Taking stock: Which NL headlines will happen before October?


Taking stock: Which NL headlines will happen before October?

The unofficial second half of the baseball season starts with today’s standalone game
between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field. N-G sports copy editor Joe Vozzelli previews what headlines will happen on the senior circuit from now through October:

1. Dodgers go to the World Series

It's official: Los Angeles has won the Manny Machado sweepstakes, completing a blockbuster trade with the Orioles on Wednesday. Sure, the Cubs are on pace for nearly the same number of wins as in 2016 when they won the World Series. But Machado is a game changer for the Dodgers, who have missed Corey Seager's production. At 26, Machado's OPS of .963 is the best of his career. Look for Machado and the Dodgers to win the NL pennant for the second straight year.

2. But the Cubs will ...

win 100 games and reach the NL Championship Series, where they'll play the Dodgers a third straight time. Chicago has yet to play its best baseball, and still owns the NL's best record at the All-Star break. Javier Baez (above) might be allergic to walks, but he's having an MVP-caliber year, with 72 RBI in 91 games — three short of his career high from last season — and an OPS of close to .900. Jon Lester continues to be an ace. No surprise. And Jose Quintana is quietly pitching well. The Cubs go on a wins binge in the second half.

3. Freeman wins MVP, Braves miss playoffs

At the All-Star break, there are no clear-cut favorites to win the MVP. So, what about a pitcher? Jacob deGrom's 1.68 ERA is remarkable, but the Mets are terrible. Terrible. Their last meaningful game came in April. Trevor Story is having a good year, as are Nolan Arenado and the aforementioned Baez. My choice: Freddie Freeman (above), whose wins above replacement (3.9) ranks second among NL position players. Still think the Braves miss the playoffs — but barely.

4. Speaking of deGrom ...

Will he be a Met on Aug. 1? His agent told reporters during the All-Star break that if the Mets weren't interested in signing him to a long-term deal, they should trade him before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. DeGrom, who won't be eligible for free agency until 2021, is having a big season, with a strikeout rate of more than 30 percent. His ERA+ of 228 is the 12th-best mark for a pitcher since 1900. If he isn't traded, deGrom (above) should win the NL Cy Young over Max Scherzer.

5. Will the Nationals make the postseason?

That's a clown question, bro. Bryce Harper (above) offered that response to a reporter's inquiry in 2012. But it's not far-fetched to say the Nationals have been the biggest disappointment in baseball so far this season with a .500 record. The good news: Washington is the most-talented team in the NL East and is only 51 / 2 games back of the Phillies. By season end, Washington wins its third straight Eastern division crown.

6. The wild card teams will be ...

the Phillies and Brewers. With the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers winning their respective divisions, don't be surprised to see Philadelphia and Milwaukee claim the two wild-card spots. Jesus Aguilar (above) has delivered big homers for the Brewers, while Aaron Nola has been key to the Phillies on the mound. Both teams lost out on Machado, but Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar might be their next target at the deadline.

7. Juan Soto wins rookie of the year

A big reason why the Nationals' first half of the season hasn't been a total disaster? The play of the 19-year-old Soto (above, left). The phenom is slashing above the vaunted .300/.400/.500 threshold through 51 games. Amazing. He's my pick for rookie of the year — although, watch out for the Marlins third baseman Brian Anderson to make a run. Anderson, after all, leads all NL rookies in WAR (2.7).

8. The Reds will be the team no wants to play

Especially for those teams in the playoff hunt. Cincinnati already has been a troublemaker in the NL Central. St. Louis' back-to-back defeats to the Reds were the final straw for the Cardinals, who dumped Mike Matheny last Saturday. Jim Riggleman (above) has done a good job, and may have earned himself the permanent managerial job in Cincinnati. He could even draw interest from the Cardinals when it comes to their vacancy.

9. Max Muncy will hit 40 homers

The 27-year-old has completely changed his game. Not too long ago, he was using the hitting cages at a Dallas-area high school after being released by the Oakland Athletics following spring training in 2017. He didn't play for an MLB team last year. Now, he's hit 22 homers in 74 games for the Dodgers. Expect Muncy (above) to surpass the 40-homer plateau, a remarkable feat for a player who's previous career best in homers was three in 2015.

10. Who buys? Who sells? Who stays pat?

The Dodgers have reportedly already gone all-in (Machado), and as discussed above, the Phillies and Brewers are both expected to be among the deadline movers and shakers. One team to watch is the Giants. Would they move Madison Bumgarner (above) or Andrew McCutchen? That decision could come down to the last minute, and might boil down to which side of the .500 mark they fall on at July 31.