Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
The Nationals could use 220 innings of Stephen Strasburg and the Mets could use a new bullpen. Plus, other things that other contenders could use down the stretch.
Here at Baseball Nation, we're a big fan of Section 315 of the 1934 Communications Act. Sure, the FCC discarded the Fairness Doctrine some years ago. But they're not the boss of us. So once we decided to run through the American League contenders with an eye on their singular stretch-run needs, we had to continue with the Senior Circuit as well.
Here they are, with their measured chances of reaching the postseason in parentheses ...
Nationals (95) - Plan D
The Washington Nationals have the best record in the National League. They've gotten very little production from their No. 1 catcher, Jesus Flores, but you can live with very little production from your catcher, and anyway it's not like anybody's got a good-hitting catcher to spare. The bullpen is solid, and the Nationals' starting pitchers have been ridiculously good (except for that brief moment when Chien-Ming Wang got a shot, for some still-unknown reason).
But the question that keeps coming up is, What will they do with Stephen Strasburg?
Plan A, we were all told, was to bench him after 160 innings. Plan B, we were told, was that there really wasn't a Plan A; instead, an "eye test" would employed. Plan C, we were told, might allow Strasburg to throw 180 innings. Or whatever. You never know what an eye test will reveal.
What the Nationals need is a Plan D. A good Plan D that allows for the distinct possibility of the club's best starting pitcher throwing at least a few innings in October. Without that, all the rest is little but colored dross.
Reds (93) - Lefty Bat
Of the dozen Reds with the most plate appearances this season, only two -- Joey Votto and Jay Bruce -- bat left-handed. No switch-hitters, either. It's just a righty-heavy lineup, game in and game out. Which isn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, but you'd at least like to have a solid lefty bat for the late innings, when you want to pinch-hit for a pitcher, or for Drew Stubbs.
Giants (84) - Hitter
What the Giants need more than anything is luck: more good luck for Barry Zito, and less bad luck for Tim Lincecum. But you can't buy luck, or trade for it; you have to just hope for it, and wait.
More than anything else, the Giants -- like the Reds -- are essentially short one big bat. Their middle infielders can't really hit, but that's not the end of the world. They've got four outfielders and all four have been useful (at least; Melky Cabrera's been far more than useful), but two are switch-hitters and two are lefty swingers. None of the utility infielders can hit, at all. The Giants hardly have a perfect lineup, but it would look better if Bruce Bochy had another bat on the bench, and preferably a right-handed bat. Especially considering Bochy's feelings about (lefty-swinging) Brandon Belt.
Cardinals (71) - Relief Pitcher
St. Louis leads the National League in scoring. They've not gotten much production from their second basemen, but they've been decent enough and it's not like Omar Infantes grow on trees. What's more, they've used only six starters all season and all six have been good; when Jaime Garcia went on the Disabled List, Joe Kelly took over and he's got a 2.78 ERA in eight starts. Granted, he hasn't pitched nearly as well as that ERA suggests, but as a fifth starter he's been perfectly adequate.
The bullpen's another story. While closer Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs have both been good this season, the rest of the relief corps has been so bad that the Cardinals' relievers have combined for a 4.16 ERA, just 10th best in the National League. A far cry from Tony La Russa's heralded bullpen doings. Is it the relievers' fault? Or the manager's? It's hard to say, but in the absence of another pressing need, the front office might want to see if this year's Octavio Dotel is available.
Braves (66) - Starting Pitcher
Lineup? Solid. Bullpen? Solid, even with Jonny Venters discovering his humanity. But the rotation's been sort of a mess, with Brandon Beachy injured, Jair Jurrjens struggling, and both Mike Minor and Wilson Delgado failing to live up their advance billing. The Ben Sheets Story is heartwarming, but it's far from assured that he'll continue to stay healthy and excellent. Either way, the Braves have one obvious way to improve, and it's with a good starting pitcher.
Pirates (54) - Shortstop
Rotation? Check, thanks to the acquisition of Wandy Rodriguez. Outfield? Check, thanks to the promotion of top prospect Starling Marte. But did you know the Pirates have a starting shortstop who's played in 88 games and posted a .231 on-base percentage? His name is Clint Barmes and he's probably not that terrible but holy mackerel a .231 on-base percentage is just giving games away. It's not like Yunel Escobar is having a great season or even a good one, but he's had good seasons and would be a real upgrade for the Pirates. As would Marco Scutaro or Stephen Drew. The Wild Card awaits, Buccos. Go get it!
Dodgers (22) - First Baseman
Yes, the Dodgers picked up Hanley Ramirez and he should help. But the Dodgers could really really really use a first baseman, since it sure looks like James Loney just isn't going to hit. Or really, any sort of right-handed hitter would be good, as long as he can play left field or third base or first base or shortstop.
Diamondbacks (11) - Luck
You know, there's really nothing wrong with the Diamondbacks. They're still essentially the same team as the one that finished in first place last season. They just haven't gotten the same performances from Justin Upton, or from Ryan Roberts (who just got dumped, and is now playing third base for the Rays). The D'backs have outscored their opponents by 24 runs, yet have a losing record. Sometimes these things happen and usually the luck eventually balances, which is why the Diamondbacks still have a reasonable chance of going to the playoffs. And it's hard to pinpoint a particularly addressable weakness.
Those things surprised me, anyway.
Their rotation's been good, too. So why are the Mets 48-51? Well, it might have something to do with the bullpen's 5.08 ERA ... last in the National League. And it's hard to fix that with a move or two.