Chicago Cubs: Who can challenge this team in the National League?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs appear to the best team in the National League, but who can give them the most stringent test once the postseason comes around?

Even though the Chicago Cubs aren’t in first place, they are rounding into form, and they are playing like the best team in the National League of-late. Being the best team means they’ll have challenges and, in the NL, the two biggest ones are the Dodgers and the Nationals.

Which of these clubs provides the larger obstacle?

Nats looking to get over the proverbial hump come October

Similar to the Cubs, the Nationals aren’t in first place. Washington sits in second behind the first-place Braves. They’re barely clinging to that spot – holding off the rival Phillies in the National League East.

So what makes Washington so dangerous?

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Max Scherzer has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball through the first half of the season. He has made 15 starts, compiled a 10-3 with a 2.06 ERA, and a major league-leading 152 strikeouts.

That’s great, but there has been another All-Star who hasn’t played well at all.

Bryce Harper is off to the worst statistical start of his major league career. Despite hitting 19 home runs, he is only hitting .209 and has a WAR of just 0.4.

Helping make up for Harper’s has been prospect Juan Soto. In 89 plate appearances entering Thursday, the 19-year-old rookie is hitting .326 with six home runs and 19 RBI.

The biggest question mark when it comes to the Nationals is without a doubt is Stephen Strasburg. When he has pitched in 2018, he hasn’t been that great. He’s 6-6 with an ERA of 3.46. On top of that, he once again finds himself on the disabled list, and a timetable has yet to be established for his return.

If you’re in D.C., one issue looms large: will Bryce Harper turn it around? If the answer is yes, then the Nationals will be alright. If the answer turns out to be no, then they’re in trouble.

Are Cubs, Dodgers destined for third-straight LCS showdown?

The Dodgers are in second place in the NL West two games behind the Diamondbacks.For Los Angeles, the biggest issue for them has been injuries.

When he’s been on the mound, Clayton Kershaw has pitched well. Even though he’s 1-4, the left-hander has a 2.76 ERA, but he has only made eight starts in 2018 and has seen two separate DL trips.

Without him, the Dodgers’ postseason hopes are in serious question. He is capable of putting a team on his back – there’s no doubt about it. But if he’s battling back issues near the end of the season, there’s a glaring hole in the rotation.

Sadly for the Dodgers, one player they won’t get back in 2018 is shortstop Corey Seager, who is out for the 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. That leaves a big hole in the lineup – one the team is seemingly mixing and matching to fill on a daily basis.

Who provides the most significant test?

It’s the Nationals.

Bryce Harper is going to get it going. I’m almost willing to put money on that. A healthy starter like Max Scherzer can carry a team through offensive dry spells. For this reason, they’ll make the postseason.

When it comes to the Dodgers, they can pose a test but only if Kershaw can pitch like himself and can stay healthy. In fact, that applies to quite a few of their starting pitchers. Truth be told, I don’t trust that he can stay healthy from now through October.

Next: A way-too-early look at this winter's free agent class

The bottom line is this. If the Cubs play to the best of their capability, they should be able to advance past either one of these foes come the postseason.