Testing the Depth: The National League

Yesterday, we explored the roster depth of the American League playoff contenders, identifying the strengths and weaknesses that might prove decisive down the stretch for the teams whose playoff odds sit above 10%. Today, we’ll do the same for the National League squads with October ambitions.

National League East

Atlanta Braves
Strengths: Atlanta’s slow and steady climb into first place has involved a considerable amount of roster management. One side effect of all the maneuvers that have gotten them where they are is significant depth. During Travis d’Arnaud’s absence, the team learned that William Contreras is a capable big league catcher. They filled their considerable outfield holes with Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and Adam Duvall, while Cristian Pache, who flamed out early in the season, has finally gotten hot at Triple-A Gwinnett and should be a nice September addition. The Gwinnett infield is packed with players who have big league experience, like Jason Kipnis and Ryan Goins. The return of Huascar Ynoa, with Ian Anderson not far behind, creates a sudden bevy of rotation options.

Weaknesses: The Braves middle relief corps has struggled much of the year and there are no clear answers on the immediate horizon. Next in line for a chance might be Jacob Webb and Sean Newcomb, who both struggled in the big leagues but have put some good things together back in the minors. That’s especially the case with Newcomb, who had a miserable 17.3% walk rate in the majors, but has surrendered just one free pass over 12 Triple-A innings.

Philadelphia Phillies
Strengths: The Phillies don’t have a great outfield apart from Bryce Harper, but they have enough bodies to at least have a competent group patrolling the grass on a daily basis. The same can be said for their infield situation. These aren’t good players per se, but they’re rarely disasters.

Weaknesses: The Phillies obviously have one of the best catchers in baseball in J.T. Realmuto, and given who’s behind him, they have no choice but to lean on him heavily. Andrew Knapp is a fringy backup at best, and the Triple-A combo of Rafael Marchan and Tyler Heineman leaves much to be desired. The trio of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson could form a formidable postseason starting group, but in the meantime, the team is still forced to mix-and-match the back of their rotation in the hopes that it will be enough to get them to October. Middle relief remains a problem as well. Acquiring Gibson and Ian Kennedy at the deadline certainly helped, and moving Ranger Suárez to a rotation spot has helped to balance some shortcomings, but the performances of the team’s pitchers will define the Phillies’ run.

New York Mets
Strengths: It’s not a reality today, but a healthy Francisco Lindor/Javier Báez double play combo gives the team fantastic infield flexibility and allows the Mets to use Jonathan Villar in a flex capacity, which is his best role. The outfield situation is more stable than good, but there are enough players to cover the at-bats. The relief group is more high floor than ceiling, but is surprisingly solid.

Weaknesses: The team’s biggest question mark entering the year was its depth. If the Mets stayed healthy, they’d be good; if not, they’d be in trouble, and trouble is very much rearing its ugly head as we approach September. The team has some impressive prospects at the lower levels, but there are no 2021 saviors. The James McCann injury has already exposed the team’s excessively shallow catching situation. The team’s starting pitching depth is really defined by what the doctors say about Jacob deGrom’s arm health over the next six weeks.

National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers
Strengths: The team’s depth has already been tested due to one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks of the season. The acquisition of Eduardo Escobar and a shockingly good showing from Rowdy Tellez have created a sudden embarrassment of riches on the infield, and a healthy outfield allows the club to play matchups in center and right field. Even beyond the big stars, the back of the rotation and the middle relief group have each been exceptionally good.

Weaknesses: Like many teams, the Brewers need their everyday catcher to stay healthy. Omar Narváez has been a rock this season, and while Manny Piña provides a presence in the clubhouse and occasional pop, he’d be exposed as the regular, and prospect Mario Feliciano’s tough season provides little insurance, if any.

Cincinnati Reds
Strengths: The Reds should have called up Jose Barrero and made him their everyday shortstop weeks ago, but his addition and the return of Mike Moustakas creates sudden infield depth, and the outfield remains strong, even with Jesse Winker temporarily sidelined. Their rotation remains one of their strongest suits, and the backstop combo of Tucker Barnhart and Tyler Stephenson is one of the best in the game. Amazingly, they’ve yet to use a third catcher on the season, with Beau Taylor waiting in the wings should the need arise.

Weaknesses: The bullpen has been an issue all season. The team revamped things at the end of July with the acquisitions of Mychal Givens, Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson, and the trio has been nothing short of excellent, with a composite ERA of 1.53 across 23.2 innings. But the questions as to who Cincinnati can count on for the last three to six outs of a game remain intact.

National League West

San Francisco Giants
Strengths: The Giants roster is one designed with depth in mind, and they take advantage of it with the best designed lineups in baseball, playing matchups well beyond platoons. Twelve players have already accumulated more than 200 plate appearances. In terms of position players, this group boasts the best depth in the major leagues.

Weaknesses: The Giants rotation has been nothing short of outstanding, but health is the key for them down the stretch, as reinforcements are almost non-existent. Scott Kazmir is the erstwhile sixth starter, as the majority of the rotation pieces at Triple-A Sacramento have ERAs north of six. How the club manages the innings of Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood down the stretch will be something to watch, especially after DeSclafani left Wednesday’s game with an ankle injury sustained while covering first base.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Strengths: The Dodgers’ depth has already been tested on nearly every level due to what feels like a never-ending stream of injuries, but they’ve survived and a healthy version of this team remains an exceptionally strong World Series contender. The addition of Trea Turner creates a cornucopia of options on the infield, which is important since their group at Triple-A is exceedingly light. A healthy Mookie Betts does the same for their outfield situation. Chris Taylor is the best multi-position player in baseball, and a walking depth-machine nearly everywhere on the diamond. The bullpen has been banged up like much of the rest of the team, but they’re getting healthier and have found surprising production from some unexpected sources, like Alex Vesia.

Weaknesses: At this point, when it comes to the rotation, it’s quite simple: If Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw return (and more importantly, return to form), the Dodgers should be fine. If not, they’re in trouble as they try to catch the Giants. The acquisitions of Turner and Max Scherzer cost the club Keibert Ruiz, and while Will Smith and Austin Barnes are a fantastic catching combo, any injury would force the club to lean on a sub-par vet like Chad Wallach (on the 40-man roster), Tim Federowicz or Tony Wolters.

San Diego Padres
Strengths: The Padres have plenty of depth when it comes to position players and the ability to score runs. The Adam Frazier acquisition and the move of Fernando Tatis Jr. to the outfield leaves the club with plenty of lineup options on a day-to-day basis. The bullpen remains healthy (for the most part), excellent and deep, but the team’s rotation issues have the potential to put some big workload strain on its relievers.

Weaknesses: This week, San Diego’s postseason chances dipped below 50% for the first time all season per our Playoff Odds and it’s because of their starting pitching depth, or lack thereof. With Chris Paddack, Yu Darvish and Dinelson Lamet all unavailable, and a Triple-A rotation bereft of fixes, the club signed Jake Arrieta to make a spot start on Wednesday. The results were less than sterling, with the right-hander giving up five runs in 3.1 innings before exiting with an injury. It’s desperation time for San Diego, and if they’re going to eat a roster spot as they did with Arrieta, why not give someone like prospect Adrian Martinez a chance, with the hope that he can harness some of the magic the whole world knows is no longer present in Arrieta?

Kevin Goldstein is a National Writer at FanGraphs.

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Shirtless Bartolo Colon
2 years ago

Eagerly waiting for the Padres to bring Shields back. Definitely magic when that guy takes the mound.

2 years ago

Saw Bartolo throwing a bullpen on Instagram the other day. Looking as svelte as ever.

Shirtless Bartolo Colon
2 years ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

You should see me in the batting cage. Hungry for a comeback with an NL team.

Smiling Politelymember
2 years ago

Is Jake Peavy available?

2 years ago

Can’t be much worse than any of their other starters.