MLB Thoughts: Sept. 26

Well, I promised to write about the National League after review the AL for most of the week. So I’ll do that. But I have to say: Jeter. This guy. What a perfect ending. Just perfect.

But seriously, you couldn’t script it any better, could you?

Over in the National League, the Washington Nationals stand as the #1 seed heading into next week’s postseason, largely due to the fact that they play in the worst division in baseball. (The rest of the clubs punching bags in this division will finish with a losing record.) Offensively, the Nats have received contributions up and down the lineup. Denard Span has been a spark at the top of the order. Injuries cut into the production of Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper, but the rest of the Washington hitters picked up the slack. Anthony Rendon has blossomed into one of the best young hitters in the league this season, while Jayson Werth and Adam Laroche have provided steady veteran presence to a deep lineup. But the secret to the Nats’ success this year has been pitching. Washington leads the majors in ERA by a wide margin. It begins with a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark. Strasburg has been his usual dominant self this season, yet his 3.23 ERA ranks fourth among his fellow rotation mates. Doug Fister has been absolutely miserly on the mound, doling out a 1.08 WHIP and a 2.40 ERA. Roark has been a revelation, winning 15 games while throwing nearly 200 innings.

The bullpen has been nearly as good. Erstwhile closer Rafael Soriano has been temporary deposed (after saving 30 games over the season’s first five months), yet this deep group simply rolls with the punches. Drew Storen (a former closer himself) has filled in admirably for Soriano down the stretch and Tyler Clippard (another former closer) has held batters to a .190 batting average over 70 pressure packed innings. Lefty specialist Matt Thornton has been unhittable since coming over from the Yankees late. This abundance of riches has allowed manager Matt Williams to ease Rafael Soriano back into high leverage situations.

On paper, Washington looks like a team with few flaws. I think they might be poised to make a deep run in the NL playoffs.

Division foe Atlanta sits in an unfamiliar place of front office turnover. Earlier in the week, Braves GM Frank Wren was dismissed, this on the heels of a massively disappointing two month stretch for the team. Personally, I liked their deadline deals: adding Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell seemed like the right tweaks to keep Atlanta afloat in a tough divisional battle. Instead, the Braves imploded and Wren was held responsible. Granted, he made two of the more egregious front office blunders in recent memory when he committed major years and dollars to both Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton. But the Braves have also developed quite a few premium players during Wren’s tenure (Freeman, Heyward, Simmons, Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Teheran). This leaves the Braves with a lot of question marks heading into the offseason.

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