Last week, I wrote about the American League X-factors for the contending teams. Now, here are the X-factors for National League contenders.
New York Mets – 3B David Wright: The Mets got back their captain last night in David Wright. After not having him for several months. he homered in a Mets win against the Phillies. The Mets are a young team and need the leadership Wright can provide to lead them to October. Their offense has been very productive in August, but having another bat in Wright should really help the rest of the season.
Washington Nationals – CF Denard Span: Span is being activated today, and the Nationals should be overjoyed because they have really struggled since he’s been out. Since July 6th, the last time he played, the Nationals have gone 16-24 and have fallen out of first place, now 5.5 games back. The top of the order production Span provides (.304/.367/.431 and 11 stolen bases) is valuable to the Nationals because no one else on the team has been even close to effective in the leadoff position. Having him back with five weeks left in the season gives the Nationals a better chance to make up ground on the Mets, but it will not be easy.
St. Louis Cardinals – Health: They are as much of a lock for the playoffs as anybody and have already gone through significant injuries in Matt Adams, Adam Wainwright, and Matt Holliday. If they can get those players back this year, which is not a certainty, it could go a long way in their quest to win another World Series.
Pittsburgh Pirates – IF/OF Josh Harrison: After Harrison got hurt, the Pirates acquired Aramis Ramirez and Jung Ho Kang has been playing really well. Due to Kang’s rise, Harrison will be able to move back to his utility position he thrived in last year. The production last year (.315/.347/.490), if repeated, will be so valuable to Pittsburgh as the team can use him at multiple positions. His ability to play multiple positions and hit well may even allow Pittsburgh to catch up to the Cardinals, but that won’t be easy. Harrison adds depth to several positions that few players can provide.
Chicago Cubs – 2B/SS Starlin Castro: Castro lost his starting position, but that does not mean he is not important to this ball club. If Addison Russell or Chris Coghlan struggle, they can plug in Castro, but Castro needs to start playing up to his ability if he wants to make a big impact again. The Cubs could use his production from last year when his OPS was .777 as he would be extremely helpful coming off the bench or as a starter.
Los Angeles Dodgers – RP Jim Johnson: The Dodgers have had many bullpen problems this season and tried to address them by acquiring Jim Johnson. It has not worked out well so far as he has allowed more runs as a Dodger in three weeks than he did with the Braves in four months (according to MLB.com). Johnson was supposed to bring some stability to the mid-to-late innings, but obviously has not so far with his 21.00 ERA in eight games. If Johnson can go back to where he was with the Braves (ERA in the 2’s), it will be much easier for the Dodgers to get the game to Kenley Jansen.
San Francisco Giants, RF Hunter Pence: Hunter Pence has been on and off the DL this year in his first injury=filled season of his career. The Giants desperately need his bat and it shows in their record with and without him. They are 32-40 without him and 34-18 with him (ESPN Stats & Info). With Pence, they are a completely different team because Pence adds depth to the lineup that was not there without him. Instead of Pence starting, they have someone like Justin Maxwell getting more at-bats than he should be getting. The Giants need Pence if they want to win the division and repeat as World Series winners.