The student news site of Baruch

The Ticker

The student news site of Baruch

The Ticker

The student news site of Baruch

The Ticker

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Contenders and Pretenders: Braves lead strong playoff push

Keith Allison | Flickr

The last few weeks of the Major League Baseball season are the last chance for some teams to scratch and crawl their way to the promised land of the postseason. For some, the remainder of the regular season represent opportunities to polish their resumes as they audition for the role of World Series favorite. 

However, the unfortunate reality for most teams is that September is a death march, where the hopes and dreams of October glory are buried under a mountain of poor play and unlucky breaks. This is definitely the time to separate the contenders and the pretenders.

Contenders: The Atlanta Braves

There is a changing of the guard over in Atlanta. Where once pitching aces such as Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz instilled fear into the hearts of opponents throughout the National League, now the bats are leading the charge. 

The defending NL East champions are injecting fun back into SunTrust Park, led by the resurgent years of Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson, as well as the youthful talent of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. 

Much of that number is due to the career year of the career Brave — Freddie Freeman. Freeman is batting .302 with 38 home runs and 117 runs batted in, the latter being good for the second-most in the game. 

From one corner of the infield to the other, offensive value is not in short-supply, as Josh Donaldson’s .391 wOBA is in the top 25 in the game today.

Donaldson has generated the majority of the 3.2 WAA from the Atlanta hot corner, showcasing incredible patience with 96 walks, and savagery when he hits as his 51% hard hit percentage is in the top 10 in the league. 

Moving from third base to second, Albies has shown progression in his second full season, batting a respectable .293 with a .352 on-base percentage. Atlanta has generated 2.3 WAA from the second base position, good for second-best in the MLB, and Albies is the catalyst. 

Last but certainly not least, the figurehead of the new-look Braves, Acuna Jr. has the chance to become only the fifth player in baseball history to join the 40/40 club. Having 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases is a testament to generational talent, the rarity of the balance and abundance of power and speed. 

The bats of the Braves have guaranteed a second consecutive playoff appearance, and with previous postseason experience under their belt, Atlanta can take the next step and win a playoff series. While that is uncertain, what is certain is their status as a contender for the National League crown.

Contender: The Washington Nationals 

Back in March, former franchise figurehead Bryce Harper signed for the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving the Nationals without much hope of qualifying for October baseball. The Nationals were destined for mediocrity at the beginning of the season. 

All the Nats have done since then is entrench themselves firmly in the first NL wild card position, making fools of all in their wake. The Nationals have accomplished this feat, mainly with pitching, as they have that in abundance. 

Their starting pitching has generated 14 wins above average, head-and-shoulders above the rest of baseball. Leading the rotation is the three-headed monster of Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Max Scherzer. 

All three pitchers have generated over 200 strikeouts and double-digit wins. 

However, the best pitcher has been Scherzer, as his FIP average is the best in the game at 2.30. His strikeouts per nine inning ratio is the second highest in baseball, generating 12.5 per nine. 

Unlike his two counterparts, Scherzer utilizes his fastball with great efficiency, limiting batters to a .217 average against his four-seamer.

While the pitching has gotten the headlines down in D.C., the emergence of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto as premier hitters has had an influence in the Nats’ quest for postseason play. 

It is hard to underestimate the contributions of Rendon and Soto to the Nationals. The D.C. club has generated 4.2 WAA from the third base position and 3.3 WAA from the left field position, both the best in baseball at the respective position. 

Rendon has made the hot corner his own, and his offensive statistics are awe-inspiring. Generating a .428 wOBA, fourth-best in the MLB, Rendon has hit for a .331 average, good for second-best in baseball, with 33 home runs and a league-leading 118 runs batted in, along with a .414 on-base percentage and .625 slugging percentage. 

While Rendon’s emergence has been remarkable, 21-year-old left fielder Soto has been a revelation for the Nationals. Generating a .411 wOBA, Soto has clobbered 34 home runs and driven in 105 runs while hitting .295. However, his most impressive stat is his 92 walks, indicative of his newly-acquired patience at the plate.

The Nationals have the pieces to call themselves a contender, but only time will tell if they can live up to their billing.

Pretender: The Cleveland Indians

On the surface, it is not fair to call the Indians a “pretender.” Their pitching is some of the best in baseball, as their combined earned run average of 3.69 is the third-lowest in baseball. 

The Tribe’s bullpen ERA is among the best in the game, with reliever Brad Hand establishing his role as the closer, earning 34 saves and striking out 81 batters. 

Other relievers providing support include Tyler Clippard, who has come in his own as a member of the Tribe, and Nick Wittgren, who has generated a relatively low 2.68 ERA as well as a three-to-one strikeout to walk ratio. 

However, their starting pitching has been impressive, with Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger leading the pack. Bieber has become the de facto ace of the staff, earning 14 wins as well as notching 241 strikeouts in over 200 innings of work. 

The first-time All-Star also has a low 3.17 earned run average, a revelation for the Indians in desperate need of an ace as Corey Kluber went down with a forearm injury in the beginning of the season and Trevor Bauer was traded to Cincinnati. Also stepping up in the “ace” role has been Clevinger, whose runs allowed per nine innings has decreased from 3.2 last year to 2.68 this year. The Indians’ pitching is good, but the Tribe’s problem is their lack of hitting.

Cleveland’s hitting is around the league average, led by a renaissance year from Carlos Santana. Returning to the city that launched him to stardom, Santana has a .282 batting average to his name, as well as a .400 on base percentage. His 34 home runs and 88 runs batted in have led the Tribe to the postseason conversation. 

However, the one name that shines above all others is second baseman Francisco Lindor. Lindor’s offensive production has decreased from the previous year, as his on base percentage, as well as his home run and runs batted in total, has dipped. 

Lindor was injured for parts of this season, but there was no one to step up in his absence. Star slugger Jose Ramirez also went down with injury, and mid-season acquisitions Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes have struggled to acclimate, only registering nine home runs between them.

Cleveland has a good team, but when the team above them in the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins, is breaking home run records and destroying baseballs, it is hard to catch up. 

The little things throughout the Indians’ season, such as an injury here, a trade there, mediocre hitting stretches, will ultimately prove fatal to the Tribe’s campaign.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Ticker

Comments (0)

All The Ticker Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *