Identifying the Key Players on these National League Division Leaders

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The landscape of the National League experienced a seismic shift this week when the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired All-Star shortstop Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. His arrival to the NL is sure to have an immediate impact on the playoff hunt involving the top teams in that league.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, by adding Machado, have made one thing abundantly clear to their NL adversaries: they have every intention of going back to the World Series this season.

However, the Dodgers will not be without serious opposition from the rest of the league, and Manny Machado is not the only key player in that will have a spotlight on him. There are several other players whom will be relied upon throughout the second half of the season to help bring their respective teams to a postseason berth.

Philadelphia Phillies – Carlos Santana

It is fair to say that one of the Phillies’ biggest offseason acquisitions, Carlos Santana, has been a disappointment thus far in the 2018 season. While Santana’s power output has been decent with 14 home runs his batting average and his defense have been subpar. Santana is slashing an uninspiring .209/.351/.396 to this point, and he has committed 7 errors at first base which ties him for the most in the entire league.

It has not been a complete disaster for Santana as his plate discipline has still been exceptional this season. He sports an impressive 74/56 walk-to-strikeout ratio which, combined with his steady power output, still makes him extremely valuable to the Phillies’ lineup.

The @Cubs, @Phillies, and @Dodgers sit atop their NL divisions, but these three players are their keys to success down the road in 2018.Click To Tweet

However, much more was expected of Santana when the Phillies signed him this passed offseason. He is the veteran presence in a young and inexperienced Phillies lineup, and his inability to hit for average has contributed to their lack of run production. The Phillies rank 21st in the league in scoring which is extra frustrating considering that their starting pitching has been exceptional this season, ranking 6th in the league with a 3.85 starters ERA.

While Santana is not the only Phillies hitter that is struggling he is the one who is most capable of turning his season around. He has been around the league long enough to know what is expected of him and how to reach those expectations. Should Santana start hitting for more contact and driving in more runs from the middle of the order then he can be the catalyst that finally ignites the Phillies’ offense.

Chicago Cubs – Anthony Rizzo

After a slow start to the 2018 season, the Chicago Cubs once again find themselves on top of the National League Central division. It took a lot of work to wrestle first place away from the up-and-coming Milwaukee Brewers, and it will take even more effort to keep it from them for the remainder of the season. The Cubs have a strong roster and one of the best managers in the game, Joe Maddon, calling the shots.

However, there is one Cubs player in particular whom has quietly struggled so far this season, and it is the man whom many revere as the captain of the team, Anthony Rizzo. The 28-year-old first baseman has long been an integral part of the success of the Chicago Cubs since his arrival back in 2012. Unfortunately, Rizzo’s 2018 season has left many fans wanting more up to this point.

Rizzo is batting just .246 so far this season with only 12 home runs and 38 total runs scored. He has hit 30 home runs in each of his last 4 seasons and has never hit lower than .273 during that span, which makes his diminished 2018 numbers seem quite alarming. The good news for the Cubs is that, despite Rizzo’s slow first half, the team has had no trouble scoring runs. They currently rank 5th in the majors in total runs scored due, in large part, to the emergence of Javier Baez and the return of a healthy Kyle Schwarber.

The Cubs are already a good team, but a return to form for a player like Anthony Rizzo could make them a great team, as well as a legitimate World Series contender.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Manny Machado

Spotlighting a newly acquired superstar may seem obvious but it is also completely fair when talking about a team that has its sights set on a return to the World Series. Conversely, it is also fair to remember that Major League Baseball is very different than a league such as the NBA where acquiring the one big superstar can almost guarantee a team a shot at the championship. Yes, it will take more than just Manny Machado to bring the Dodgers back to the World Series, but there is no doubt that he has now become the most important part of their offense.

Machado is off to a phenomenal start in 2018, hitting .315 with 24 home runs and 48 runs scored so far. The all-star shortstop now joins an already potent Dodgers lineup, surrounded by the likes of Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp and the breakout star of 2018, Max Muncy.

The Dodgers rank 9th in the league in scoring which is decent but also puts them behind their National League competitors such as the Braves, Cubs, and division rival Colorado Rockies. The addition of Machado could springboard the Dodgers ahead of their competition and, if the starting rotation holds up, make them the odds-on favorite to go back to the World Series.

A lot of eyes will be on Manny Machado for the remainder of the season not just because of his new team, but also because of his impending free agency after the 2018 season concludes. The fact that Machado was going to be traded was the worst kept secret in baseball and he has handled the whole ordeal extremely well. Machado has played with maximum effort throughout the entire season while the trade rumors constantly swirled around him. He now has a chance to bring that effort to a playoff contender, and he will be relied upon to help bring the Dodgers back to the World Series stage this season.

Read also: Identifying the Key Players on these American League Division Leaders

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