Breaking down the 2010 National League Wild Card race

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols receives high fives in the dugout after hitting his second two run home run of the night in the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on June 29, 2010. UPI/Bill Greenblatt Photo via Newscom

Before their sweep of the Braves this week, I would have said that the National League Wild Card is a three-team race. But now that the Rockies are putting together a very Rockie-like charge, this is definitely now a four-horse competition in the NL.

Let’s break down the contenders and make a prediction.

(Side Note: I’m fully aware that the Phillies and Cardinals still have a great chance of catching the Braves and Reds in their respective divisions, but I’m going by the standings as of Thursday, August 26. In a couple of weeks, I’ll update this list so for now, let’s just call this Version 1.0.)

Philadelphia Phillies
Games Remaining: 36
Games Back: 0
What I Like About Their Chances: I like the Phillies because quite frankly, they’ve been here before. They know what it takes to play good baseball in the month of September and their roster is chockfull of veteran players. Even though they haven’t shown it of late, the Phils also still have the best lineup 1-8 of any of the four Wild Card contenders and a three-headed monster in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt (who has been outstanding in the month of August) and Cole Hamels. This is, by far, the most talented team of the four listed…

What I Don’t Like: …that said, this club isn’t playing very good baseball right now. In their last seven games, they’ve won only two and they were just swept at home by the Astros. Also, despite all of their offensive firepower, they’ve managed to score just 16 runs in those seven outings. They also have six more games against the Braves, who they are just 5-7 against this season. This is a club that seemingly can’t put it all together this season and you just get the sense that something’s missing.

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2010 MLB Preview: NL Central

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Next up is the NL Central.

1. St. Louis Cardinals (4)
Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday could help the Cardinals win this division sauced out of their minds on a nightly basis. That said, would anyone really be surprised if Carpenter’s arm falls off and the starting pitching (which is among the best in the league) suffers? It’s happened before, so if you answered “yes” to the proposed question then you sir or madam, have not been paying attention. Still, the addition of Brad Penny (who pitched well in the second half last year) will strengthen the club’s starting pitching and Kyle Lohse is a fine middle of the rotation guy. Pujols and Holliday will ignite the offense again, although Colby Rasmus might be the key to whether or not this team makes a serious World Series run. Skip Schumaker is a solid table setter, but how Rasmus fairs hitting in front of Pujols and Holliday could be the difference between the Cards winning the NL Central again and playing for a championship. David Freese better produce too or else the club will regret not acquiring a veteran third baseman in the offseason. All in all, the Cardinals are the best the NL Central has to offer and should make another postseason appearance this season. But how far they go beyond that depends on whether or not Carpenter and Wainwright can continue their magic and if Pujols and Holliday receive help from the rest of the lineup.

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Phillies knock off Dodgers, head back to World Series

The Philadelphia Phillies will have the opportunity to defend their World Series title.

Jayson Werth powered the Phils past the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night by hitting two of the club’s four home runs in a 10-4 victory. Pedro Feliz and Shane Victorino also homered for Philly, as they easily disposed of L.A. in five games.

The Phillies’ offense shined in the NLCS, racking up 35 runs in seven games. Thus far, Werth has five dingers in the postseason, while Victorino has three. Philadelphia will now await the winner of the Yankees-Angels series to see who will oppose them in the World Series.

A potential Phillies-Yankees matchup would be entertaining considering how well both clubs are hitting the ball right now. Watching CC Sabathia take on Werth, Victorino, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would be incredibly fun to watch and should draw decent ratings given how big of a market the Yankees play in.

It’s amazing how the Phillies were overlooked before the season. While everyone talked about the Mets, Dodgers and Cubs, the Phillies flew under the radar for the most part and then once again took care of business once the series started.

The Dodgers must be praying they never have to face the Phillies after these last two years.

2009 MLB Preview: #8 Philadelphia Phillies

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Offseason Movement: The defending World Series champs added 2B Miguel Cairo, OF Raul Ibanez, C Ronny Paulino and pitchers Gary Majewski and Chan Ho Park this offseason. Philly also parted with OF Pat Burrell, OF So Taguchi and pitchers Adam Eaton, Tom Gordon and Rudy Seanez.

Top Prospect: Carlos Carrasco, RHP
Carrasco enters 2009 as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball and if Chan Ho Park struggles as the fifth starter, there’s a chance that Carrasco might make an appearance at some point this season. He appears to have a very high ceiling and while he’s still a bit erratic at times, Carrasco will likely smooth out his rough spots in Triple-A before making the big league roster.

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Sunday MLB Roundup: Relax K-Rod!

It was yet another important and exciting Sunday afternoon in the majors.

– Anaheim Angels closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez continued his tear and collected his 50th save of the season on Sunday in a 5-3 win against the Minnesota Twins. He’s the fastest to 50 saves by far, taking only 129 games to reach the milestone. His next stop: Bobby Thigpen’s record of 57. Say goodbye Bobby!

– Pedro Feliz hit a huge, clutch walk-off homer for the Phillies to lead them to a 5-2 victory over the LA Dodgers. The Phillies win, plus a Mets loss against the Astros, puts them just a half-game-back.

– For the fifth time in eight starts, Chicago Cubs SP Rich Harden struck out 10 or more batters. The victims this time around were the Washington Nationals. Harden pitched seven strong innings, giving up just two hits and one earned run in a 6-1 victory over the Nationals.

– The Red Sox were able to defeat the Blue Jays by a score of 6-5 with a walk-off homer by Jed Lowrie in the 11th inning Sunday. The Red Sox now focus their attention on the New York Yankees, who held off the Baltimore Orioles with an 8-7 win.

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