NL's trend of playoff roulette may be nearing an end

NL's trend of playoff roulette may be nearing an end

NL's trend of playoff roulette may be nearing an end
With the two most surprising postseason teams this year -- Baltimore and Oakland -- each coming courtesy of the American League, it might have helped to overshadow the ongoing postseason flux in the National League.

For the third straight season, only one team that qualified for the playoffs had also qualified the previous year.

In other words, four of this year's five playoff teams (Washington, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Atlanta) didn't make the playoffs in 2011. From 2009-11, the Phillies were the only NL team to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons at any point during that stretch.

Meanwhile in the American League, there hasn't been that kind of postseason turnover even once since the 2006-07 campaigns.

Yet with young clubs like the Nationals and Reds making postseason runs this year alongside NL powers in the Cardinals and Giants, is 2013 the season in which this NL trend comes to an end?

Washington figures to be NL East favorites next year with its pitching staff led by phenom Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, who is one of three finalists for the Cy Young Award to be handed out Wednesday night. The Nats might also be fueled by knowing that next season will be the last in manager Davey Johnson's storied managing career.

"As everyone knows, we have some unfinished business to tend to in '13," Johnson said after the team officially announced he would remain at the helm next year. "I have a feeling this upcoming season will be filled with many memorable moments."

The Nats shouldn't be penciled into the 2013 postseason field just yet, though. Aside from all the unknowns that can happen on the field next summer, the Nats will have some competition atop the division.

Atlanta remained in NL East contention until the season's final week this year and ultimately finished just four games back. Though Atlanta lost Chipper Jones to retirement, the Braves still have a deep rotation and bullpen to go along with a strong lineup.

The Phillies will also be looking to bounce back after turning in one of the most disappointing seasons for any club this past summer. Philadelphia was hampered by injuries early on, but posted a 44-31 record in the second-half to finish at .500.

Though Philadelphia's core consists of aging players in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon (all will be 32 or older on Opening Day next season), manager Charlie Manuel is confident his team will again be a factor in 2013.

"I think where they're at age-wise, there's still time," Manuel said recently. "There's still years there. I'm not worried. I don't think they're too old. I still think they have good seasons left in them."

Moving onto the NL Central, the division-champion Reds -- similar to the Nats -- appear poised to remain contenders for years to come.

First baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips both signed long-term deals this past April, and right fielder Jay Bruce, ace Johnny Cueto and right-hander Bronson Arroyo are also under contract. The rest of the starting rotation and majority of the bullpen is also under Cincinnati's control for 2013.

"We have a group of guys, myself included, that are in a good portion of their career where we can be consistent and players that the team can count on," Votto said.

The Reds, however, will have their hands full defending their NL Central crown in what has been one of the more competitive divisions over the past two years. Cincinnati will need to hold off the Cardinals, Brewers and potentially the up-and-coming Pirates.

St. Louis is the only NL team to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, while Milwaukee qualified in 2011 and the Pirates have missed out as a result of second-half collapses the past two years.

Milwaukee, which was 12 games out of the NL Wild Card entering August, surged down the stretch after turning to some of the franchise's younger players. The Brewers went 36-23 over the season's final two months and worked their way back into postseason contention right up until the final week.

"Absolutely it changes the outlook for next year," said Brewers left fielder and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun. "I think for all of us, we're excited about the way that we've played. We're excited about some of the guys that have come up and really performed well for us down the stretch. Certainly, we feel good about our team heading into next year, for sure."

Lastly, the NL West features the World Series champion Giants. San Francisco overcame a disappointing season from ace Tim Lincecum and twice rallied from the brink of elimination in the postseason to win its second title in the last three seasons.

The rival Dodgers have already started to work on dethroning the Giants, spending a reported $25.7 million to win the negotiating rights with Korean left-handed pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. Los Angeles is also hoping to have a number of players return to full health, in which case the Dodgers would have a lineup consisting of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford.

Each of this year's postseason teams on the Senior Circuit seem, on paper, capable of providing some postseason continuity in the NL. At the same time, clubs like the Brewers, Phillies, Dodgers, D-backs and Pirates are hoping to pass through the revolving NL postseason door in 2013.

"Just because there are expectations, that means on paper you look good," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "How many times have we seen teams on paper not do anything? A lot. You always look at things. You have to perform, you have to execute, you have to work. In my mind, you have to make things happen."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.