Okay, so in that other thread I got a tad annoyed (understatement?) with the reaction towards John Kruk's dismissive attitude towards the Colorado Rockies. I called for "legitimate baseball analysis", but if I'm going to call them out, I should be ready to be called out on it.
First off, we can safely remove the Nationals from consideration. I recall the Astros coming back from being 15 games under .500 somewhat recently, but through the miracle of retrosheet and similar sites, I cannot find a team that recovered from a 16 - 46 start to make the postseason.
The Diamondbacks have the second worst record in the National League at 29 - 41. This time last year, the D'backs were 40 - 37 and holding off the Dodgers, who were 4 games back. This year, it's pretty obvious that Arizona is missing the stabilizing influence of Brandon Webb, but they've scored 25 less runs this season than last. Those loveable lads at the Pit conveniently have a poll up asking their fans what they feel the primary struggles of the team are due to. Fans are torn between bullpen struggles and poor offense. The team's fate is currently hand in-hand with that of the overachieving San Diego Padres, who are playing at a .441 pace while their runs scored and allowed would suggest a 62-win team without ace Jake Peavy.
While most of the talk has revolved around Peavy, we have missed the fact that the Padres' offense is pathetic at best and anemic at worst. 260 runs scored through 68 games puts them 27 runs behind the Nationals (who have a game in hand) and 12 runs behind the 15th-ranked Astros, who also have a game in hand. Only Seattle's 260 runs in the AL West can be considered equally putrid.
Incredibly, the Diamondbacks, Padres and Nationals are the only teams farther than 6 games out of the playoffs.
The Pirates and Astros are sitting in 5th and 6th of the mediocre NL Central. The Pirates sold off Nate McLouth to the Braves for seven cents earlier this year, once again showing they aren't serious about doing anything other than turning a profit. That's shameful, really, as this is arguably the most competitive team the Pirates have had since 1997. I admittedly know less about the Astros than I do any other team in the National League. I know Baseball America routinely pans their farm system, and I know their rotation has Roy Oswalt, Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton and Wandy Rodriguez in it (and they're managing about a .500 record), but I honestly don't visit the Crawfish Boxes enough to truthfully tell you whether or not this team can legitimately contend. For what it's worth, it seems anything is possible in the NL Central at this point. At 4 1/2 games out, there's no reason they can't stay in the race until the trade deadline, when they can determine whether they'll be buyers or sellers. I would expect an incoming bat and an outgoing arm.
I'm pairing Florida and Atlanta together as well solely on record, though had the season started in May, the two wouldn't be anywhere near each other. Florida has struggled mightily since their 11 - 1 start (emphatically answering the question whether they were good or the Nationals really, really bad), and Atlanta has middled around .500 since the beginning of the season. The presence of the Nationals, the Phillies' home struggles and the Mets' struggles / injuries / general overratedness has led to an NL East that the Braves and Marlins could conceivably win. Remember, a lot can happen in 90 games. For what it's worth, the Marlins have allowed the most runs in the NL outside of Washington, and the talents of Hanley Ramirez and Cameron Maybin can't do a thing about that.
Several teams are sitting just around .500: The Reds, Cubs, Mets, Rockies, Giants, and Brewers (and I suppose the Phillies and Cardinals). The Cubs and Mets of course have the advantage of being able to buy whoever they feel like (Matt Holliday?) at the trade deadline, while the other teams have to go with what brought them, or at best add a small piece that can help them hold off their challengers. The Cubs and Giants are in the same boat. No offense, lots of pitching. Both teams are struggling to score runs (the Cubs' offense has been incredibly over-sold all season: they've only scored 280 runs), but they have been missing Aramis Ramirez. The Brewers are the defending Wild Card winners and should be considered the favorites to repeat. I don't think they'll catch the Cardinals, but they can certainly hold off the Cubs as presently constructed. If all the rosters were to remain the same from now until October, I would pick the Brewers to win the NL Wild Card.
The Reds are the only team in this group being outscored by their opponents, but the Mets (+1) and Giants (+5) are essentially even. The Mets are about as average as any team in the major leagues, but they have been wrecked by injuries to Carlos Beltran (who is only 32; I figured he was closer to 60), the inconsistent Oliver Perez and the not-as-good-as-people think John Maine. Are they better than .500? They most likely are. Are they better than Philadelphia, who they haven't been better than two straight seasons? I have my doubts. The Phillies' bizarre struggles at home are well-documented, but after finishing 28 games above .500 at home the last two seasons, I think a .510, if not .500 home record will be enough to hold off the Mets in the end. They will have to make an addition at the deadline to counteract whoever the Mets buy, though.
The Rockies run differential showed they weren't an 18 - 28 team. They're also not a 19 - 5 team. On September 12, 2007, the Rockies were 76 - 69 and finally reaching the plateau we thought that they could. The ridiculous unreplicatable streak and subsequent 2008 flameout made us forget that this was an above -average, but not great team. If they went 37 - 33 over their next 70 games, they'd be 74 - 66, which is in the same area. I'm thinking the ceiling for this team is 86 - 76 (as astute Purple Rower "86 wins in 07" ( I do not recall their actual handle) guessed their ceiling was then). I doubt that will be enough to win the Wild Card, but 89 wins took it last year, so a lucky bounce here and there could get it done.They're not going to get there with six guys batting under .250 though. They might want to do something about that.
All that being said, I think it's more likely than not that it will be the Cubs, with Aramis Ramirez and a bat stolen for 5 cents on the dollar at the trading deadline that will be winning the Wild Card and facing a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers once again. The Phillies and Cardinals will come out of their respective divisions, and provide a very entertaining series. But that's 90 games away - 15 teams are still in the National League playoff hunt, but wasn't reading this more fun than watching John Kruk say that winning 17 of 18 is a "nice little streak" but nothing to be concerned with?