’s ace is Aaron Nola.
Nola has become one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2018. His ERA is 2.24 and his WHIP is 0.98 with just over one month to go in the 2018 season. He would match up well with any other pitcher in the 2018 MLB Playoffs.
Combine Arrieta and Nola with Vince Velasquez who strikes out more than a batter per inning and there is the making of a playoff team.
The Phillies will NOT make the 2018 MLB Playoffs because…
The young Phillies have a run differential of just +2. Furthermore, their road record is under .500. They have a good crop of hitters, but they can still be streaky. Unlike the Atlanta Braves, who have veterans Freeman and Markakis leading their lineup, Philadelphia does not have leadership like that in their lineup.
If they do not overtake the Braves and win the NL East, they will have to fend off four other teams competing for two Wild Card spots.
The Washington Nationals
Baseball experts made the Nationals a popular World Series pick for good reason. They boast a young but experienced and fearsome team. Their rotation is good and deep with two dominant aces and their lineup is deep and intimidating.
They have had shaky bullpens at times, but not too bad. For some reason, this organization just never put it all together and this season has been no different. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo finally decided it was time to shake things up in August.
Rizzo sent second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and power-hitting lefty Matt Adams to the Cardinals after the two players were claimed on waivers in August.
The Nationals will make the 2018 MLB Playoffs because…
Despite the loss of Murphy and Adams, the Nats still have Ryan Zimmerman to play first base and pick up for any lost offense. Furthermore, if superstar Bryce Harper gets hot, he is capable of carrying any team for a month.
This team also gets Stephen Strasburg back for the stretch run. He will combine with perennial Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer to form a terrific front-end of a rotation. The Nats have a huge mountain to climb to make the 2018 MLB Playoffs, but anything can happen with their talent.
The Nationals will NOT make the 2018 MLB Playoffs because…
Five teams lead them in the Wild Card Standings. The Nationals have a record more similar to the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates than the teams in front of them competing for playoff position. Furthermore, Rizzo’s trades of Murphy and Adams shows even he does not believe in this team for 2018.