A full generation of baseball fans has grown up without watching the Pittsburgh Pirates reach the playoffs -- but barring a truly epic collapse, that should change in just a couple of months. Thanks to a recent winning surge at the expense of longtime NL Central leader St. Louis, and with the advent of the second wild card, the postseason will likely feature the first winning Pirates team since 1992.
Though Pittsburgh takes the top spot, here's how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the league shaking out:
1. Pittsburgh Pirates (65-42; LW: 4) - Roney: Pittsburgh has been in good position to post a winning record the last two seasons, but has faded down the stretch; thanks to a deep rotation, that isn't likely to be the case this year.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (64-44; LW: 5) - Zuckerman: 6-10 record vs. Boston right now is the difference. They only face each other 3 more times.
3. Boston Red Sox (65-44; LW: 2) - Zuckerman: The acquisition of Peavy really helps bolster the rotation and sets them up for stretch run.
4. Oakland A's (63-45; LW: 3) - Hughes: Bartolo Colon is 14-3 with a 2.50 ERA at the age of 40, but will reportedly avoid a Biogenesis suspension. Exactly how is anyone's guess.
5. Detroit Tigers (61-45; LW: 8) - Roney: The Tigers inserted themselves into the Peavy trade, netting noted gloveman Jose Iglesias. He could stick in the majors for 10 years based on his defense alone, but he's likely to be a No. 9 hitter the entire time.
6. St. Louis Cardinals (62-44; LW: 1) - Roney: With Yadier Molina newly disabled, why not move for a replacement just before the deadline?
7. Atlanta Braves (63-45; LW: 7) - Zuckerman: You knew they had to get hot eventually. Now they just need to avoid disaster to win division.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers (57-49; LW: 15) - Hughes: Brian Wilson on the Dodgers should be fun, we'll see if he has anything left after two Tommy John surgeries.
9. Cincinnati Reds (60-49; LW: 9) - Roney: Cingrani has been great -- and I love that they're keeping him as a starter. Too many top pitching prospects (Papelbon, Chamberlain, Chapman, Feliz) took detours into relief and never became the (much more valuable) starters they could've been.
10. Baltimore Orioles (59-49; LW: 10) - Zuckerman: Can Bud Norris be the difference-maker? Probably not, but it's still a nice pickup.
11. Texas Rangers (59-49; LW: 6) - Hughes: Interesting that Texas decided to strengthen a strength in trading for Matt Garza, when their offense has been the problem of late.
12. Cleveland Indians (59-48; LW: 13) - Roney: What a job by Tito Francona, huh? Not sure anybody had the Indians improving this much in Year One.
13. New York Yankees (56-51; LW: 11) - Zuckerman: Nice job with Soriano acquisition, now they need to get past the A-Rod fiasco.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks (55-52; LW: 12) - Hughes: It wasn't hard to predict they'd eventually lose the division lead. Paul Goldschmidt needs help in that lineup.
15. Kansas City Royals (53-51; LW: 20) - Roney: Great to see the Royals in this spot this late in the year -- not sure Justin Maxwell is going to move the needle much though, if at all.
16. Washington Nationals (52-56; LW: 14) - Zuckerman: Only thing keeping them from falling deeper down the list is lack of powerhouses throughout NL.
17. Seattle Mariners (50-57; LW: 21) - Hughes: The Mariners may have a future All-Star in 25-year-old third baseman Kyle Seager. Not bad for a third round pick.
18. Colorado Rockies (51-58; LW: 18) - Hughes: Colorado has put together an elite lineup that can hit with anybody. If they get some pitching this offseason they will be legitimate.
19. Philadelphia Phillies (50-57; LW: 16) - Zuckerman: Big mistake by Amaro not to sell any veterans at the deadline. Have to be willing to rebuild.
20. Toronto Blue Jays (50-57; LW: 17) - Zuckerman: Nice to see good guy DeRosa enjoying a bounce-back season after struggles in D.C.
21. Los Angeles Angels (48-58; LW: 19) - Hughes: Mike Trout's batting average is now up over .330. He's the current leader in the clubhouse of the Harper/Machado/Trout debate.
22. San Diego Padres (50-59; LW: 25) - Hughes: Bud Black is headed for his fifth sub-.500 season in seven years as the Padres' manager and his third straight.
23. New York Mets (48-57; LW: 23) - Zuckerman: Credit to Collins for keeping his guys motivated once again. He deserves more credit.
24. Chicago Cubs (49-58; LW: 24) - Roney: They conducted the fire sale that many others should've, and they're better off for it. Too bad they couldn't find takers for Schierholtz or DeJesus.
25. Minnesota Twins (45-59; LW: 26) - Roney: Sad how far Morneau has fallen -- from MVP to untradeable commodity at 32. He's never been the same since that 2010 concussion.
26. San Francisco Giants (47-59; LW: 22) - Hughes: This was my preseason pick for the World Series, believing they were a real dynasty. Every week that prediction looks worse and worse.
27. Milwaukee Brewers (46-62; LW: 27) - Roney: As I thought he might a couple months ago, Ryan Braun accepted his 65-game suspension without a fight, offering a vague apology of Giambi-esque proportions. Wonder if it's too late for that lab tech to get his job back.
28. Miami Marlins (41-65; LW: 29) - Zuckerman: As if this franchise couldn't suffer more embarrassment … hello, Tino Martinez!
29. Chicago White Sox (40-65; LW: 28) - Roney: As with others, they could've done more at the deadline -- Rios was ripe for dealing, but they did do well to get Garcia from Detroit.
30. Houston Astros (36-70; LW: 30) - Hughes: Houston was active at the trade deadline, including shipping out Bud Norris. Norris, now an Oriole, didn't have far to go as the Astros were playing in Baltimore. He'll now make his debut Thursday against his former team.