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By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor - Archive - Email
Sorting out the NL playoff picture
(L-R) Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals The Dodgers, Nationals and Cardinals have already clinched playoff berths.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - While there still may be a few playoff spots to be decided in the American League, the National League is essentially set.

We may not know exactly how it will play out as far as seeding, but you can probably mark down the Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers -- all of whom have already clinched playoff berths - along with the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sorry, Milwaukee.

In fact, the Giants and Pirates could actually clinch as early as Tuesday with wins and another Brewers loss. Both, though, will likely still be very much in the mix for a division title as we head to the final weekend of the regular season.

Mark my words, though, all five playoff teams will be set by the time you are drying your eyes from the Derek Jeter Bronx farewell on Thursday.

As we head into play on Tuesday, the Dodgers hold a 3 1/2-game edge on the Giants in the NL West, while the Cardinals are 2 1/2 in front of the Pirates in the NL Central.

San Francisco helped its cause immensely with an extra-inning win over the Dodgers on Monday and still has two games left with its rivals. Once that three-game affair at Chavez Ravine is completed, the Giants will return home for four games against a tough San Diego team.

In case anyone cares, the Padres are going to be a trendy playoff pick next spring.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, still hold the inside track on a division title with a magic number of three, and they will host Colorado this weekend.

Speaking of the Dodgers, how good has Matt Kemp been, by the way?

Injuries may have derailed his career, but at one time he was considered one of the best all-around players in the game. He's certainly looked like it of late and could be a rather intriguing X-factor for the Dodgers, as they head into the postseason.

Actually he's not even an X-factor at this point, he's the one driving the train.

Kemp had four hits and knocked in four runs in Sunday's win over Chicago and since the All-Star break, he is among the NL leaders in slugging percentage (..580), home runs (15) and OPS (.943).

The 2011 NL MVP runner-up has gotten his average up to .284 and has 23 home runs and 84 RBI. The numbers jump out at you even more when you consider Kemp was hitting .238 and only had five home runs and 15 RBI back on June 4.

And there is no more platooning, either. Kemp is the Dodgers' everyday right fielder, and looks good there. Well, at least better than he looked in center the past few seasons.

Prediction ... Dodgers win NL West and San Fran gets wild card.

As for the NL Central, well, the schedule favors the top two teams.

After the Cardinals close out a series in Wrigley against the lowly Chicago Cubs, they will finish the regular season against the NL West doormat Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Pirates have an equally easy time of it. Right now, they are in Atlanta playing a Braves team that quit about a month ago, then will close their campaign against the Cincinnati Reds, a team that has been among baseball's worst in the second half of the year.

It's hard to believe the Reds were actually only 1 1/2 games off the NL Central lead at the All-Star break. Now, they are 12 games under .500 and 15 1/2 games off the pace of the Cardinals.

How about this coincidence? Pittsburgh ended its 21-year postseason drought a year to the day on Tuesday. The Pirates can make it two straight postseason appearances on this same date with another win in Atlanta and a Brewers loss.

The Pirates are only two games back of the Cardinals in the loss column, but it's hard to see them making that up given who St. Louis is playing down the stretch.

Prediction ... Cardinals win NL Central and Pirates get wild card.

I do think Pittsburgh will wind up with the top wild card spot in the NL, meaning, of course, it will host the San Francisco Giants in the one-game playoff next Wednesday at PNC Park.

Anyone else want to sign up for a Madison Bumgarner-Gerritt Cole matchup next week?

At least that is what I am hoping for. The atmosphere inside PNC was electric last season. You can probably chalk that up to it being so long between playoff games in the Steel City, but that is as rabid as any sports city in the country.

It should be the same type of atmosphere next week.